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Spirit ( ancient Greek πνεῦμα pneuma , ancient Greek νοῦς nous and also ancient Greek ψυχή psyche , Latin spiritus , mens , animus or anima , Hebrew ruach and Arabic rūh , English mind , spirit , French esprit ) is an inconsistently used term of Philosophy, theology, psychology and everyday language.

In the context of consciousness , one can roughly distinguish between two components of the meaning of the term "mind":

  • In relation to the cognitive abilities of humans, which are generally referred to as "spiritual" , "spirit" in the sense of " psyche " denotes perception and learning as well as remembering and imagining as well as fantasizing and all forms of thinking (of " understanding " or " reason ") such as considering, selecting, deciding , intending and planning , pursuing strategies, foreseeing or foreseeing , assessing , weighing , evaluating, controlling , observing and monitoring , the necessary vigilance and mindfulness as well as concentration of all degrees up to hypnotic and other trance-like states the one of watchfulness and supreme presence of mind on the other.
  • Associated with religious ideas of a soul up to expectations of the hereafter , "spirit" comprises the assumptions, often referred to as spiritual , of a pure or absolute, transpersonal or even transcendent spirituality that is not bound to the physical body and only affects it like him or of the same nature, if not even thought to be identical with him. In the Christian world of ideas, however, the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of God”, who is understood as the person of the divine trinity .

The question of the “nature” of the mind is thus a central theme in metaphysics .

In the tradition of German idealism, however, the term refers to supra-individual structures. In this sense, the Hegelian philosophy should be understood, but also Wilhelm Dilthey's conception of the humanities .

Illustration from Robert Fludd's Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris […] historia

The concept of mind

The modern heterogeneous conceptions of the spirit have their origin on the one hand in ancient philosophy and on the other hand in the Bible. While a corresponding term developed from the Latin spiritus in most Romance languages , the term spirit is derived from the Indo-European root * gheis - for shuddering , being moved and excited. The West Germanic word * ghoizdo-z probably meant "supernatural being" and was reinterpreted as Christian with the Christianization of the Teutons, so that the term served as a translation for the biblical Spiritus Sanctus in Old High German ( spirit ) and Old English ( gást ) writings . This meaning of the word has persisted up to the present, so that “spirit” is also used as a synonym for “ ghost ”.

Another level of meaning, which is no longer obvious today, puts “spirit” in connection with “breath, breeze” as an expression of liveliness. In Luther's translation of the Bible, for example, the phrase “heaven was made through the word of the lord and all its army through the spirit of his mouth” can be found. The Latin spiritus also has this meaning; it is related to spirare "to breathe".

In addition, the term mind is used to refer to the cognitive and emotional existence of a living being. In theory, the relationship between mind and brain is controversial: While theology and philosophy in the tradition of René Descartes assume that the term "mind" refers to an immaterial thing , many scientists and philosophers postulate that the mind is nothing other than neural activity. In this case, the term ultimately refers to the brain. Other philosophers claim that the mind is not an immaterial substance, but that it cannot be reduced to the brain. The nature of mind is the main theme of the philosophy of mind .

Johann Gottfried Herder

In various theories, occasionally also in everyday life, the term is used to characterize supra-individual phenomena, objects, properties or processes. Johann Gottfried Herder's work On the Spirit of Christianity had a decisive influence on this use of the term. “Geist” became a central concept of German-speaking culture with the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel at the latest . According to Hegel, an objective spirit manifests itself in communities, while the absolute spirit characterizes art, philosophy and religion. The social sciences also use the concept of mind to indicate characteristics of communities. This is how Max Weber's talk of the “spirit” of capitalism should be understood. This “spirit” results from the norms and values ​​of capitalist communities. In common parlance, for example, there is the phrase: “There is a spirit of unity here”.

Spirit in philosophy


The answer to the question of what the German term “Geist” comprised in antiquity is problematic with such a complex word.

In ancient Greece, the aspects expressed by “spirit” are mainly comprised of pneuma (spirit, breath) and nous ( reason , spirit). There are also the expressions psychê ( soul ), thymos (life (power), anger / courage) and logos (speech, reason).

Pneuma as well as nous denote partly a human capacity , but also a cosmological principle. Pneuma is the meaning of the word as a materially imagined body of moving air. Nous, on the other hand, is sometimes also thought of as immaterial. Mostly it is thought to be absorbing in human affairs, and offensive in cosmic affairs.

The human and cosmological realms (i.e. the question of world order) are mostly treated separately from one another, although there are overlaps. In these transmissions, u. a. two aspects play a role:

  1. Concerning pneuma the thought that moving air, breath is a (necessary) part of life.
  2. Regarding pneuma and nous, the transfer of properties of a living being to the cosmos:
(a) in the case of pneuma in particular insofar as it is animate,
(b) with nous, especially insofar as it is gifted with reason.


