But I'm not so convinced the pedagogical situation is as Asma depicts it in the first place. He writes:
No self-respecting professor of philosophy wants to discuss the soul in class. It reeks of old-time theology, or, worse, New Age quantum treacle. The soul has been a dead end in philosophy ever since the positivists unmasked its empty referential center. Scientific philosophy has shown us that there's no there there.As I said, there's both contentious philosophy and contentious history of philosophy in Asma's remarks. The positivists were responsible for "unmasking" the soul? Not Kant or various post-Cartesian philosophers? And never mind that Asma's revisionary proposal that soul talk be treated as non-descriptive or aspirational has a decidedly positivist feel to it!
My point is simply that plenty "self-respecting" professors of philosophy want to, and do, discuss the soul in their classes. For one thing, if you teach history of philosophy, you can't avoid it. I'm teaching ancient Greek philosophy now and can't imagine not discussing the soul.
What Asma misses is that though the word "soul" doesn't have much traction in philosophy these days, we continue to investigate (and teach about) the soul under a different vocabulary. Whether the mind is reducible to the brain remains a central question in the philosophy of mind. Whether there is a self that persists through time, and if so, the relation of that self to the physical body, is a central question in debates about personal identity. This vocabulary, and these debates, are descendants of the somewhat musty, religiously inflected "soul talk" Asma suggests we need to recast. Admittedly, philosophers of mind tend not to talk of the "immortality of the mind," but if one thinks that the mind is not reducible to the brain, then a precondition of the "soul" (i.e., one's consciousness) being immortal may be met. Likewise for personal identity: If one thinks that a person can survive dramatic physical changes, then a precondition of the "soul" being immortal has been met. So "the soul" isn't dead in philosophy. Nor is it dead in philosophical pedagogy. It's simply been retranslated into other philosophical idioms.