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Does an Animal Have a Soul?

Here are two other views on the matter, taken from religious web sites:

First from

    Animals and plants can't do anything which transcends the limitations of matter. Although some animals seem clever, they don't actually possess conceptional intelligence. They can't, for instance, conceive of the abstract notion of justice. Animals and plants also lack a moral sense. When you scold Spot for chewing the carpet and tell him what he did was "wrong," you aren't assigning guilt of sin to him, since he can't commit a sin. Animal and vegetable souls are dependent entirely on matter for their operation and being. They cease to exist at death. There's no "doggie heaven." Human souls, by contrast, aren't material. They're spiritual. Only a spirit can know and love, a spirit's two chief faculties being the intellect (which knows) and the will (which loves). We know human souls are spiritual since humans can know and love.

Second from

    One principle is that all living things have a soul. Here soul is defined as what makes an organic body live. Now when any living thing dies, its soul is separated from its body. In the case of plants and animals the soul goes out of existence. But in the case of man, the soul remains in existence because it is a spiritual or immaterial thing. Consequently, it differs from the souls of animals in two important respects. First, it is the seat of intelligence or reason.  For this reason a man is held responsible for his actions in a way that animals are not. Secondly, the soul is immortal. A thing which has no physical parts cannot fall apart or be poisoned or be crushed or be put out of existence.

Frans de Waal recently (2016) published a fascinating book, titled Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, that details many studies into animal intelligence and animal behaviors with some suggesting empathy and a capacity for problem solving. It also offers background into the evolution of the attitudes of the academics involved. I highly recommend this book.

from the book's Prologue:

    Why is humanity so prone to downplay animal intelligence? We routinely deny them capacities that we take for granted in ourselves. What is behind this? In trying to find out at what mental level other species operate, the real challenge comes not just from the animals themselves but also from within us. Human attitudes, creativity, and imagination are very much part of the story. Before we ask if animals possess a certain kind of intelligence, especially one that we cherish in ourselves, we need to overcome internal resistance to even consider the possibility. Hence this book's central question: "Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?"

    We love to compare and contrast animal and human intelligence. The comparison is not between humans and animals but between one animal species - ours - and a vast array of others. It is undeniable humans are animals. We're not comparing two separate categories of intelligence, therefore, but rather are considering variation within a single one. I look at human cognition as a variety of animal cognition. There are many ways to process, organize, and spread information [in animals], and it is only recently that science has become open-minded enough to treat all these different methods with wonder and amazement rather than dismissal and denial.

The book offers insights into the behaviors of many different animals, among them: crow, sea otter, honey badger, gold finch, crocodile, macaw, parrot, cockatoo, gorilla, bonobo, chimpanzee, gibbon, elephant, horse, macaque, ape, monkey, rat, baboon, capuchin, paper wasp, dog, mouse, dolphin, scrub jay, raven, wolf, siamang, sea lion, killer whale, cleaner fish, magpie, octopus, whale. Not all were mentioned as being 'smart' but just whose behaviors were notable in the context of this book. Providing further book excerpts here will not be fair to its excellent commentary; the time taken to read the book will be well spent.

A person's capacity for intelligence and reason is often placed in one's consciousness, which has even been defined as the executive control system of the mind.

On July 7, 2012, a group of scientists released the 'Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.'

      We declare the following: "The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."

Neuroscience has found much of what a person feels or thinks is based in neural activity. Most people should be inherently aware of this. When one falls asleep, the brain turns off consciousness. It is impossible to fall asleep while conscious because those are two distinct states of the brain.

From the religious view of a person's soul, when a person falls asleep their seat of intelligence and reason, their soul, has ceased to function in that manner, or in other words it simply ceased to exist for awhile. When the person awakens, their soul is again functioning.

