computers don't have souls


I believe that there is a definite quality that distinguishes human beings from computers (and animals)—soul/essence/humanity/personality—whatever you want to call it.  I’ll probably refer to it as a soul. 

 If people have souls (and I use this word within a completely secular context), what defines a soul?  According to Plato, the soul is made up of three distinct parts. 

Socrates and Plato


Plato, drawing on the words of his teacher Socrates, considered the soul as the essence of a person, being, that which decides how we behave. He considered this essence as an incorporeal, eternal occupant of our being. As bodies die the soul is continually reborn in subsequent bodies. The Platonic soul comprises three parts: 1. the logos (mind, nous, or reason) 2. the thymos (emotion, or spiritedness)

3. the eros (appetitive, or desire)

 Each of these has a function in a balanced and peaceful soul. The logos equates to the mind. It corresponds to the charioteer, directing the balanced horses of appetite and spirit. It allows for logic to prevail, and for the optimisation of balance. The thymos comprises our emotional motive, that which drives us to acts of bravery and glory. If left unchecked, it leads to hubris -- the most fatal of all flaws in the Greek view. The eros equates to the appetite that drives humankind to seek out its basic bodily needs. When the passion controls us, it drives us to hedonism in all forms. In the Ancient Greek view, this is the basal and most feral state.

A computer can be programmed to reason (“Logos” lent its meaning to the name of a software company).  However, a computer lacks thymos and eros.  A computer does not choose to process data, it lacks an opinion regarding why the task is to be completed.  If programmed to do something, it does it with no argument and no sense of accomplishment once the job is done.  Computers lack passion, and do not have basic bodily needs to fulfill.  They do not fear death (or in their case, non-existence); they do not care whether they exist or not.  They just do.  (If my computer had feelings, it would probably be sad that I was calling it a soul-less machine.  However, there is no indication that my computer is offended by what I’ve written so far.  Nor is there any indication that it understands the meaning behind the patterns of my keystrokes.)


By my interpretation of Plato’s definition of soul, animals, infants, and people in a persistent vegatative state lack souls also. 

 Dr. Duncan MacDougall concluded through a series of experiments that dogs don’t have souls.  This, however was not his primary objective.  Most people know him for his hypothesis that a soul has mass and that upon death, the soul leaves the body, thus resulting in weight loss.  21 grams, to be exact.  

Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance Together

with Experimental Evidence of The Existence of Such Substance


However, his work was widely discredited, given the small test group, inaccuracy due to methods of weighing/measuring, and other factors. 

 If the human soul is elusive, then the concept of a mechanical/man-made/programmed soul is even more so.  Perhaps computers are like infants—they don’t have souls, but they have the potential to one day.  At this point, I can’t decide if I like the idea of an artificial soul.  There are definitely pros (it would give the phrase “make new friends” a completely different connotation) but for some reason, the thought of emotional robots creeps me out.