Student inspires panel on psychology, philosophy concerning the soul

Theresa Balick

Staff Writer

A student’s question, asked during a class, led two Franciscan University of Steubenville professors to host a panel discussion on how psychology and philosophy interact in their understandings of the soul Friday at 3 p.m. in the Pugliese Auditorium.

The professors sitting on the panel — Alex Plato, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, and Marita O’Brien, who holds a doctorate in psychology — compared different theories within their respective fields in order to reach a conclusion about what the soul is, to an audience of about 35 students.

Plato gave the philosophical definition of the soul, describing its powers going up a ladder-like scale. The lowest power is simply being, which means that the soul is something living. From there, the soul gains more powers in a particular order: capabilities, abilities and activities.

Plato used the example of speaking Russian to demonstrate the different levels, saying that everyone has the capacity to learn Russian, but not everyone has the ability to speak or the activity of speaking the language on a daily basis.

O’Brien gave the psychological standpoint, explaining neuroscience’s view of the brain as well as behaviorism theories. She said the brain has two systems: the intuitive System 1 and the analytical System 2. She placed them on Plato’s levels of powers of the soul and said that psychologists often overlook the fundamental aspect of being in human behavior.

“I think that that’s one of the challenges and one of the limitations of behaviorism,” O’Brien said.

She said that behaviorism cannot predict the soul because it only looks at the abilities and activities of the soul, not the capabilities or the fundamental aspect of being.

Senior Gabriel Warila said that his favorite part of the panel was Plato’s description of the different levels of power in the soul.

“It’s something to think about later,” Warila said.

During his general psychology class, Maxwell Oswalt, a senior philosophy and theology major, asked how psychologists view the soul since they use many of the same terms that philosophers use to describe the soul, such as intellect. His question evolved into this discussion among different branches of the faculty and other experts outside of the university.

Also scheduled to sit on the panel was Susan Waldstein, who holds a doctorate in theology. Waldstein could not make the event due to a medical emergency.