Souls Denied in Renaissance

The Renaissance revived creativity in the arts and thoughts of humanism.  Renaissance humanism “turned the focus of human inquiry away from God and heaven toward nature” (Leahey, 2000, p. 386).  As Leahey (2000) explained, the Renaissance interest in understanding nature elicited the Renaissance naturalism which illustrated a view that “humans have no souls, so that our personalities will perish with our bodies” (p. 386).  For the Renaissance naturalism, human mind, similar to the magnetism, was produced from natural powers held within living bodies rather than infused or delivered from the soul to the nature.

Stimulated by the scientific revolution during the Renaissance, Rene Descartes (1596 -1650) built “an influential framework for thinking about mind and body fundamental to the founding of psychology” (Leahey, 2000, p. 387).  To address the mind-body relationship, Descartes attempted to set the psycho-physical problem “in the form of the conception of a natural relation between mind and body, considered as two separate substantial principles” (Baldwin, 1905, p. 151).  Descartes held a mechanical based view that the material world was like a clockwork machine ruled by standard mathematical laws.  Based on his observations on physical and biological functions of human beings, Descartes claimed that human mind, behavior, and internal functions of the brain could be explicated from a mechanical perspective (Hergenhahn, 2009).  According to Descartes, humans were souls united to mechanical bodies; on the contrary, animals were soulless machines. As revealed in his famous words “I think, therefore I exist,” Descartes asserted that thinking (including self-awareness and language) was the only mental function assigned to the soul.  Descartes’ view was supported by the findings of modern research which demonstrated the difference between humans and nonhuman primates in their capabilities of learning languages and expressions.


Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Leahey, T. H. (2000). Psychology: Renaissance through the Enlightenment. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology, Vol. 6 (pp. 386-394). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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