Robert Bolton on the (Immaterial, Immortal) Soul
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One of the most fascinating things about the field of the study of western esotericism is the number of different methodological viewpoint it embraces. Our discussion with Richard Seaford on the birth of the soul took a strongly materialist, historicist line: you can account for the idea of a soul arising at a particular point in the evolution of human cultures because of the kind of material circumstances arising in those cultures at that time.
But Dr Robert Bolton has an entirely different story to tell: there is, and always has been, a reality which we call soul, one which is immaterial and immortal. Dr Bolton’s discussion combines a priori reasoning with reflections on his own conception of the philosophia perennis. This episode provides a tonic opposition to the previous discussion, and it is hoped that the juxtaposition is fruitful for many listeners. It also gives a first-hand, or emic, insight into the thought of a practitioner of a certain kind of esoteric Platonist Christian way of life, one which may be understood as part of western esotericism. In the final part of the interview, we explore Dr Bolton’s particular vision of a Catholic Platonism and the place of the soul within it.
Works Discussed in this Episode:
Bolton, Robert, 2017. Person, Soul, and Identity: Philosophy and the Real Self. Angelico Press, San Rafael, CA. Listeners interested in the ideas about cyclical time mentioned in the episode will want to check out Idem. 2001. The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony. Sophia Perennis, San Rafael, CA.
John Scotus Eriugena: De divisione naturæ Book 1, section 486 B – D (part of a larger discussion 486 to 494A) the essentia–virtus–operatio triad, translating the Greek Platonist οὐσία/δύναμις/ἐνεργεία.
Lorenz, Konrad (2002). Marjorie Kerr Wilson, trans. King Solomon’s Ring : New Light on Animal Ways. Routledge, London. See Chapter 5 for ducks thinking the author is their mother because the first thing they see upon hatching is him quacking away.
Plotinus: Ennead III.6 On the Impassibility of Things without Bodies.
The classical arguments lying at the beginning of this traditional way of thinking about the soul are to be found in Plato. The dialogue Phædo is especially important in this regard. Also check out the Meno.