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In folk belief, spirit is the vital principle or animating force within all living things. As far back as 1628 and 1633 respectively, both William Harvey and René Descartes speculated that somewhere within the body, in a special locality, there was a ‘vital spirit’ or ‘vital force’, which animated the whole bodily frame, such as the engine in a factory moves the machinery in it. Spirit has frequently been conceived of as a supernatural being, or non-physical entity; for example, a demon, ghost, fairy, or angel.

Historically, spirit has been used to refer to a “subtle” as opposed to “gross” material substance, as put forth in the notable last paragraph of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. In English Bibles, “the Spirit” (with a capital “S”), specifically denotes the Holy Spirit.

The concepts of spirit and soul often overlap, and both are believed to survive bodily death in some religions, and “spirit” can also have the sense of ghost, i.e. a manifestation of the spirit of a deceased person. Spirit is also often used to refer to the consciousness or personality.

The modern English word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, but also “spirit, soul, courage, vigor”, ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European *(s)peis. It is distinguished from Latin anima, “soul” (which nonetheless also derives from an Indo-European root meaning “to breathe”, earliest form *h2enh1). In Greek, this distinction exists between pneuma (πνεῦμα), “breath, motile air, spirit,” and psykhē (ψυχή), “soul” (even though the latter term, ψῡχή = psykhē/psūkhē, is also from an Indo-European root meaning “to breathe”: *bhes-, zero grade *bhs- devoicing in proto-Greek to *phs-, resulting in historical-period Greek ps- in psūkhein, “to breathe”, whence psūkhē, “spirit”, “soul”).

The word “spirit” came into Middle English via Old French. The distinction between soul and spirit also developed in the Abrahamic religions: Arabic nafs (نفس) opposite rūḥ (روح); Hebrew neshama (נְשָׁמָה nəšâmâh) or nephesh (נֶ֫פֶשׁ nép̄eš) (in Hebrew neshama comes from the root NŠM or “breath”) opposite ruach (רוּחַ rúaħ). (Note, however, that in Semitic just as in Indo-European, this dichotomy has not always been as neat historically as it has come to be taken over a long period of development: Both נֶ֫פֶשׁ (root נפשׁ) and רוּחַ (root רוח), as well as cognate words in various Semitic languages, including Arabic, also preserve meanings involving miscellaneous air phenomena: “breath”, “wind”, and even “odour”.

The connection between spirit and life is one of those problems involving factors of such complexity that we have to be on our guard lest we ourselves get caught in the net of words in which we seek to ensnare these great enigmas. For how can we bring into the orbit of our thought those limitless complexities of life which we call “Spirit” or “Life” unless we clothe them in verbal concepts, themselves mere counters of the intellect? The mistrust of verbal concepts, inconvenient as it is, nevertheless seems to me to be very much in place in speaking of fundamentals. “Spirit” and “Life” are familiar enough words to us, very old acquaintances in fact, pawns that for thousands of years have been pushed back and forth on the thinker’s chessboard. The problem must have begun in the grey dawn of time, when someone made the bewildering discovery that the living breath which left the body of the dying man in the last death-rattle meant more than just air in motion. It can scarcely be an accident onomatopoeic words like ruach (Hebrew), ruch (Arabic), roho (Swahili) mean ‘spirit’ no less clearly than πνεύμα (pneuma, Greek) and spiritus (Latin).


The Essential Dialectic of Spirit is:

{Omnipotent-Omniscient ⇆ Omnipotent-Omniscient ⇅ Omniscient-Omniscient} ↻ Omnipotent-Omnipotent


The Complete Dialectic of Spirit is:

{Omniscient ⇆ Omnipotent ⇅ Omnibenevolent} ↻ Omnipresent



The Equivalency Dialectic of Spirit is:

{Mind ⇆ Body ⇅ Spirit} ↻ Soul