A metamodern concept of the soul

The central moment of sustainable psychology and philosophy, culture and society.

Author: Maik Hosang

Issue No: 95

In modern times, the concept of soul has been lost in both philosophy and psychology. Hosang advocates its reintroduction as a third entity between matter and mind. In doing so, he wants the soul to be understood not as an entity independent of man, but as an organ of integration of the psyche with the ground of the world, ultimately its consciousness, capable of longing, love, joy, and freedom.

“We are shaken by secret shudders and dark forebodings; but we see no way out, and few people come to the conclusion that this time it is about man’s soul, long forgotten.” (C. G. Jung)

The origins of psychology and psychotherapy, and likewise of philosophy, are inextricably linked to the concept of the soul. However, apart from everyday or esoteric uses, this term gradually disappeared from scientific discourses. Therefore, the aim of this paper is, on the basis of the decided concepts of soul by R. H. Lotze and C. G. Jung a meta-modern redefinition of this term. Furthermore, it will be made clear that some gaps of modern science and some problems of modern culture will not be solvable without the integration of a transdisciplinary concept of the soul. Crucial human qualities like consciousness, longing, love, intensity and freedom can only be understood and developed as potentials of the soul.

A brief cultural history of the “soul

The term “soul” was, among other things, the starting point of the branch of science “psychology”, but disappeared more and more from this science with increasing differentiation. A physician and philosopher, Rudolf Hermann Lotze (at that time “the most influential philosopher in Germany, perhaps even the world”, Stanford-Encyclopedia 2005), who was not unimportant for the development of this branch of science in the middle of the 19th century, wrote a work on the “physiology of the soul” (Lotze 1852), in which he defended the meaning of this concept against any materialistic as well as spiritual one-sidedness. The book begins with a chapter on why the concept of the soul is necessary and not replaceable by other, less complex concepts (“Von den Gründen für die Bildung des Begriffs der Seele”). Even today Lotze’s argumentation seems extremely differentiated and once again raises the question why this concept of integration has largely disappeared from science.
If one looks at this development with cultural-critical openness and skepticism, the displacement of the “soul” from science can be located parallel to the triumph of modern industrial society.

However, the tendency of their suppression already exists since the beginning of modern science. Already large parts of the Greek philosophy blanked it out. This can be seen concisely in Descartes’ classic sentence “I think, therefore I am”, which symbolizes the decisive separation of spirit and matter in the world views that developed from it. This development continued through the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Later thinkers see either mind (thinking) or being (matter) as the primary dimension; the third dimension, crucial for both to interact, traditionally captured by the concept of soul, is neglected in each case.
Presumably, this neglect or suppression of the concept of soul in the predominantly materialistically oriented industrial society and its scientific systems occurred because the cultural awareness of a third dimension between matter and spirit would have hindered the effective development of industrial culture. Only without or with little “soul” the triumphant advance of scientific science and technology and, at least for the western industrial countries, also a general material standard of living succeeded, as it was hardly imaginable before. However, the growing ecological and spiritual crises, despite all material-technical successes, indicate that it is time to reintegrate this suppressed category of human existence into the focus of modern science. For its increasing, but so far only popular scientific or esoteric reactivation does not meet the demands of sustainable science and culture. The popular or esoteric concepts of soul not only remain too unspecific, they often reactivate those tendencies of magical-mythical escape from reality, the critical dissolution of which was and is a decisive achievement of modern science and culture. Before attempting in the following to reconstruct the concept of the soul in metamodern terms, a few remarks on the concept itself. Since the word “soul” often tempts the projection of a distinct entity independent of human individuals and their lives, perhaps a less fixed but more fluid and fragile word would be better for what is elaborated below. Hence, there are thinkers who speak instead of “soul essence” (Aurobindo Ghose), “anticipatory consciousness” (Ernst Bloch), “surplus consciousness” (Rudolf Bahro), “heat flow” (Joseph Beuys), or existential core values of the good, the true, and the beautiful (Ken Wilber). For the sake of conceptual clarity, I nevertheless mostly use the word “soul” in the following and ask to understand it as an open term that does not denote a fixed entity but a particular human potential.

