The concept of the soul has an important place in the conceptual apparatuses of towering figures of modern social thought such as Georg Simmel, W. E. B. DuBois, or György Lukács. Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, philosopher Stephen T. Asma wonders why soul talk still lingers in academia despite the justified skepticism of most present-day academics.

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. …

So why is soul talk still meaningful, and why can’t it be replaced?

He concludes that “soul” is a nondescriptive utterance that must be understood through its pragmatics.

Once you take the metaphysics out of the language of soul, you begin to see how the soul is used in social contexts of ordinary language. When a minister tells parents at their son’s funeral that they will see their son again, and his soul is in a better place, I cannot dismiss it or heap scorn on it. If we professors hear this language as a description of reality, then we’re bound to be irritated by the issue of truant evidence and the lack of warrant. But if we hear it as emotive hope, then our objections fall away. The students in my class are right to want to hold on to this language. Metaphysics aside, the minister’s language seems to suggest that there are emotions so deep and bonds so strong that not even death should end them. That is a beautiful sentiment no matter what you think of the soul.

Read the full article here.