Posted : Monday, Jun 24, 2019 at 4:32am



The mind is a topic that has played a role in many western philosophical debates with many of them being centred on Descartes’ notion of the mind as presented in his Meditations. Some alternatives to the Cartesian mind have been presented, one of which is panpsychism, the idea that everything material has a mental state on some level. In the essay that follows I will hold a position which aims to take the opposite side of the Cartesian mind by presenting the metaphysical idea of Isintu, paying a closer look at ubuntu and then using panpsychism to show that there could actually be one singular mind and many souls.


The first step of this essay is to address the ambiguity between the terms ‘Mind’, ‘Soul’ and ‘Spirit’. These words have been used interchangeably and as such a distinction must be made between all three. The spirit (in the case of this essay) is what one might call the breath of life. This is also our character which can be described as a type of energy. The mind on the other hand is the faculty by which we think and feel and the soul is a derivative of the mind (hence the terms being used interchangeably).

The Soul is also described as the self or the essential self, it is from this notion which Descartes derives the Cogito which states that: ‘I think therefore I am’. What Descartes ultimately did with the creation of this statement is create the mind-body problem which is basically the notion that: if the mind is separate from the body then how does the mind interact with the body? Secondly there is also the problem of other minds which states that: if all I can prove is that I have a mind the how can I ever know that other people have minds?


Panpsychism is a response to the mind-body problem because this theory states that everything that is physical has a mental state which means that the mind is a material entity or physical things are mental entities. The implication of this theory is that all things have mental states the only difference is the richness of these mental states.

What this further implies is that all things can think and/or feel which means that the faculty of thought is not exclusive to humans. Furthermore this means that plants can think, animals can think, rocks can think, the elements can think and if this is taken on an even higher level the planet can think.

Additionally if panpsychism states that mental and physical properties are present in all entities then knowing that humans are made from the same substances as what one can find in the universe then one could propose that the entire cosmos possesses mental states. This insinuates that there could be a greater mind or a cosmic mind and humans thinking could be proof that the cosmos is self reflecting. Therefore the cosmic mind is the true source of the individual soul and each entities soul is merely a derivative of the one bigger mind.


This means that the bigger mind is like the colour brown, which is essentially a combination of every single colour that we know of and each soul-type is merely a derivate of the colour brown. For example the Human soul could be like the colour purple which is a combination of red and blue properties whilst a dog soul is the colour orange which is a combination of yellow and red. The reason why we are able to relate with dogs is because of the red property which is both in the purple soul and orange soul. So the combination of all these different colours being in one space creates brown one bigger level.

What this also shows is that when two or more souls come together they essentially become ‘of one mind’ which means that it is also possible to have a communal mind and it is this communal mind from which the notion of ubuntu can be understood.

The central tenet of ubuntu states that ‘I am because you are’, this statement can be further extended to: ‘I am because you are and since you are most definitely I am’. Therefore my claiming that I have a mind is relative of others having minds. This is expressed in the Isizulu greeting ‘Sawubona” which can be roughly translated to ‘I see you’ to which the greeting process will eventually lead to one stating that ‘ngikhona’ which means ‘I am here’ which an acknowledgement of one’s existence/presence and essentially the acknowledging of one’s mind/soul. This answers the question of other minds which was presented by the problem of other mind. Complemented with panpsychism the mind and body problem is also answered.

Human Soul

The Human Soul can be described in a platonic fashion which states that the soul a combination of intellect; will and desire (appetite). This is the human soul were as one can presume that an animal soul might have will and desire, this is just an example based on assumption but this is a reference to the example that was explained using colour. Furthermore one can also insinuate that what truly makes each person unique is ones level for each element that makes up the human soul. One person could be more spirited or emotional than another whilst others are more logical than others therefore they have more intellect than will and the combination differs for each person.


We are both actors and reactors, meaning that we can be of influence and also become influenced by others. This is where ubuntu’s communal thinking comes into play because the collective mind is influenced by individual minds/souls which also comes back to influence the individual. This works in a cycle because we work/live relative to our environments. This is why there is a notion that the circle of friends you choose can influence you because you and that group become of one mind and therefore you are either influenced by the group or will influence the group. Ultimately this influences collective decisions. Some examples of this are different cities or areas, there is a reason as to why people in different cities behave in different ways some people call this ‘the vibe’ of the city some cities are more lively others are more about work and this goes back to the people of this city being of one mind and this explains each nationalities behaviours and it goes up all the way to the bigger/greater mind.


The essay above has explored the idea of the mind and soul potentially being the same thing, if not derivates of each other. This was done by looking at panpsychism and ubuntu in response to the mind and body problem and the problem of other minds respectively. This was done to help one further understand that the notions presented by the African notion of Isintu is not just about ethics but it also has metaphysical implications and this was done by taking Ubuntu a part of Isintu and making it complementary to panpsychism to ultimately show that we are part of a collective mind which we can influence or are being influenced by.

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