Past Event

The Three Souls in the History of Medicine and Philosophy

October 5, 2018 - October 6, 2018
1:00 PM - 7:00 PM
4, rue de Chevreuse, 75006 Paris

A conference convened by Noga Arikha and Justin E. H. Smith


Keynote Speaker

Siri Hustvedt, novelist, essayist, New York



Noga Arikha, historian of ideas, philosopher, writer, Sphere, Paris

Laura Bossi, neurologist, historian of science, Sphere, Paris

Laurent Cohen, neurologist, Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière

Sophia Connell, classicist, Birkbeck College, University of London

Philippe Huneman, philosopher of biology, CNRS, Paris 1 Sorbonne

George Makari, psychiatrist, historian of psychiatry, Cornell Weill, NY

Ohad Nachtomy, philosopher, Bar Ilan University and Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Karl-Léo Schwering, psychoanalyst, Paris 7

Didier Sicard, internist, bioethicist, essayist, Paris

Justin E.H. Smith, historian and philosopher of science, Paris 7

Marta Spranzi, historian and philosopher of science, Versailles

Kathryn Tabb, philosopher, historian of philosophy, bioethicist, Columbia University, NY

Manos Tsakiris, neuroscientist, Royal Holloway, Warburg Institute, London

Charles Wolfe, historian and philosopher of science, Ghent


The concept of soul seems to have outlived its use long ago. Yet, our increasing capacity to transform our bodies, and interfere in the very processes of birth and death, is accompanied by urgent questions about the nature of identity, the individual, consciousness, and the living organism. Debates in bioethics address these issues, but their public understanding is confused. Meanwhile, confusions abound regarding what the boundaries might be between the animate and the inanimate, the animal and the human, the organic and the mechanical.

We believe that a historical perspective will help understand where medicine, the sciences of mind and the life sciences stand at present with regard to these notions. It is high time to reassess the various uses of the historical idea of soul, ever since its conception by Plato as a unique spiritual substance and its division by Aristotle into three hierarchical parts. This tripartite soul survived in some form or other for over two thousand years, as an explanatory structure for everything from animal generation to higher consciousness. In the light of today’s debates regarding the relation between mind and brain and concomitant bioethical dilemmas, this persistent model requires in-depth examination.

Our conference will offer an opportunity for a dialogue between scientists, clinicians, and philosophers on the one hand, and historians of science and ideas on the other. The programme will create an unusual combination of a diachronic, historical approach with a synchronic, philosophical one.





Friday 5 October

1:30-1:45 Arrival, coffee

1:45-2:00 Welcome and presentation by Noga Arikha and Justin E. H. Smith



2:00-2:30 Laura Bossi: The Three Souls: A Brief History of a Pervasive Idea

2:30-2:45 Discussion


Session 1

2:45-3:15 Sophia Connell: The Three Souls in Aristotle’s Biology

3:15-3:45 Karl-Léo Schwering: Animism and the Work of Identification in Medicine: The Case of Organ Transplantation

3:45-4:00 Discussion

4:00-4:15 Coffee break


Session 2

4:15-4:45 Ohad Nachtomy: Three Souls, Two Substances, One Person

4:45-5:15 Philippe Huneman: The Three Souls, the Two Lives, and the Functions: Some Remarks on Natural History, Experimental Physiology, and Kantianism

5:15-5:30 Discussion


5:30-6:00 General discussion


6:00-7:30 Cocktails


Saturday 6 October

8:45-9:00 Coffee


Session 3

9:00-9:30 Justin E.H. Smith: The Fourth Soul: Aristotle on Air as Ambient psukhē

9:30-10:00 George Makari: Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind

10:00-10:15 Discussion


Session 4

10:15-10:45 Laurent Cohen: The Fragmented Soul

10:45-11:15 Noga Arikha: Psyche, Soma, and the Self

11:15-11:30 Discussion

11:30-11:45 Coffee break

11:45-12:15 General discussion

12:15-2:00 Lunch break


Session 5

2:00-2:30 Kathryn Tabb: Madness in the Sensitive Soul

2:30-3:00 Didier Sicard: The Body’s Soul

3:00-3:15 Discussion


Session 6

3:15-3:45 Charles T. Wolfe: Trajectories in the Naturalisation of the Soul: Mind and Life

3:45-4:15 Marta Spranzi: Disorders of Consciousness, Neuroimaging and the Illusion of Objective Ethical Standards

4:15-4:30 Discussion


4:30-4:45 Coffee break


4:45-5:15 Manos Tsakiris: Heartfelt Self: Going Beyond Cardiocentrism and Encephalocentrism 


5:15-5:45 General discussion





6:00-6:45 Siri Hustvedt: Never Mind, or: Plato, Placebo, Placenta

6:45-7:00 Discussion


7:00 Cocktails




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