Philosophy: The Immortality of the Soul and Personal Identity


The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “soul” as follows: “Spiritual or immaterial part of man, held to survive death.” This definition highlights the fact that the concept of life after death by means of a “soul” remains a matter of religious assertion. No authority can prove it. In contrast, the highest authority, the Bible, says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Eclessiastes 3:11)

“The dust returns to the earth just as it happened to be and the spirit itself returns to the true God who gave it.” In his Commentary, Wesleyan Methodist theologian Adam Clarke writes concerning this verse: “Here the wise man makes a most evident distinction between the body and the soul: they are not the same; they are not both matter. The body, which is matter, returns to dust, its original; but the spirit, which is immaterial, returns to God” (123).  Similarly, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture says: “The soul goes back to God” (90). Thus, both commentaries imply that the soul and the spirit are the same.

Through the birth of philosophical notion on the issue of people having an immortal soul, it could then be assured that through the different theories formed by early philosophers, many people were confused about the truth on the matter. Hence, to be able to clearly understand the issue, further studies were made and were formulated to answer the queries of people regarding a living soul. In the paragraphs to follow, the conversation of Miller and Weirob shall be examined as to how the two philosophers are

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Philosophy: The Immortality of the Soul and Personal Identity able to clarify the issues of an identical self that continuously thrives even after a person’s death.

The Dialogue and the Claim

In John Perry’s “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality”, there is an indication of a conversation that existed between Miller and Weirob. The latter person signifies the existence of a connection between the continuous events in a person’s life that is identified as a personal identity of an individual. According to Miller, the immortality of the soul is the indication that a person’s identity is rather passed on through the years of life of the individual.

In the conversation though, it has been pointed out by Weirob that the continuity of a person’s identity does not necessarily depend upon the life and death transition of a person’s experience. However, Miller continues to point out that the continuity of identity that is referred to as “stage” [a bunch of mental and physical events that are glued together; a set of events that are casually interacting within a person’s life], occurs in a person’s life just once as he is living. The said casual relations are then ‘glued’ together, hence the identity of the person continues well with the years of his life, from the point of his birth towards the days of his old age. A person’s capability of remembering the earlier days of his life helps him identify himself as the same person as he was during the past years compared to who he is at present. Saying this, Miller came up with four major hypotheses about a person’s ability to remember. The said hypotheses are as follows:

Philosophy: The Immortality of the Soul and Personal Identity

.        If Something is imaginable, it is possible

·        It is possible that there will be someone identical with Gretchen Weirob in Heaven

·        If identity is imaginable then it is possible

.       Survival is identity with a future person

The fact that there has to be a certain connection between the events and the physical experiences that a person passes through life makes the possibility of a life after death experience, or the idea of an immortal soul a possible matter at that. According to Miller, the identity of person could only be tracked down through memory. Hence, once an event is remembered by a person then he gains the old personal identity he once had during his earlier or first life. This identity, according to him is someone that exists in heaven. This could be referred to as a complete depiction of the person that is living on earth at present. Hence, this simply means that the person living in today’s world at the present time has an identical person counterpart in heaven, which enables him to remember his past life completely.

Weirob however, further argues that even though there exists an immortal soul as other philosophers claim, the said factor of human life [soul] cannot account for identity unlike how people could do as they live. Hence, reincarnation as a way of branching one person’s identity is not at all possible, or someone undoubtedly identical with the person living at present is possible at all. Weirob proves this argument by pointing out the differences between remembering and seeming to remember. According to her, there is a big difference

Philosophy: The Immortality of the Soul and Personal Identity between the two activities of the mind. Whereas remembering pertains to the ability of the person to recall the exact things as it all happened to him during an earlier part of his life. However, seeming to remember is to quite know what happened as it happened but not actually knowing the exact events that occurred. To support this claim, Weirob uses an example: “if for a moment a person is hypnotized to remember as if he has talked to Miller, then another person actually talks to him, the result when asked may not be that easy to distinguish”

Thus, a person could be able to remember something if it actually happened to him, however, at some point, some spirit testing and activities also enables a person to remember something that did not even happen. However, remembering in detail would not be that easy to copy as hypnotism does. Hence, here enters the idea of being able to ‘seemingly remember’ things.

By stating the said claims, Weirob was also able to come up with her own hypotheses about the matter:

·        Examining the content of what a person is thinking or saying cannot establish whether that person is identical with a person existing at an earlier time (14,21)

·        Really remembering a thought or action is just ‘seeming to remember’ it plus having really thought or done it.

Philosophy: The Immortality of the Soul and Personal Identity

Clearly, Weirob points out that the argument of Miller is plainly proposing that the real memory is a combination of apparent memory and identity. However, the circularity of the matter proves otherwise. As clearly discussed by Weirob, survival is possible for a person not through the plain ability of being able to remember memories but through continuous existence in life. It may not be through being reincarnated or things as such, but through the ability of the person to make himself be remembered by others even when after he dies through his works while he is still living.


Through the proofs and the dialogue discussed in this paper, it could then be claimed that the existence of an immortal or immaterial soul is then raised as a questionable theory created by world philosophers. Historians point out that the teaching that man possesses a separate, immortal soul did not originate with the Bible but with Greek philosophy. The New Catholic Encyclopedia observes that the ancient Hebrews did not think of man as being composed of a material body and an immaterial soul. It states about the Hebrews’ belief: “When the breath of life entered the first man whom God formed out of the ground, he became a ‘living being’ (134). Death was not regarded as a separation of two distinct elements in man, as in Greek philosophy; the breath of life departs and man is left a ‘dead being’. In each case the word ‘being’ would be the Hebrew [ne´phesh], often translated ‘soul’ but, in fact, virtually equated with the person.” That same encyclopedia notes that Catholic scholars recently “have maintained that the New Testament does not teach the immortality of the soul in the Hellenistic [Greek]

Philosophy: The Immortality of the Soul and Personal Identity sense.” It concludes: “The ultimate solution to the problem is to be found not so much in philosophical speculation as in the supernatural gift of the Resurrection.” Hence, as Weirob and Miller have argued in their conversation, it could be noted that philosophers of both the later and the present era have failed in concluding that there is an immortal soul that continues to thrive after a person’s death to continue one’s identity. In this regard, it could then be assumed, that as both experts such as Weirob and Miller have argued, there would still be some philosophers who would continue to prove and disprove the matter concerning the existence of a continuum of self-identity after death. However it would be, it would still help if a person tries to search in his own way to be able to find the truth about this theory.


Catholic New American Bible. (1970). P. J. Kenedy & Sons, New York.

The Protestant Interpreter’s Bible. (1989). Blackwell Publishing Company.

Concise Oxford Dictionary. (1987). Blackwell Publishing Company.

Ralph Earle. (1997). Adam Clarke’s Commentary. Nelson Reference.

John R. Perry. (1978). A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality. Hackett Publishing Company

 “Dangerous Road”. (July 20, 1990). Time Magazine. Volume 9 Number 5. New York.

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