The belief that animals have no consciousness has been around for a very long time, from Aristotle through Descartes. From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an article about animals and ethics:

    Some philosophers deny that animals warrant direct moral concern due to religious or philosophical theories of the nature of the world and the proper place of its inhabitants. One of the earliest and clearest expressions of this kind of view comes to us from Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.). According to Aristotle, there is a natural hierarchy of living beings. The different levels are determined by the abilities present in the beings due to their natures. While plants, animals, and human beings are all capable of taking in nutrition and growing, only animals and human beings are capable of conscious experience. This means that plants, being inferior to animals and human beings, have the function of serving the needs of animals and human beings. Likewise, human beings are superior to animals because human beings have the capacity for using reason to guide their conduct, while animals lack this ability and must instead rely on instinct. It follows, therefore, that the function of animals is to serve the needs of human beings. This, according to Aristotle, is "natural and expedient."

    Following Aristotle, the Christian philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) argues that since only beings that are rational are capable of determining their actions, they are the only beings towards which we should extend concern "for their own sakes". Aquinas believes that if a being cannot direct its own actions then others must do so; these sorts of beings are merely instruments. Instruments exist for the sake of people that use them, not for their own sake. Since animals cannot direct their own actions, they are merely instruments and exist for the sake of the human beings that direct their actions.

    One of the clearest and most forceful denials of animal consciousness is developed by Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who argues that animals are automata that might act as if they are conscious, but really are not so. Writing during the time when a mechanistic view of the natural world was replacing the Aristotelian conception, Descartes believed that all of animal behavior could be explained in purely mechanistic terms, and that no reference to conscious episodes was required for such an explanation. Descartes believed that both the complexity of human behavior and human speech requires the positing of such an immaterial substance in order to be explained. However, animal behavior does not require this kind of assumption; besides, Descartes argued, "it is more probable that worms and flies and caterpillars move mechanically than that they all have immortal souls."


There are unfortunate consequences for this perception of nature. If mankind is considered a higher form of life than all others then that lack of respect can lead to mistreatment and even atrocities against those 'lower' life forms.

This assumption of the human soul as immortal probably arises with the belief in an after life, when a person's soul will wander the universe as a ghost for eternity after death. The person's soul is consciously always assumed to be detached from the physical universe, never truly integrated within it even though inherently a human being is a social creature. Also, when one believes one's personal salvation is the most critical aspect of one's life then the affairs of everyone else are so much less important, leading to a very selfish priority and in opposition to our social nature.

Mankind needs to abandon these ancient views about animal life so as to discard this arrogance toward the non-human life, treating them as simply tools for man's amusement and property. Treating all life with respect, in recognition of our dependence on others no matter their relative intelligence, could perhaps even help people treat other people with more respect. We are all animals interacting socially and physically in this wondrous universe.

When considering the historical views of animals as less important than humans, it is readily apparent there is the prevalent attitude of superiority of man over all other life on earth. While it is true that the civilization of mankind is far more advanced than any other achievement of life on earth the condescension is noteworthy. While we are all (humans and the rest) integral parts of the ecology on this planet, man is somehow above it all, probably as a reflection of the attitude that the human soul is not part of life either. The us vs them dichotomy, where we (in my/our group) are better than the others, is also found in so many instances of human behaviors.

Some make the claim that their religion is the one true religion while other religions are not. This attitude brings with it the assumption that God has blessed those believers of the religion over others, leading to abuse of those nonbelievers as if their God has provided 'pre-approval' of their intolerant behaviors.

Some make the claim that their race is the best while other races are not. This attitude was obvious among the slave owners during that part of American History, as well as in many of those subjugating the natives as Americans consumed all the land west of the original colonies.

Some make the claim that America is an exceptional nation, while other nations (and their people) are not. This attitude of superiority leads to America wreaking havoc in international relations, with interference and even regime changes in nations whose leaders do not submit to American political demands when in conflict with the citizens of that foreign country.

The rich behave as if they are superior to everyone else, leading to abuse of the poor. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

One can only hope after acquiring an appreciation of the wonders to be found within the non-human life forms on this planet, people could develop more respect for their fellow humans.

created - August 7, 2016
last change - 08/07/2016
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