The concept of pneumas is first documented in Anaximenes.

Pneuma is first found in the 6th century BC. At Anaximenes . Here is an analogy that identifies pneuma as a principle of life and also presents the cosmos itself as animated:

"Just as our soul, which is air, holds us together with its power, so the whole cosmos also includes wind [or breath, pneuma ] and air."

The term pneuma is also significant in the medical language, into which it was translated by Diogenes of Apollonia in the 5th century BC. And was further developed by Erasistratos and up to Galenos in the 2nd century AD. From him comes an important distinction - also in the later Latin tradition - between three pneumatic principles that arise from the interaction of inhaled air and the warmth of life produced in the heart:

  1. a physical pneuma ( spiritus naturalis ) that maintains the vegetative functions;
  2. a living pneuma ( spiritus vitalis ), a principle of life and movement;
  3. a psychic pneuma ( spiritus animalis ), the soul.

Since Hellenism and especially in the Roman Stoa , the two aspects of human ability and the cosmological principle have been mixed up in the concept of pneuma . Pneuma here denotes the material substance - the Stoics were materialists - of both the individual soul and the world soul. Pneuma is thus a material and at the same time a spiritual principle that permeates the entire cosmos - presented as a living being - and effects its organization. At the beginning of life , the pneuma in people is like a blank slate that is filled with sensual impressions and ideas. It is also the guiding soul part that the central requirement for Stoics " in accordance (with the - Nature - conceived as rational) life " allows to fulfill.


When Homer and later in most Presocratics seems nous a fortune to be that to both sensual and also with the mind detectable ( intelligible directed) items. Xenophanes and Empedocles combine thinking and perception. For Parmenides, on the other hand, the nous only necessarily has objects that exist and therefore only intelligible objects.

Regarding the functioning of pre-Socratics like Empedocles , Anaxagoras and Democritus it has been proven that they regard the mind, the thinking as a physical process. Empedocles, who advocated the principle of like is only known by like , claims that blood is the seat of knowledge because it is the best mixed material.

In contrast to many pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle understand the activity of the nous , or thinking, as a non-physical process. This only applies to humans. In addition, Plato explicitly differentiates the sensually perceptible from the intelligible and - in the tradition of Parmenides - very clearly advocates the thesis that knowledge is only possible against sensory perception and the body.

In his work, Aristotle defines De anima nous as “ that with which the soul thinks and makes assumptions.” He compares the nous - analogous to perception - with an empty writing board made of wax. Nous is unaffiziert (d. H. Unexcited), indeterminate, a passive assets whose nature is in receiving the forms , the aktual be to what he thinks. Nor is it assigned to a specific organ, but disembodied.

In Hellenism the cognitive faculty nous is understood materialistically by both the Stoa and Epicurus . Both schools attribute knowledge completely to material perception.

Cosmological principle

After some earlier thinkers ascribed properties corresponding to a cosmological principle, the nous takes on a leading role in the explanation of the world for the Greek mathematician and natural philosopher Anaxagoras . The nous is a movement principle which he faces the matter, although he did not explicitly as non-material describes it for him. The all-managing logos assumed by Heraclitus , which he describes as reasonable, has a similar function .

For Plato, the world shows the properties of a living being with a soul and endowed with reason , and he explains its nature with recourse to a divine reason. Aristotle adopts an "unmoved mover" who uses the world and the sky as a final cause , i.e. H. moved like a loved one or something aspired to . Its uninterrupted activity consists in thinking the best object, itself ( noêsis noêseôs ). In contrast to the human faculties discussed above, Aristotle understands this god to be purely actual . In late antiquity , Plotinus assigned the nous the cosmological role of shaping the visible world as a demiurge based on the world of ideas .

middle Ages

In the transition between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the philosopher and Christian doctor of the church Augustine differentiates between spirit ( mens , animus ) and soul ( anima ). He understands the spirit as a substance that participates in reason and is intended to guide the body ( “substantia quaedam rationis particeps regendo corpori accomodata” ). Essentially, the spirit has reason ( ratio ) and insight ( intelligentia ). He is weakened by the vices ( vitium ) and must be purified by faith ( fides ) in order to be able to do justice to his leadership role .

He describes the human mind as the "eye of the soul (oculus animae)" . The latter is able to cognize eternal truths through the unchangeable light ( lumen incommutabilis ) of the divine spirit, which illuminates the human spirit and the beings it encounters . This light represents the innermost part of man himself. The turning ( conversio ) of man towards this innermost part is for Augustine the self-fulfillment of the spirit and means the return to its actual origin.

