Actual Idealism; An Argument for The Existence and Unity of Soul

So I’ve been reading The Theory of Mind as Pure Act by Giovanni Gentile, a book about his philosophy of Actual Idealism. Being Catholic, Gentile refers to the soul constantly in his works. What I find interesting, however, is the way he uses metaphyisical and philosophical reasoning to make his point that the soul is really what we identify as our “mind”.

“Just as in vision we have two objects of the one experience, the scene or the term which we call the object and the eye or the term which we call the subject, so also in our actual living experience not only is the object of that experience an object, but even the subject by the fact that it is made a term of the experience in an object. And yet the eye cannot see it itself except as its reflection in a mirror!”

What Gentile is getting at here is that we’re objectifying our own mind. If we’re to understand an object from the point of view of our mind, then we’re equally establishing our mind as an object; An object of experience, the subject of an outside onlooker.

“In so far as consciousness is an object of consciousness, it is no longer consciousness. In so far as the original perception is a perceived object, it is not longer perception. No longer subject, but object. No longer self, but non-self.”

And this is the problem with the modern understanding of our minds. We perceive ourselves as objects as opposed to something higher. Once we deny this understanding, we’re left with one other possibility: That the self is transcendental. That is to say it exists separate from physical reality as we understand it.

“The new point of view we then gain is that of the actuality of the I, a point of view from which the I can never be conceived as its own object. For in defining our thinking activity as definite object of our thinking, we have to remember that the definition is only possible through the fact that our thinking activity remains the subject for which it is defined as an object, in whatsoever manner this concept of our thinking activity is conceived. The true thinking activity is not what is being defined but what is defining.”

So let’s say you’re sitting in biology and the teacher says that your thoughts are controlled by a mix of chemicals and hormones that cause your brain to fire certain neurons. The question then must be “Teacher, do these chemicals and hormones define themselves, or have you attributed these qualities to them?”


We attributed these attributes to them. How can we say that these things are the vehicle of our thought when it’s our thoughts that define them?

I attest, as Gentile does later in his book, that what we call a mind is in reality our soul. A part of us that exists separate from reality as we understand it. A part of us that motivates us to holier intentions, obstructed only by the whims of our flesh. By putting mind above matter, soul above sin, we can better serve the purpose God has for us. I’ll close with more from Gentile:

“This concept may appear abstruse. Yet it is the concept of our ordinary life so long as we enjoy a certain feeling of life as spiritual reality. It is common observation that whenever we want to understand something which has a spiritual value, something which we can speak of as a spiritual fact, we have to regard it not as an object, but as something immediately identical with our own spiritual activity. And it makes no difference that such spiritual value may be realized both through agreement and disagreement, for these are realized indifferently; they are rather two co-ordinate and successive possibilities, one of which is necessarily a step to the other. It is clear that the first step in spiritual apprehension is the assent, for we say that before judging we must understand. When we say that we understand without exercising judgement, it does not mean that we exercise no judgement; we do not indeed judge approval or disapproval, but we do judge provisionally for apprehension. A fundamental condition, therefore, of understanding others is that our mind penetrate their mind. The beginning of apprehension is confidence. Without it there is no spiritual penetration, no understanding of mental and moral reality. Without the agreement and unification of our mind with the other mind with which it would enter into relation, it is impossible to have any kind of understanding, impossible even to being to notice or perceive anything which may come into another mind. And we are driven by our thinking activity itself into this apprehension of others. Every spiritual relation, every communication between our own inner reality and another’s, is essentially unity.”

I feel like it’s this attitude that should be the basis of our education system. This understanding of learning and teaching as the unification of one soul with another. Don’t think it would work? Well, Giovanni Gentile reformed Italy’s education system in a manner that holds up to this day. You should look into him, he was an interesting man. Anyway, that’s all from me. Give me your thoughts.

God bless, and happy learning! <3

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