The Immortality of the Soul

By Thomas Hill Green

There can be no proof of the 'immortality of the soul' (in the only sense of the doctrine in which it is true), any more than there can be proof of the 'existence of God.' You can only prove the posterior by the prior, the part by the whole. But the 'immortality of the soul,' as = the eternity of thought = the being of God, is the absolute first and the absolute whole. To deny the 'immortality of the soul' in this sense is to maintain the destructibility of thought, and this is a contradiction in terms, for destruction has no meaning except in relation to thought.

As a determination of thought, everything is eternal. What are we to say, then, to the extinct races of animals, the past formations of the earth? How can that which is extinct and past be eternal? They were determinations of thought, and it was part of their essence, as such, to be stages in a process. The process is eternal, and they as stages in it are so too. That which has passed away is only their false appearance of being independent entities, related only to themselves, as opposed to being stages, essentially related to a before and after. In other words, relatively to our temporal consciousness, which can only present one thing to itself at a time, and therefore supposes that when A follows B, B ceases to exist, they have perished; relatively to the thought, which, as eternal, holds past, present, and future together, they are permanent; their very transitoriness is eternal.

The living agent, man, then, like everything else, is eternal as a determination of thought.

What then is the meaning of death? It is the transition by which the highest form of nature, i.e. the highest realisation of spirit, short of its realisation in itself, passes into a perfectly adequate realisation, i.e. a spiritual one.

He lets the world have its way; not from the hopelessness of the sceptic or the indifference of the epicurean, but because he knows that his own way, however lamely and blindly he pursues it, is yet that to which all the world's ways converge, and that it is the way that leadeth unto eternal life.

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Thomas Hill Green
British philosopher and social theorist,
an early leader of the British Idealists.
Elected a Fellow of Balliol College, Uiversity of Oxford, 1860, Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy, 1878, he died at the young age of 45.



Green, Thomas Hill. Works of Thomas Hill Green, "Miscellanies and Memoir," vol. 3 or 3. K. L. Nettleship, ed., London: Longmans, Geeen, and Co., 1888 pp. 159-160.