Thomas Aquinas , one of the main representatives of scholasticism , sees the human soul as a spiritual substance ( substantia spiritualis ). In contrast to the animal soul, it has a purely spiritual character and is therefore immortal. Thomas represents a strict body-soul unity of the human being. The soul is the form of the body ( forma corporis ) and communicates its being to it. Conversely, the spirit is also dependent on the body and its sensual mediation for knowledge . All spiritual knowledge is abstracted from the senses by means of the “active intellect ( intellectus agens )”.

As the weakest ray of spirituality, man is unable to see the purely spiritual. Knowledge can only reach as far as the spiritual content of the sensible, from which it proceeds, allows it. An immediate knowledge of God is therefore excluded for Thomas.

With Thomas the human soul is the lowest of the spiritual forms. It is a principle of reason that necessarily needs a body in order to be able to be active. It therefore represents a deeper level of spirituality compared to the soul of the angels , which is in no way connected with the material. Although the soul does not depend on matter for its existence, it protrudes deep into the physical because it is without the body is unfinished. With Thomas it becomes the outermost and weakened ray of the light of the understanding, which lights up in God and reaches its lowest limit in man like being in matter. It therefore stands on the boundary between spiritual and physical creatures ( in confinio spiritualium et corporalium creaturarum ).


Illustration by Descartes: An irritation on the foot is conducted via the nerves into the brain, where it interacts with the mind and thus creates an experience of pain.

With the philosopher, mathematician and natural scientist René Descartes , founder of rationalism , the mind is ontologically separated from the matter, the reality is divided into a material and a non-material sphere. Human beings are essentially distinguished by their immaterial spirit and thereby differ from animals, which Descartes understands as automatons . To support his body-soul dualism , Descartes developed arguments that are still discussed today in the philosophy of spirit. He explained that one can clearly imagine that spirit exists without matter. What one can imagine clearly and distinctly is also possible, at least in principle. And if it is in principle possible for spirit to exist without matter, then spirit and matter cannot be identical. Variants of this argument can be found in today's debate in Saul Kripke and David Chalmers .

Another of Descartes' arguments relates to human language ability: it is inconceivable that an automaton can master the complex system of natural language. This line of argument is rejected today by most philosophers and scientists with reference to the findings of computer , psycho- and neurolinguistics . It should be noted, however, that human language ability has by no means been comprehensively researched and that computational linguistics is far from capturing the complexity of natural languages.

Descartes' image of the human being is essentially divided into two parts: the human being consists of a material body and an immaterial spirit. The body and mind interact in one place in the brain (the pineal gland ). If a person burns their feet, for example, the stimulus is conducted through the body to the brain and from there to the spirit (see illustration). In the mind, the person feels pain, which in turn causes a physical reaction. Representatives of such a dualism have to explain, among other things, how this interaction of mind and body is to be imagined. In contemporary philosophy, this problem is discussed under the term mental causation .

18th and 19th centuries

David Hume , who is often regarded as the most important Enlightenment philosopher in the Anglo-Saxon world , took the idealistic empiricist view that the mind is based solely on forms of direct perception. In roughly this sense, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe defined Geist in West-Eastern Divan :

"Because life is love
and the spirit of life ."

Immanuel Kant tied in with both Hume and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz . In the framework of transcendental idealism , the human mind itself participates in the formation of reality . A reality free of spirit and its subjectivity can only be imagined as a thing in itself. But also with reference to the thing in itself no concrete statements about a reality independent of the spirit are possible, since the thing in itself cannot be grasped by the human categories . With the idealistic turn, there is an appreciation of the spirit, which becomes a constitutive element of reality.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, portrayed by Jakob Schlesinger, 1831

In the philosophy of the 19th century , especially in the German idealism , this trend continued. Hegel developed an absolute idealism that wanted to overcome the subjective withdrawal of the claim to knowledge of objective truth. In it he dialectically understood the history of thought as a historical process of the development of the world spirit . This is thought of as the turning back of the absolute from its otherness, nature, to itself. It is concretized in the three manifestations of the spirit: in the subjective spirit of the individual, in the objective spirit of the human community forms of law, society and state and the absolute spirit , art, religion and philosophy. In philosophy the return of the spirit to itself is completed in the form of absolute knowledge . The absolute spirit is the epitome of reality and the reason for all being.

In German idealism, the Kantian program was continued without its idea of ​​the thing in itself . This brought the mind even further into the focus of philosophical attention, since now a reality independent of the mind was not even accepted as a borderline concept . The mind -body problem found the following solution within the framework of such conceptions: If the mind has always been constitutive for the scientifically investigated nature, then it makes no sense to ask whether and where the mind can be localized in this nature. In the current philosophy of mind, consistently idealistic theories are seldom represented.