The concept of soul in R. H. Lotze and C. G. Jung

There are two scientifically relevant approaches to the concept of the soul that are worth remembering and integrating into a future science: The first one is the one already mentioned at the beginning by R. H. Lotze, the other one by C. G. Jung. In the following, both will be briefly recapitulated and then an attempt will be made to derive from their similarities and differences a first definition of the term “soul” as well as further need for clarification and research.
In order to be able to understand how seriously Lotze supported the concept of soul, in the following some quotations:
“In three moves now the living formation of language seems to have seen the reason for the creation of that concept of the soul. First, in the observed fact of imagining, feeling, and desiring, three forms of action, in which, apart from the mere being and action, an additional perception of this being and action, the phenomenon of consciousness in the broadest sense, shows itself; then, in the unity of this consciousness, which does not permit to link the mental activities to an aggregate of divisible and only externally connected physical masses; Finally, in the circumstance, not observed, but inferred from observations, that all other being behaves in all its relationships only as an acting cause, which, according to general laws, produces predetermined consequences with necessity, while the animate alone, as acting subject, lets movements and changes, deeds in general, emerge freely from itself with a new beginning. ” (Lotze, 1852, § 1)
After Lotze first visualized from the general use of the term its complex meaning, which is not covered by any other term, he tries to understand its concrete function in the second part of the book on the physiology of the soul. In doing so, he arrives at the assumption that the soul is a kind of hybrid or integrating organ in which the physical-emotional aspects of a human being interact with the universal ground of the world, from which the human capacities of free decision and ethical intention result. To understand this, it should be added that the universal world ground for Lotze is neither a physical-material substance nor a personal deity, but a universal evolutionary relational structure with tendential unfoldings of the values of the good and the beautiful.

In other words, Lotze pleads for a concrete reconstruction of the concept of the soul not as a category outdated by modern science, but as a category inevitable for understanding the human being. For only this and no other concept captures and explains the human potentials of a) capacity for freedom, b) consciousness, and c) the ego-feeling integrating the multiplicity of physical and psychic processes. Lotze explains these special soul potentials by the fact that in the human individual not only genetic predispositions and cultural imprints interact, but also interactions with the universal relational and evolutionary field and its tendencies of the good and the beautiful happen. How this interaction happens in the soul, for this Lotze quotes himself once again: “… that phase of the course of nature in which the germ of a physical organism is founded is a retroacting condition which stimulates the substantial ground of the world just as much to the production of a certain soul out of itself as the physical impression compels our soul to the production of a certain sensation. As little as sensation arises from nothing, as little as it arises from the external stimulus, as it is rather only the necessary reaction of the soul against it, so little does the organization of itself, according to the materialistic conception, produce the soul, nor does the soul arise from nothing; it is the necessary product, to the production of which the common creative ground of the world is compelled by the retroacting force of a moment from that course of nature which it itself has created and to which it has left the realization of all purposes.” (Lotze, 1852, § 150) These and further remarks of Lotze on a modern concept of the soul are not only found in the early work on the “Physiology of the Soul” (1852) quoted so far, but likewise in his later work “Mikrokosmos” (4th edition 1884), which represents an integration of natural, human and spiritual sciences, published many times and in many languages until the 20th century.

A few decades after Lotze, it was the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung who again emphasized the importance of the concept of soul. He was aware that it is not a fixed entity, but rather a conceptualized totality of psychic processes and potentials of a certain transcendent quality: “Soul is for me a collective term for the totality of so-called psychic processes.” (Jaffe, 1993, p. 405)
He criticized a psychology without soul and therefore tried to make its concept also scientifically graspable and applicable again. He was well aware of the difficulty of describing the soul, which cannot be delimited in a physical-concrete way, for a science focused on physical-concrete things. His following definitions are therefore to be seen in this paradox: to make something concretely graspable, which in itself exists neither physically nor psychically concrete.
He saw as the three most important functions of the soul, respectively of the mental processes grasped by this term, for human existence:

(a) It makes possible what we call consciousness, which is still not demonstrable neurobiologically, but which undoubtedly and effectively exists in human introspection. Jung refers to the soul as “that living thing which we feel distinctly or indistinctly as the ground of our consciousness, or as the atmosphere of our consciousness” (Jung, 1971, p. 20).
b) The soul connects our limited physical and psychic existence with something greater, with the boundless background of being, whether this is understood religiously as a deity or physically as a universal zero-point field (Jacobi, 1971, p. 49).
c) The concept of soul enables a theoretical, but also inner-psychic-practical differentiation between two personality nuclei: “Jung distinguishes between person No. 1 and person No. 2. Person No. 1 stands for the outer person, who pursues a profession, perhaps has a family, and tries to find his standing in society. Person No. 2 is the inner person who looks inward, lives from within, inside. It is the person who is in touch with his depth, with his soul.” (Grün/Müller, 2008, p. 24)

