The Order of the Soul

I’ve seen a lot of different perspectives, many of them quite similar, on the proper ordering of the faculties of the soul. The simplest one I recall was one designed for little kids that has a train with an engine, a car, and a caboose. The engine is “Faith”, the car is “Facts”, and the caboose is “Feelings”. The point, of course, was that feelings weren’t supposed to be leading the charge; that was faith, supported by facts. One was not to make decisions based on feelings as they weren’t trustworthy.

For most of Christian history, there’s been an Hellenistic ideal, propagated by Plato in his allegory of the charioteer, that reason has been the primary faculty of soul and that all else (essentially desire and emotion) was to be ordered underneath its command. Most even argued that the image of God in which man was created (Gen. 1:26) was reason, the intellect.

Dallas Willard in his book, Renovation of the Heart, proposes that the mind conducts both reasoning and emotion and doesn’t seem to suggest a specific ordering of one over the other, though he does note that the body ought to be subordinate to both.

Various mystics have implied that there is reason and also intuition, though never titled as such, and that intuition was higher than reason. Imagination, some also argued, was a separate faculty that was beneath both.

All these various perspectives share a particular trait that I’m not sure I agree with any longer. That is, there is a hierarchy of faculties to follow in terms of order of importance or use in decision making.

For one thing, contemporary research by Antonin Damasio and others has demonstrated that decision-making in personal, social, and moral realms, whether we like it or not, is dictated by the emotions and the body, maybe even more than the intellect. It seems that the intellect actually contributes information that is encoded bodily and emotionally. Then, the person makes a decision based upon the state of these two faculties, not reason.

Additionally, while the intellect has access only to conscious, working memory, other faculties have a wider field from which to assemble information. Things stored in long-term memory may not be easily accessed by the mind, but they can have dramatic affects on the body and emotional state. Relying only on reason can cause you to miss things that may be of significant importance.

To compound things, studies on attachment theory, particularly by Pehr Granqvist and Todd Hall, suggest that the way in which we relate to God is determined to a large extent on the manner in which one attached to one’s parents when quite young, but this was not an intellectual attachment, but one based upon social constructs and emotions. Our experience of God and manner of relating to Him (and others) is grounded in large part outside of the intellect.

It would seem to me that a hierarchy of faculties actually doesn’t make much sense. We are holistic beings. We can think, desire, intuit, feel, clench and relax, imagine, love, etc. and all of these things are integral to what we do and think and how we live. It may be that reasoning is the most neurologically sophisticated aspect of us, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the dominant part. It gives more ways of taking in the world (and God), but that is not to say that other ways are to be denigrated.

I think we must respect our emotions, our intuitions, our imagination, our bodies, and our senses as well as our minds. None should be disregarded in making choices or reduced in stature to the rest.

Do you agree? Where does this hit you? How do you conceive (or have you conceived) of the way all our faculties are to be ordered?


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