On the other hand , referring to Hegel , Karl Marx formulated his materialistic conception of the spirit. Accordingly, the " mode of production of material life" or the work anchored in it determines the "social, political and spiritual life process".

In particular, through Charles Darwin's development of the theory of evolution , humans were increasingly viewed as a biological system . As a result, many natural scientists now regard the mind as a product of purely biological processes. In Germany, the so-called vulgar materialists around Ludwig Büchner and Carl Vogt in particular caused a sensation with such assertions and thus triggered the materialism dispute. The evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel also postulated that the spirit is a scientifically detectable phenomenon. Haeckel's monism , however, is not to be understood as materialism, since Haeckel, in the tradition of Baruch Spinoza, assumed a neutral substance with spiritual and material aspects. However, there were also much more skeptical voices among the natural scientists of the 19th century. The electrophysiologist Emil Heinrich du Bois-Reymond declared in an influential lecture around 1872:

“What conceivable connection exists between certain movements of certain atoms in my brain, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the original, indefinable, indisputable facts, 'I feel pain, feel pleasure; I taste sweets, smell the scent of roses, hear the sound of an organ, see Roth… '. "

The concept of the spirit was given a further component of meaning in the 19th century by the philosopher, psychologist and educator Wilhelm Dilthey , co-founder of the philosophy of life , who contrasted the humanities with the natural sciences. In his opinion, the humanities are distinguished by a special method, hermeneutics . While the natural sciences deal with causal relationships , the humanities should contribute to a deeper understanding of the phenomena. The Neo-Kantian Wilhelm Windelband tried to clarify this distinction by emphasizing that the humanities research special and unique events, while the natural sciences search for general laws of nature .

20th century

In the early 20th century , philosophical reflection on the mind was largely shaped by the Vienna Circle . The members of the Vienna Circle tried to draw philosophical conclusions from the methodology of psychological (methodological) behaviorism . The classical behaviorists had declared that introspective statements about the mind cannot be verified and therefore cannot be part of a science . Psychology must therefore limit itself to descriptions of behavior. In the Vienna Circle, these assumptions were combined with verificationism , i.e. the thesis that only verifiable statements are meaningful. As a consequence, statements about the mind appear meaningless unless they are about behavior .

The behaviorist tradition found its continuation in Gilbert Ryle 1949 published work The Concept of Mind ( The concept of mind ), which was over a decade to the Orthodox interpretation of the theme "spirit" in the Anglo-Saxon philosophy for more. Ryle explained that it was a category mistake to assume that the mind is something internal. Ludwig Wittgenstein's work, on the other hand, stood in a certain tension to behaviorism . Wittgenstein also denies that the mind is to be understood as an inner state, but at the same time distinguishes himself from behaviorism.

The phenomenology founded by Edmund Husserl , which explicitly aimed at the investigation of subjective, mental phenomena , led in the opposite direction . In the process of the epoché , all assumptions about the outside world are to be “bracketed” and thus an exploration of pure subjectivity should be made possible. With reference to Franz Brentano , Husserl assumed that mental states are essentially characterized by intentionality. This means that mental states relate to something, for example the longing for a person relates to a person. Husserl's phenomenology exerted an enormous influence on the philosophy of the 20th century, including on Husserl's pupils Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre , who came to Freiburg to study with Husserl. In French philosophy, Maurice Merleau-Ponty in particular drew on Husserl's concept of intentionality. Merleau-Ponty wanted to use the concept of the body to eliminate the opposition between body and mind. The body is a living and actively perceiving body and thus cannot be grasped by opposing the spiritual and the non-spiritual.

In the early 1960s there was also a radical departure from behaviorist theories in Anglo-Saxon philosophy. Inspired by the success of neuroscientific research, identity theorists sought to reduce the mind to the brain . An analog program was represented by functionalists , but relying on artificial intelligence and cognitive science . These reductive efforts, however, did not go unchallenged, and attention was drawn to the seemingly insurmountable problems of reductionism . With the so-called qualia (awareness of phenomena) and intentionality, the mind has, in the opinion of many philosophers, properties that cannot be explained by the natural sciences.

Because of the tension between the successes of empirical research and the problems of reductionism, a very differentiated debate about the nature of mind has arisen in philosophy. Today different forms of physicalism , dualism and pluralism are represented. The Eliminative Materialists completely forego the assumption of the existence of a spirit.

Spirit in the sciences

Even when looking at the scientific exploration of the mind, there is no uniform picture. The sciences that deal with the phenomenon of the mind pursue different goals and sometimes use very different models and methods. The relevant sciences range from psychiatry , social sciences , social psychology and psychology to brain research .