There is no evidence that C. G. Jung took note of Lotze’s remarks on the soul, which had already largely disappeared from the scientific landscape at that time. Jung’s approaches to the concept of the soul are therefore to be understood as rediscoveries independent of this. From the fact that Lotze and Jung so independently developed in many respects identical determinations of the concept of the soul, it can therefore be concluded that their concept of the soul has a certain truth and reality content. In what follows, an attempt will be made to follow Lotze’s and Jung’s lines of thought in outlining a metamodern concept of the soul. The concept of the metamodern refers to a worldwide growing cultural and social science perspective, which sees the growing crises of modernity or postmodernity as the starting point of a new epoch, the metamodernity. For more on my understanding of this metamodernity, see
In the following section first some gaps of today’s understanding of the world of modern science are presented, which could be closed by a new concept of the soul. Then, and finally, a corresponding definition of a metamodern concept of the soul will be sketched.

Gaps in the modern understanding of the world

Psychology and Neurobiology

Probably every human being, who – no matter in which culture – lives in reasonably safe circumstances, knows feelings or intentions like longing, universal love, warmth of heart, search for meaning or deep joy. These feelings and intentions cannot be explained by physical needs or cultural influences alone. Also the perception of consciousness or awareness, which can more or less clearly reflexively accompany other psychological processes in humans, is still not explainable from psychological or neurobiological processes. Likewise, the abilities of freedom of decision, action and will, which are undoubtedly present in the introspective, cannot be understood without the assumption of a special mental potential in man.

Sociology, History and Culture
The history of societies and social systems can largely be explained by the interplay of environmental conditions, economic potentials, power interests and competitions. However, there have always been and still are social, cultural or ethical innovations originating from individuals or a few people that have made possible new social spaces of solidarity, justice, equality, freedom and democracy – whether the emergence of ethical religions, the liberation movements of peoples and slaves, the equal rights of blacks and of women.
For other concrete historical examples of such social innovations, see, for example, the works of the co-founder of sociology, Ferdinand Tönnies, or the book, also largely suppressed from contemporary sociology, by Pitirim Sorokin, the first director of the Harvard Institute of Sociology, entitled: “The Ways and the Power of Love. Types, Factors and Techniques of Moral Transformation” (Sorokin 2002).


The plays of Shakespeare, the paintings of Botticelli or van Gogh, the toccatas of Bach, the symphonies of Beethoven, the songs of Schubert, and many other works of art that have endured through the centuries are each also characterized by masterful artistic technique; and yet the real beauty and impressiveness of these works arise only from the soul of the artist expressed in them, which can be sensed by the viewer.

Medicine and health

The term “mental crises” has become a widely recognized collective term for a variety of illnesses caused primarily by social, professional or personal circumstances. Offers for “mental health” accordingly refer to a variety of measures aimed at restoring work-life balance, stress management or personal resilience. Beyond this, however, there are personal experiences or even life problems that go beyond these general mental imbalances and point to the presence or disruption of a more fundamental human potential: Near Death Experiences, Broken Heart Syndrome, or Peak States ( These situations, mental crises and health potentials cannot be grasped with terms and methods of current medicine (Hofmann/Heise 2016).

A metamodern concept of the soul

Based on Lotze’s and Jung’s lines of thought summarized in the second section and the voids of modern knowledge recapitulated in the last section, some basic aspects of a metamodern concept of the soul can be outlined:
The “soul” is a special potential of the human psyche that goes beyond genetic, familial, and cultural dispositions and imprints of a human person. This potential arises from intrapsychic interaction with a universal information and energy field, traditionally referred to, for example, as God, Brahma, or Tao, and in modern terms as the universe, dark energy, life field, or zero-point field (Taggart 2008). Which neurobiological and psychological structures realize this interaction with the universal information and energy field, transcending all concrete personal and cultural existence, and in which way, has not yet been explored by modern science. Traditional philosophies locate this interaction either in a special resonance structure in the heart or in the pineal gland. The manner of this interaction is thereby described either more as a profound and beyond concrete psychic states and inwardly widening feeling of love or more as not rationally reasoning but purpose-free reflecting consciousness or awareness. In addition to love and awareness, inwardly widening rather than limiting sensations and feelings such as longing, freedom, and lightness are described.
Beyond this, attempts to explain why the soul or the mental potentials just outlined exist in man can be found especially in philosophers of the early 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly J. G. Herder, J. G. Fichte, G. W. F. Hegel, Max Scheler, Aurobindo Ghose, and Teilhard de Chardin. A summary of their thoughts results in the following thesis: The universal evolution tended to produce more and more complexly interconnected and more and more complexly perceptive entities and living beings. Only by the human being who differs from his evolutionary ancestors beside more complex brain structures in particular by potentials of the love (that is also the “soul”, see above) this universal evolution tends to become conscious of itself and makes possible thereby completely new evolutionary developments. However, as long as this evolutionary consciousness potential is only partially realized culturally, it leads to various oddities and “aberrations” of cultural evolution.

