Augustine, On the Immortality of the Soul

slightly revised from the Latin translation by George G. Leckie 1938 (D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.)

Introductory Note

This treatise, which may be regarded as a sequel to the Soliloquies, was composed also in 387 A.D. and bears the same marks of the mind of the author while he was residing in Cassiciacum.  As his thought was in a state of transition from Neo-Platonism to a fully developed Christianity, it is not strange that the writing of this period is still under a strong Platonic influence.  In the treatise On the Immortality of the Soul Saint Augustine reproduces arguments  that derive from Plato, though it is impossible to tell whether they came through direct contact or through the medium of Cicero or Plotinus.  In any event, that he undertook to write on the problem of the soul's immortality indicates his interest at this period in developing a rational demonstration to support his own positive belief.  In the Rectractationes, he refers to his early work in unfavorable terms, but for all its obscurity it remains an important document for this phase of Saint Augustine's thought.


The First Reason Why the Soul is Immortal: It is the Subject of Science Which is Eternal

If science [disciplina] exists anywhere, and can exist only in that which lives; and if it is eternal, and nothing in which an eternal thing exists can be non-eternal; then that in which science exists lives eternally.  If we exist who reason, that is, if our mind does, and if our mind cannot reason rightly without science, and if without science no mind can exist except as a mind without science, then science is in the mind of man.  Science, moreover, is somewhere, for it exists, and whatever exists cannot be nowhere.  Further, science cannot exist except in that which lives.  For nothing which is not alive learns anything, and science cannot be in a thing which does not learn.

Again, science is eternal.  For what exists and is unchangeable must be eternal.  But no one denies that science exists.  And whoever admits that it is impossible that a line drawn through the midpoint of a circle is not greater than all lines which are not drawn through the midpoint, and admits that this is a part of science, does not deny that science is unchangeable.  Further, nothing in which an eternal thing exists can be non-eternal.  For nothing which is eternal ever allows to be taken from it that in which it exists eternally.

Now, truly, when we reason it is the mind which reasons.  For only he who thinks reasons.  Neither does the body think, nor does the mind receive the help of the body in thinking, since when the mind wishes to think it turns away from the body.  For what is thought is thus eternal, and nothing pertaining to the body is thus eternal, therefore the body cannot help the mind as it strives to understand; for it is sufficient if the body does not hamper the mind.  Again, without science [disciplina] nobody reasons rightly.  For thought is right reasoning moving from things certain to the investigation of things uncertain, and there is nothing certain in an ignorant mind.  All that the mind knows, moreover, it contains within itself, nor does knowledge consist in anything which does not pertain to some science.  For science is the knowledge of any things whatsoever.  Therefore the human mind always lives.


Mind is Life, and Thus It Cannot Lack Life

If anyone asserts that the mind ought not to fear that destruction in which that which was something becomes nothing, but ought to fear that in which we call those things dead which lack life, let him notice that there is no thing which lacks itself.  Moreover, mind is a certain life, so that all which is animated lives.  But every inanimate thing which can be animated is understood to be dead, that is, deprived of life.  Hence the mind cannot die.  For if anything can lack life, this thing is not mind which animates, but a thing which has been animated.  If this is absurd, this kind of destruction should be feared.  For if the mind dies wholly when life abandons it, that very life which deserts it is understood much better as mind, as now mind is not something deserted by life, but the very life itself which deserted.  For whatever dead thing is said to be abandoned by life, is understood to be deserted by the soul.  Moreover, this life which deserts the things which die is itself the mind, and it does not abandon itself; hence the mind does not die.

updated 28 October 2009