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A Brief History of the Soul

Date: 12/01/2012

Time: 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Location: Continuing Education and Conference Center

Cost: $125


This daylong course is offered by the College of Continuing Education's LearningLife program.


From ancient times, in both the West and the East, there has been an important and enduring reflection on the soul. This includes current intellectual thinking that is often hostile to the idea that we are embodied souls. From Plato and Aristotle to cutting-edge philosophies, this intensive will provide a brief, but comprehensive, history of the soul.

We will begin with ancient Greek and Roman thought, and then look to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, when talk of the soul was both a matter of investigating who and what it is to be human, as well as a matter of caring for our souls ethically. Both Socrates and Jesus spoke of the danger of neglecting one's soul, an idea that is very much alive in philosophy and popular culture today. Since the 17th century there has been an important debate about whether humans (and all that exists) are merely physical or whether there is more to reality than what physical science can reveal. But the idea that there might be more to us than our physical bodies is out of step with contemporary secular philosophy. Some philosophers argue that the brain sciences suggest the soul or self is an illusion. Could they be right? What are the philosophical implications of the brain sciences on the soul's existence? Later, we will look into questions about the afterlife. Can you or your soul survive death? Could some nonhuman animals have souls or be persons? Are there computers that think and feel? Finally, we will look to Hindu and Buddhist conceptions of the soul.

Throughout the day, we will bring together historical and contemporary scholarship in order to examine one of the essential questions of our existence. Tuition includes breakfast and lunch.

Recommended: Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz, A Brief History of the Soul (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

Charles Taliaferro, Ph.D., philosophy, Brown University; M.T.S., Harvard University, is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and the author/editor of 17 books, most recently Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide (OneWorld Press, 2011); A Brief History of the Soul (Blackwell, 2011), co-authored with Stewart Goetz; Image in Mind; Theism, Naturalism and the Imagination (Continuum, 2010), co-authored with Jill Evans; and Love, Love, Love and Other Essays (Cowley Publications, 2006). In addition to formal scholarship, Taliaferro has written books and chapters for popular culture books including The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy Book (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), and forthcoming volumes on Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbit, and Catcher in the Rye.


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LearningLife is a program of the University of Minnesota College of Continuing Education. Established in 1913, the College provides high-quality continuing education and lifelong learning opportunities for professional development, personal enrichment, career transitions, and academic growth.


  • Name: College of Continuing Education Information Center
  • E-mail: cceinfo@umn.edu
  • Phone: 612-624-4000
  • Sponsored by: College of Continuing Education

More information: http://z.umn.edu/8us

Disability Options:

To request disability accommodations, please contact the College of Continuing Education Information Center at 612-624-4000 or at cceinfo@umn.edu.

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