Ideas and politics of the “superman” or other so-called “atman projects”, in which people and cultures project their largely unconscious longing for universal connectedness and free creativity onto various emotionally limited things, are to be mentioned as particularly conspicuous aberrations of psychic semiconsciousness. Material possession and/or consumption addiction, sex addiction, power or status addiction or drug addiction are some of these mental surrogates of meaning, which, however, cannot fulfill the actual mental longing and therefore ultimately produce mostly inwardly desperate or all the more desperate individuals seeking corresponding surrogates of meaning.
In spite of cultures which have been predominantly unfavorable for it so far, however, it succeeded historically so far again and again single human individuals to develop a largely free mental self-awareness. Although their forms of expression differed somewhat depending on the surrounding culture, these people all had and still have amazingly identical potentials and qualities in common: Their “2nd inner person” (see above with C. G. Jung) is strongly developed and enables them to orient their feeling, thinking and acting not primarily to limited or egocentric needs and interests, but to universal values of the good, the true and the beautiful. Unlike so-called “redeemed” people, however, they do not tend to condemn or abandon natural and cultural reality, which is always limited both materially and emotionally and in its evolutionary state. They recognize the double or fundamentally dual psyche of every human being – which is both 1st and 2nd person in each case. From this arises, on the one hand, understanding and compassion for the “faults” and “weaknesses” of human beings and, on the other hand, an unbroken sensitive commitment to cultural, social, ecological and economic innovations in the sense of the universal evolutionary basic values of the good, the true and the beautiful, despite all the disappointments and evolutionary resistances experienced and suffered.

Need for further research

The above text is to be understood as a first attempt to develop a meta-modern concept of the soul, i.e. on the one hand critical and differentiated, but on the other hand not skeptical-repressed, but affirming the soul’s qualities such as longing, love, joy and freedom. In the course of writing the text, further exciting research questions arose for a new, complex self-understanding of the soul, which for the time being can only be briefly outlined here:

How does the inner-psychic interplay of 1st person (I-ego or outer I) and 2nd person (I-soul or inner I) work?

To what extent does the free and conscious development and becoming conscious of an I-soul need a corresponding resonance with other I-souls?

How does the communication of conscious souls with each other succeed in such a way that all participants can distinguish their 1st and 2nd person and experience a sustainable development of their creativity, health and joy of life in this complex interplay?

How does a soul being or the inner formation and self-awareness of an I-soul take place? How much “loving” soul resonance do human individuals need in which phases of life in order not to split off or suppress their soul potential? To what extent can even negative circumstances be integrated as a challenge to growth?

How does a relatively developed individual soul express and experience itself? What is the relationship between reflexive consciousness and emotional energies of joy, love, lightness, sovereignty, freedom, intensity and longing? Do such “soul energies” have a direct developmental effect on other people?

Are the current concepts and ideas of the soul too much influenced by ego-oriented modernity? How can “ego-free” soul concepts be found that preserve soul individuality, but at the same time allow for more intense and effective co-creative soul synergies?

About the author:

Maik Hosang is a philosopher, social ecologist, and forest gardener. He teaches aesthetics and creativity to students, researches human transformation potentials and social transformation processes, designs philosophical worlds of experience and writes books such as “The Art of Loving in Action”, “The Integral Human” and “The Emotional Matrix”. More about his research at,

This article was originally published on the German website: Ein metamoderner Begriff der Seele


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An earlier version of this text was published in “Journal of Consciousness Science,” issue 1/2016.
A metamodern notion of soul also has multifaceted implications for our understanding of inspiration and co-creativity. For more, see here:

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