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The Mental, the Psychological, the Spiritual

Updated: Mar 17

The Art of Humaning is not just a counselling service provider, but an educational channel dedicated to exploring the intersection of philosophy, psychology, ethics and spirituality.

Fourfold Humaning: the Self, the Other, the Given, the Open

First of all, in my opinion, it is illegitimate to put philosophy on the same level as the rest as if it is just another discipline. Rather, philosophy is a meta-discipline above psychology, ethics and spirituality, which respectively correspond to the concerns of the Self, the Other, and the Open/Beyond/Unknown. Together with natural science, concerning the Given, these comprise the four aspects of Humaning, or the fourfold gathering of the Human Being, in Heideggerian language (Note that I disagreed and modified his actual characterization). Philosophy, on the other hand, is the interrogation and structuring of the fourfold, rendering a worldview in which these disciplines are embedded and acquire their fundamental meaning. Philosophy is the constant interpretation of this worldview of which it is both the product and the author.

old ancient books

Fragmentation of Worldview = Fall of Philosophy

Before the modern era, philosophy across the globe concerns itself with natural science, psychology, ethics and spirituality simultaneously, albeit with distinct expressions and emphasis. Or rather, the unitary study of all four aspects of Humaning is called philosophy. The fragmentation of worldview we suffer today (at least in the West) is one and the same process as the dropping out of philosophy as “just another discipline” - the loss of an overarching view, the unifying understanding that holds these disciplines in their rightful places. The Given stands out as the prominent focus (bias), and, natural science, the resultant narrative, even holds sway over the study of the Self and the Other (naturally not the Open because it is ruled out as metaphysical or mystical from the outset). For the Self, the sway of science has been “successful”, in the sense that psychology’s scientific authority is institutionalized, officially recognized and widely acknowledged, at least in the West, dominating people's self-understanding. That is to say, people now understand who and what they are in terms of deterministic causality as informed by the Given "past". For ethics, the situation has been chaotic, but we can expect the sway of science to “stabilize” and materialize with the rise of AI playing the role of the Supreme Decision Maker.

What's wrong with all this? Well, let's just talk about psychology first, since the problem has already become quite evident. Psychology is identifying more and more "mental illness" today using the scientific framework without getting more effective in treating it, simply because the narrative of natural science is insufficient for the domain of the Self. Although the four aspects of Humaning always cross reference each other, it is simply inappropriate to overwrite the inherent logic of one aspect with that of another. To insist on doing that by willfully ignoring the essential character of each is conceit, and this is a moral problem, not an epistemological problem.

Without the reflective light of philosophy, however, science wants to go even further in the same direction, concerning itself with getting rid of "mental illness" via biochemical means by breaking the neuroscience code. Instead of spiraling down in this direction, we must rewind, trace the historical route to find clues indicative of where the fragmentation occurred.

Etymology of the Mind, the Soul (Psyche) and the Spirit

One way of doing that is to look at the historical meanings of the respective suffixes of psychology, ethics and spirituality, which seem to us today to be distinct disciplines. Etymology reveals that the psyche, ethos (moral character), and the spirit, alongside related concepts such as the mind/mental, the soul, the intellect etc, are closely intertwined. Considering today’s common usage of these words, we seem to understand the mind/mental and the psychological as the same thing, as something that’s in your head with a biological basis and therefore scientifically discoverable; the soul and the spirit as belonging to the religious or metaphysical realm and having nothing to do with science; the intellect as the engine of both useful thinking and abstract nonsense.

Yet, are these things really different? Let’s pick out a few important word roots.

nous (Greek) — intellect, understanding, rational thought

mens (Latin) — thinking, reasoning, understanding

mind (English) — cognition, consciousness, perception, memory


pneuma (Greek) — breath, vital life force, the animating principle

spiritus (Latin) — breath, courage, the divine aspect of human being

spirit (English) — the non-physical aspect of human being


psyche (Greek) — soul, inner life, emotions, character

anima (Latin) — soul, breath, the animating principle, emotions

soul (English) — the moral essence of human being, personality, emotions

Following the revolution of modern science, the “mind/mental” now refers to cognitive functions with genetic and neurological basis, even if not physically observable. Mental illness, therefore, implies the malfunction pertaining to the brain organ. However, if we are loyal to the historical meaning of its Greek root, an “illness” of the nous amounts to wrong reasoning or irrational thought.

