It is perverse to identify belief in self with evil incarnate: internal platonic dialogue

Based on internal evidence you affirm the soul to exist, now what do you say the soul to be? “‘I believe in myself and the spirit that’s in me.'” Correct. And now what do you think of intellectual activity and the soul? Do you think you are being more soulful, so to speak, when you’re doing a math problem than when you are working on your car or performing a feat of strength? What do you think?

“This may depend on the specific soul we’re talking about — on who a person is and what it means for them to truly ‘be themselves.’ But I suppose the head has an instrumental use like the hand has an instrumental use and is not any more related to soul than is the hand. A football player would be more himself performing the physical work of playing football than he would be performing the mental work of a mathematician. (Though, by the way, there’s significant mental work involved in playing sports.)”

Well, I accept that but still disagree with what you’ve said on two counts, if you care to hear them? Well, since I am you I don’t see any objection –what is the first? Consider the situation in which the football player reflects on his own playing. (Okay, I already agree with you, just by hearing mention of that concept of self-reflection, but let’s go ahead and flesh this out.) The football player watches himself on tape, identifies certain positive and negative patterns to his playing, and generates a plan to promote the former and delimit the latter. This is a sort of intellectual activity and I would say it might plausibly represent something more “soulful” than his actual playing. Because remember: before too long that football player is going to be too old to competitively play football, and yet the knowledge he derives from playing and reading and thinking about playing will always remain with him. (Although I already told you I agree with you, and I do, I hadn’t thought of that part of it yet, and find myself even more persuaded by you than I was initially. You’re entirely correct and there is no need for any additional argument.)

Second, consider prayer and/or meditation. Feelings of piety, tranquility. Perhaps you would call these the opposite of mental activity and a kind of anti-thought; nevertheless it is something that occurs in the head, or at any rate involves a mental condition, and it is also something involved with what we think of as our essence and soul. We don’t meditate or pray with the foot or stomach but with the brain, it’s a mental activity. So there again you have the head and mental activity associated with the most important of all human activities, not merely the uses you’re calling instrumental.

Related question. You saw a sort of menacing religious meme on the internet today that said “Satan doesn’t ask you to believe in him but asks you to believe in yourself,” which sounds a little like our Tolstoy quotation from a moment ago– “I believe in myself and the spirit that’s in me” — how do you respond to this? Do you think that belief in yourself could be wrong or sinful? I respond that believing in one’s self has got to be in some sense fundamental. Even if you decided to commit your life to a religious purpose, and if you said “not my will but thine…” there must be some you in you who has made that decision, an adult of some kind. Further, I would say that, while of course people who believe in “something higher” will want others to believe in that thing more than in themselves in a certain sense –“lean not on thine own understanding” and so forth– it is perverse to identify belief in self with evil incarnate. Believe in yourself, believe in Jesus, but believe not in the person who made that meme, is how I would respond.

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