In its historical development in Germany, especially during the Enlightenment, psychiatry has dealt with the mind as the triggering condition for mental illness . Here the humanities conditions of these diseases were examined, just as the psychics did until about 1845. Since the mind is subject to different laws than the matter, ideological arguments took place with the scientific point of view of the somatics . These humanities psychiatric results have been questioned even more by recent brain research.

Social Science and Social Psychology

In the social sciences, the term “mind” is sometimes used in a supra-individual way. This is how the sociologist Max Weber called one of his most influential works in 1904, The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism, and Ferdinand Tönnies , in 1935, his late work Geist der Neuzeit . In this context, the term “spirit” refers to the basic norms, beliefs and worldviews that are constitutive of a community . However, this meaning is not independent of the spirit of the individuals either, since the norms and collective views are very important for the individual members of a collective. The spirit in the social-scientific sense is only conceivable if there are correspondences in the spirit of a multitude of individuals.

In the second half of the 20th century, Pierre Bourdieu developed a complex so-called “theory of practice” with its own terminology. He attempted to link spirit and matter as well as subjectivism and objectivism on the basis of empirical research into everyday life and comparative cultural research . Accordingly, humans "incorporate" their social environment through intellectual learning acts that also express themselves physically. This habitus includes, among other things, the ways of thinking and seeing the perceptions that influence judgment and evaluation and limit the scope for action.

In social psychology, the influence of social interaction on mental processes such as thoughts or feelings is examined. The focus can be on a broad social context or on interpersonal processes. Socio-psychological approaches are supplemented by cross-cultural or cultural-historical studies, which show how feelings (e.g. love or jealousy ) differ and have developed in different cultures. Social psychology also touches on the classic anthropological question of the universality of certain mental processes.

From cognitive psychology to psychoanalysis

Example of semantic priming (associative relationship between prime and target)

The classical science of the mind is psychology, whereby within psychology one must again differentiate between different approaches. For example, cognitive psychology examines mental processes using experimental methods that are as precise as possible in order to better understand cognitive phenomena such as memory, perception or thinking. An example of this is research on priming, in which the processing time of a target stimulus (target or sample) is influenced by the presentation of a stimulus (prime). In priming experiments, the test person is given a task, for example, they have to name the pictures presented (example: picture of a bread → reaction “bread”). If the person is presented with a related, similar stimulus or prime (such as the word “cheese”) shortly before the task, the test person will solve the naming task more quickly. Cognitive psychologists conclude from these findings that the concepts are organized in the mind in a network-like structure and the presentation of the prime triggers a pre-activation at the right place in the network.

In the last few decades, cognitive psychologists have collected a great deal of data about mental processes, and they are increasingly moving to summarize this data in complex models. In the form of cognitive architectures , such models are implemented as computer programs and are intended to enable the prognosis of mental processes. Such cognitive psychological models, however, are limited to fundamental mental processes, for example to the perception of movements and shapes or to short-term memory. If one wants to understand complex mental phenomena, such as character traits or mental illnesses, with the help of psychological investigations, one must fall back on other sub-disciplines (such as personality psychology ).

Structural model of the psyche according to Freud

Psychoanalysis in the tradition of Sigmund Freud is also influential in this context . At the beginning of the last century, Freud pointed out that mental processes were largely unconscious . For example, there is no need for a person to be aware of their fear or anger. At the same time, Freud emphasized that the structure of the mind is largely shaped by the social norms and values ​​of a community. Freud described the formation of the ego (perception, thinking and memory) in the structural model of the psyche as a process in the field of tension between the subconscious ( id ) and the internalized norms and values ​​( super-ego ).

Even if psychoanalytic methods and psychoanalytic therapy are still controversial, it is generally recognized in psychology that an analysis of unconscious and social processes is necessary for a comprehensive understanding of mental structures. It is also accepted that such an analysis cannot be carried out solely with cognitive or bio- psychological approaches. For example, if you want to fully understand mental illnesses such as phobias or depression , you have to consider the broad life and social context of a person.

Mind and brain

While psychology investigates mental activities indirectly using behavior, the subject of neuroscience is initially the brain and not the mind. At the same time, however, neuroscientific research makes it clear that mental activities are not independent of neural events. Neurology , for example, describes the connection between lesions (damage) to the brain and cognitive impairments. An example of this are aphasia (acquired language disorders), in which specific impairments are often associated with damage in specific brain regions.

The search for neuronal correlates of consciousness has also received a great deal of attention in recent years . With the help of imaging methods , it is possible to measure and visualize the neural activities in the brain: Such methods make it possible at least to investigate which activities are taking place in the brain when a person says or signals in some other way that they are doing something perceives, feels or thinks. It can be seen that not all areas of the brain are equally active during the mental activities indicated by the test subjects. Rather, specific neuronal activities often seem to be associated with specific mental activities. However, research into such connections is still in its early stages and it has not been possible to draw conclusions from a specific neuronal activity about a specific mental activity. It is also often doubted that this will ever be possible with complex thoughts or feelings.

