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The doctrine of a world-soul in a highly abstract form is met with as early as the eighth century before Christ, when we find it described as "the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the unknown knower, the Eternal in which space is woven and which is woven in it." In Greece, on the other hand, the first essays of philosophy took a positive and somewhat materialistic direction, inherited from the pre-philosophic age, from Homer and the early Greek religion.
In Homer, while the distinction of soul and body is recognized, the soul is hardly conceived as possessing a substantial existence of its own.
The term "mind" usually denotes this principle as the subject of our conscious states, while "soul" denotes the source of our vegetative activities as well.
That our vital activities proceed from a principle capable of subsisting in itself, is the thesis of the substantiality of the soul: that this principle is not itself composite, extended, corporeal, or essentially and intrinsically dependent on the body, is the doctrine of spirituality.
Anaximander gives it an aeriform constitution, Heraclitus describes it as a fire. The cosmic ether or fire is the subtlest of the elements, the nourishing flame which imparts heat, life, sense, and intelligence to all things in their several degrees and kinds.
The Pythagoreans taught that the soul is a harmony, its essence consisting in those perfect mathematical ratios which are the law of the universe and the music of the heavenly spheres.
It is composed of two elements, one an element of "sameness" ( tauton ), corresponding to the universal and intelligible order of truth, and the other an element of distinction or "otherness" ( thateron ), corresponding to the world of sensible and particular existences.
The individual human soul is constructed on the same plan.
The philosophers did something to correct such views.
Sometimes, as in the "Phaedrus", Plato teaches the doctrine of plurality of souls (cf.
the well-known allegory of the charioteer and the two steeds in that dialogue).
Theology, physics, and mental science were not as yet distinguished.
It is only with the rise of dialectic and the growing recognition of the problem of knowledge that a genuinely psychological theory became possible.
Many peoples, such as the Dyaks and Sumatrans, bind various parts of the body with cords during sickness to prevent the escape of the soul.