Did Technology Really Develop the Soul?

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"The special theory of Greek literacy also argues that the concept of selfhood and the soul, as now understood, arose at a historical point in time and was inspired by a technological change, as the inscribed language and thought and the person who spoke it became separated from each other, leading to a new focus on the personality of the speaker."

--From page 120 in chapter 11, "The Special Theories on Trial," of Eric A. Havelock's The Muse Learns to Write

 

When I first read this, I was as skeptical as any of those who Havelock later mentions would be.  However, as I read on, I realized that this could certainly be a possibility.  As Havelock suggests, religious feelings must be put aside; however, I think that his idea may have some merit.  Before writing, there would have been an emphasis on the fact that a select few could remember such important stories.  These stories, which were usually about select elite who were successful kings, warriors, and so on, kept the cultural traditions alive, while also keeping these people alive.  Also, there was no need for the idea of the afterlife, because people were so busy just trying to survive, and, although the ancient Greeks and Romans did have a concept of one, it did not involve an eternal soul or individuality such as the one that is typically thought of today. 

However, it is also important to note that writing was brought about for some reason.  Population increase, better trading technologies, an agricultural lifestyle, larger and more structured governing bodies, and so on, all influenced writing.  Perhaps there was more time for many people to learn to write, which in turn led to many people recording what was specifically important to them.  This would have led to individuality and an interest in the eternal existence of the individual not through oral stories, but through their souls.  Although I am not suggesting that souls are just ideas that people created to understand their world and to ensure, or at least create for the living, the idea of an eternal life that would make their short lives less depressing, I am just trying to understand Havelock's secular argument.  Do any of you see some validity in his argument, or do you think that evidence elsewhere suggests that the idea of the soul was apparent in cultures before the advent of writing? 

 

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