How is this connection between mental and neural activities to be understood? Why are changes in the mind linked to changes in the brain? One possible answer is that the mental activities are the same as the activities in the brain. According to such a theory, headaches, for example, are nothing more than a certain activity in the brain. While such an identity theory can easily explain the systematic connections between mind and brain, it still has problems. Doubts about equating mental activities with brain processes are often articulated with the help of the qualification problem . Mental states like headaches are characterized by experience; it feels a certain way to experience something. If mental activities are identical with brain activities, then the brain activities must also be distinguished by this qualia and be explainable by the neurosciences. Neuroscientists are currently unable to answer the question of why a certain brain activity is linked to an experience. Does this mean that such neural activities are not identical to conscious experiences? This thesis - like the entire philosophical interpretation of the neurosciences - continues to be controversial.

Spirit in religions


In the Tanach , the Hebrew word “rûah” corresponds most closely to what is understood in German as “spirit”. Like the Greek “pneuma” and the Latin “spiritus”, it means “moving air”, “wind”. In humans and animals, the rûah continues to denote the breath that breathes life into creatures. As a life principle, the rûah is God's property; creatures live on it and die when God withdraws them. In humans it exercises the most varied of vital functions of a spiritual, volitional, moral and religious nature and is here almost synonymous with the term “ Nefesch ” (“soul”).

God as the source of rûah is himself a spirit being . On the first day of creation the Spirit of God floated over the waters ( Gen 1,2  EU ) and in the Book of Wisdom it says “The Spirit of the Lord fills the world” ( Weish 1,7  EU ). God communicates himself to chosen people by letting the Spirit come upon them. They are charismatically gifted for (warlike) heroic deeds, prophetic-ecstatic abilities and filled with the "spirit of wisdom" ( Ex 28.3  EU ).

The Tanach also knows the evil spirit that can proceed from Yahweh as the only God. This happens if the receiver mischief making, "When Abimelech three years had reigned over Israel long, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem fell off, so that the men of Shechem by Abimelech" ( Ri 9,22- 23  EU ). This evil spiritual power, which is subordinate to God, will later take on the form of Satan in Christian theology as an independent function, in itself an evil figure and even with its own personification as a counterpart to God.


New Testament

In the New Testament , “spirit” is denoted by the Greek word “pneuma”. What is usually meant is the Spirit of God, which as the “Holy Spirit” is sharply distinguished from the spirit of man. This Spirit of God is not yet seen as personal as it was later in the doctrine of the Trinity , but rather as a medium of divine action. However, passages like that in Acts 5: 1–11 EU , in which Ananias and Saphira are punished for lying to the Holy Spirit, speak for the personal interpretation .

Pneuma and Jesus

The concept of pneuma plays a central role in the story of Jesus . Even his conception takes place under the influence of the Holy Spirit ( Mt 1,18-20  EU ). He is driven by the Pneuma into the desert in order to withstand the temptations there ( Mk 1,12  EU ). As a spirit bearer he takes on his public office ( Lk 4,14  EU ); The Lord's Pneuma now rests on him ( Mt 12.18  EU ). With his help Jesus is able to break the rule of Satan ( Mt 12.28  EU ). However, this does not mean that Jesus can be assumed to have demonic powers ( Mk 3.29f.  EU ). The resurrection of Jesus from the dead means a transition into the mode of being of Pneuma ( Rom 1,4  EU ), with which Jesus is identified as Lord (Kyrios) ( 1 Cor 3,17  EU ).

The Pneuma in the Christian community with Paul

For Paul almost every expression of life in the church is the effect of the pneuma. The Pneuma is already at work when the Christian community is constituted ( 1 Cor 12:13  EU ). Pneuma is a gift of grace (charisma) that is distributed differently among the believers ( Rom . 12.6ff.  EU ). Paul sets up a ranking of the charisms and demands that they be employed in building up the church ( 1 Cor 3 : 12ff.  EU ).

Paul also distinguishes a false pneuma that can "upset the church and terrify it" ( 2 Thes 2,2  EU ). It is therefore "the ability to discern the spirits" ( 1 Cor 12:10  EU ).