The “spirit” denotes the non-physical aspect of human being today, but started out having rather biological connotations in its Greek root. If we remain loyal to its historical meaning, spirituality precisely means nothing transcendental but is simply synonymous with life itself.

Today we understand psychology as a “science” that has nothing to do with metaphysics. Yet, etymologically speaking, “psyche” means the soul, which more or less means moral character made up of free choice and considered to survive after death. In this light, “psychology” should mean the systematic study of the soul, or even of destiny, if we are to consider the continuity of soul journey through lifetimes as well.

Difference Between Ethics and Morality

“Ethos” and “moralis” are Greek and Latin renderings of the same concept, but they acquire different denotations in English. The former denotes the code of conduct that regulates behavior among cohabitants or collaborators to ensure acceptability to everyone. Morals, on the other hand, emphasize the inner life or personal quality of action, understood as a result of free choice. Many philosophical counsellors, especially those influenced by Analytic Philosophy, concern themselves with ethics and work with organizations. Although the study of law and policy, as the objective side of ethics, has its philosophical aspects, historically speaking, it is the subjective side of ethics—namely, free will, moral responsibility, and the meaning of the self—that pertains to human flourishing and occupies a more central place in philosophy. The latter is embraced by Continental Philosophy, particularly Existentialism.

While the West prides itself on a dedicated study of laws and policies thanks to the separation of church and state, there are religions that also emphasize on mores and customs, and therefore law, as evident in Islam where theology is tightly linked to jurisprudence. On the other hand, some philosophies focus on self-cultivation and moral development without invoking any supernatural entity.

air bender, kungfu master, martial artist, shaolin monk practicing at the top of the mountain, overseeing a sea of cloud

Bringing Back Philosophy

I hope this article so far helps you recognize the historical and geographical contingency of the conceptual demarcations of the Western framework, which I believe is an important step in healing its fragmentation. More importantly, I wish to point out the irreplaceable role of philosophy by borrowing the story of the animated show, Avatar: the Air Last Bender.

In the fictional world of the story, there are peoples of Water Tribe, Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom and Air Nomads living harmoniously next to one another. These people can manipulate their respective elements, i.e. people from Water Tribe can "bend" Water, and people from Earth Kingdom can "bend" Earth, and so on, but only the Avatar can master all four elements and therefore is responsible for maintaining balance of the world. As the Avatar goes missing, Fire Nation goes out of control and starts invading other peoples, intending to conquer the world. The story begins with the reemergence of the lost Avatar to the mess he left behind and his journey of restoring balance to the world.

I think philosophy is like the Avatar, and the four aspects of Humaning are like the four elemental peoples (and we all know who Fire Nation is). Our desperate world today resembles a lot the beginning of the story, where people lost hope in the Avatar who is no where to be seen, thinking he/she is just a legend. While I think we can learn a lot from the story as to how to wisely restore balance to the world, perhaps we most urgently need to retrieve the Avatar first.

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1 Kommentar

02. März

Dear Leanna,

You are clearly on a path of profound discovery applying many of your resources very creatively.

I see many problems of our modern human society as a direct result of the limited focus on developing a better understanding of our dependency on nature as our objective source of both, our substantive existence, shared with all other life forms, and our essential ability to apply reason to gain a better grasp on our frail human mental condition.

Disregarding the necessity for a more constructive participatory roll of all members of society to reduce and ultimately eliminate mind pollution by learning critical thought development processes to differentiate between the true value of wisdom of the ages from mindless mythological symbolism…

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