At the Festival della Bellezza in Verona, Umberto Galimberti reveals the ambiguities of the soul

Professor Galimberti is one of the most refined contemporary philosophers and has illuminated the thinking of recent decades with powerful and courageous reflections.

At the Verona Festival della Bellezza, he urged the public to rummage through their convictions and to reactivate the philosophical disposition that slumbers within us, crushed by stale ideas, acquisitions and socio-cultural legacies. This is not necessarily to change our mind, but to become aware of the origin of our concepts and to sharpen our critical and judgemental ability.

Galimberti narrated the odyssey of the concept of soul through the centuries in Western thought, from its genesis with the philosophical speculation of Plato, to the current alienation from the body, of Christian origin, to a possible redemption with phenomenological interpretation. The study enlarged upon the body-soul relationship, the most known oppositional dualism of all Western philosophy, to then unmask its actual inconsistency.

In Professor Galimberti’s vision the soul is nowadays reduced to a passe-partout, a noble subject improperly opposed to the body-organism, to the sinful body, and destined to survive it. An idea that caresses a desire for immortality that was alien to the ancient Greeks, who at the time of the great philosophers were well aware and respectful of their own limitations. A different concept, therefore, from Plato’s original one, which considered the soul as the instrument of man, through abstraction, to the intelligible knowledge of things, given the limits that our bodily sensitivity places on the achievement of real knowledge.

In his excursus, Galimberti illustrated the key role that Christianity had, riding on the intuition of Saint Augustine and a favourable historical moment, in spreading the idea that the soul was an analgesic mirage of salvation and continuation of life in addition to the earthly one. He then dwelt on the contribution of Descartes, who affirmed the dualism between soul and body as the relationship between the thinking thing – the soul – and the extended thing – the body. A distinction that will underlie modern psychology (which will focus on mental substance) and science (which will focus on physical substance). Science would have used the technique to strip the body of life and make it a conglomeration of organs functional to reproducible observations. An analysis summarized in the statement that “science says EXACT things, not REAL things”.

And yet, in addition to the organism object of science, there is our body, the one that lives and takes part in the world, which relates to nature and other human beings. A body intimately connected with the surrounding environment, which defines it and by which it is in turn defined. This phenomenological approach, which conceives man as “being in the world” (Heidegger), rehabilitates the soul not as a part opposed to the body, but as an expression of the relationship between the world and our body.

Our calling requires daily interaction with technology and these reflections help us not to forget that behind the tools we create there is always a lively mental substance.

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