All the spiritual being of believers takes place in the pneuma. It is received in faith as an eschatological blessing and with it “life”. The Pneuma sanctifies the believer; even her body is a "temple" of the Pneuma. It means freedom from the rule of sin, death ( Rom 8,2  EU ) and the law ( Gal 5,18  EU ). The believer, however, must not use this freedom granted in the Pneuma as an “occasion for the flesh” ( Gal 5,13  EU ), but should let himself be guided by Pneuma in his moral existence ( Gal 5,16f.  EU ). The pneuma is called the foundation of salvation, but not its fulfillment. Paul describes it as a “firstfruits gift” ( Rom. 8.23  EU ) or “deposit” ( 2 Cor. 1.22  EU ) of total salvation. By virtue of the Pneumas, the believers expect “the righteousness hoped for” ( Gal 5.5  EU ) and v. a. the resurrection of the body ( Rom 8.11  EU ).

The distinction between the kingdom of the Spirit (and love) and the kingdom of the flesh (and sin ) was central to Paul. According to critics, this theology has favored dualistic ideas.

The Pauline ideas were later carried on by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica , and the term anima forma corporis is still used today.


In the field of Islam, the Arabic term rūh (روح / rūḥ ) roughly the counterpart to the German concept of spirit. Rūh is etymologically related to the word rīh , which has the basic meaning of "wind". The Koran says that God blew Adam of his spirit and thus gave him life ( Sura 15:29; Sura 32 : 9; Sura 38 : 72). By blowing in his spirit, Mary also receives Jesus ( Arabic روحنا, DMG rūḥunā  “Our Spirit” Sura 21 : 91; Sura 66 : 12). The Spirit of God shows itself to Mary in a human form ( Arabic فارسلنا اليها روحنا فتمثل لها بشرا سويا, DMG fa-arsalnā ilaihā rūḥanā fa-tamaṯṯala lahā bašaran sawiyyan  'And we sent our spirits to her. He presented himself to her as a well-formed (w. Even) person. ', Sura 19 : 17). Later on, Jesus received special empowerment through the spirit of holiness (Sura 2:87, 253; 5: 110). Jesus himself is also referred to as a spirit from God ( Arabic روح منه, DMG rūḥun minhu  'Spirit of Him', Sura 4 : 171).

The spirit also appears as a mediator of revelation. In sura 40:15 it says that God sends the spirit with the command he has given to the person of whom he wants it, so that he may warn people about the day of the encounter. It is the spirit of holiness that sends down the Quran to strengthen the believers ( Sura 16 : 102). The “faithful spirit” brings the Koran to Mohammed (26: 193-194).

Theological reflections on the Spirit began in Islam at the end of the 8th century. The Basrian ascetic Bakr, to whom the teaching of the Bakrīya is traced back, maintained that man and all other living beings are identical with the spirit. The Baghdad Muʿtazilit Bischr ibn al-Muʿtamir (st. 825), however, saw in the person a connection of body ( badan ) and spirit ( rū Menschen ). The spirit received significant importance in the teaching system of the Basrian Muʿtazilite an-Nazzām (st. 835-845). In connection with the Platonic concept of pneuma, he imagined the spirit as a subtle body that mixes with the body like a gas and penetrates it to the fingertips, but at death detaches itself from this connection and continues to exist independently.


In Buddhism, the concept of mind ( citta ) denotes something that adds to physicality. The term is used synonymously in Buddhist anthropology for terms such as thinking ( manas ) and consciousness ( vijñana ). “Spirit” is viewed from two different angles. On the one hand it is a mode of human existence ( samsara ) and as such needs redemption ( nirvana ); on the other hand, it describes precisely the instrument by means of which salvation is only possible.

According to Buddhist teaching, the mind precedes all speech and action. The primary task is therefore to bring it under control through the practice of "mindfulness" ( sati ) - the seventh link of the eightfold path . Furthermore, the alignment of the mind, its concentration on one point ( samādhi ) is important.

In the Mahayan tradition - especially the Yogachara - school of Buddhism, a radical idealism develops which interprets the essence of the world only as spirit, whereas the multiplicity of appearances is viewed as deception and illusion ( māyā ). The concept of spirit here comes close to nirvana , which, as an absolute, cannot be precisely described principle of all beings, lies behind the veil of the individualizing māyā .


In religious mystical writings and some philosophical traditions, the term spirit is mostly used with two different meanings. On the one hand as the “human spirit”, which roughly corresponds to today's use of “ consciousness ” or “ understanding ” and also includes “soul”. On the other hand, as “divine spirit” or “absolute spirit”, which, depending on the tradition, is also addressed in a personalized way as God or deity. The practical overcoming of this separation is the essential task for many mystics. The question of the relationship between mind and body, on the other hand, often takes a back seat among mystics.

The "spiritual exercises" practiced in the medieval monasteries are divided into oratio (liturgical prayer), lectio (reading from the scriptures), meditatio (objective contemplation, meditation ) and contemplatio (non-objective view, contemplation ). The mind and the thinking should come to rest in this way in order to expose the "one primordial reason", that is, the divine spirit. In this sense, for the mystic, there is no difference between human and divine spirit. In this understanding, the human body is also an expression of the divine and not opposed to it. In the mysticism of the early modern age, the mystic's own body is often thematized in a special, sometimes extreme way.

See also

Portal: Mind and Brain  - Overview of Wikipedia content on Mind and Brain
  • Cognitive science - state of scientific research
  • Spiritual nobility - a nobility that is not innate or bestowed, but acquired through one's own education
  • Rigpa - a term in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism



Philosophy Bibliography : Philosophy of Mind - Additional Bibliography on the Subject



  • Eric Kandel : Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and the New Biology of Mind , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main, 2006 ISBN 3-518-58451-0 Popular science book by the Nobel Prize winner on neuroscientific and psychoanalytic topics
  • Hartmann Hinterhuber : The soul. Natural and cultural history of psyche, mind and consciousness , Springer, Vienna, 2001 ISBN 3-211-83667-5 Historical view of various scientific disciplines
  • Jean Émile Charon : The spirit of matter , Ullstein non-fiction book, 1982, ISBN 3-548-34074-1 Charon is a theoretical physicist
  • Freerk Huisken : On the criticism of the Bremen "brain research". The brain determines the spirit. Errors, functions, consequences. AStA University of Bremen, ISBN 3-938699-00-0
  • Gerhard Klier: The three spirits of man. The so-called Spiritus Doctrine in early modern physiology. Steiner, Stuttgart 2002 (= Sudhoffs Archiv , supplement 50), ISBN 3-515-08196-8 .
  • Marielene Putscher: Pneuma, Spiritus, Geist. Concepts of the drive of life in their historical changes. Wiesbaden 1974.


  • Article Mind and Pneuma . in: Lexicon for Theology and Church .
  • Article spirit . in: Religion Past and Present .
  • DB Macdonald: "The Development of the Idea of ​​Spirit in Islam" in The Muslim World 22/2 (1932) 153-168.
  • Thomas O'Shaughnessy: The development of the meaning of spirit in the Koran . Rome: Pont. Inst.Orientalium Studiorum, 1953.

Web links

Wikiquote: Spirit  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Geist  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: mental  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. From ancient Greek πνέω pnéo or pneío for: blow, blow, breath, exhale, breathe . "Pneuma" therefore means: breath, airflow (also wind , even scent ) as well as breath and life as in psyche (see below), similar to courage there , but also fire (probably "inner" as in "fiery temperament" or "fiery." Human"). - The expression ἱερόν πνεῦμα (h) ieròn pneuma (literally holy pneuma) appears even more remarkable in ancient Greek . According to Wilhelm Gemoll's “Greek-German School and Handicraft Dictionary” , it does not mean “Holy Spirit”, as would be obvious, but rapture (“ rapture ”) and obsession , the expression ἐν πνεύματι en pnéumati also in ecstasy (or “ beside himself "and in a trance ) be . The Christian term " Holy Spirit " is to Gemoll with τό ἅγιον πνεῦμα "pneuma tò [h] Agion" rendered "[h] Agion" for the Holy, Holy, Holy of Holies , in Christian religious contexts "pneuma" also angel hot can.
  2. Or ancient Greek νόος nóos (see noology ) - from * snó [w] os for (visual) sense (Latin sensus ) from idg. * Sent- for: to go (and travel, drive ). In Volume 7 of the dictionary of origin of the German language, the large Duden gives in the entry “sense” for the root * sent-, to which the Latin “sentire” perceive, feel perceive goes back, the even older meaning seek a trail (sc ) on. Ancient Greek νοέειν noéein therefore means (in contrast to perceiving more emotionally , which is meant by the Latin 'sentire') obviously perceiving, noticing and recognizing by sight , also “mentally recognizing” and - even in German - a - “seeing” (sc . by means of visual images -. s Colin McGinns treatise "Mind Sight / The mind's eye" 2004/2007), it also think in all forms such as thinking of something come up, consider and think up, devise , "nous" or "noos" so then Attention ("to focus on something" - like the eyes!), Then back - "sight", to come to mind - for example in the form of "stepping in front of the inner eye" and the like. Ä .; therefore then especially the wealth of spiritual perception (s over- "look".!) A - "considerate" to - "considerate" and Ver Backlog, reason (from hear !), even power of the will, from - " Sight "up to sensibility, disposition, type of senses, mind and heart up to soul (very similar to psyche ; see also Julian Jaynes Noos in his psychohistorical study The emergence of consciousness 1993, pp. 327–329)
  3. From the verb ancient Greek ψύχειν psýchein for "breathe, breath, blow", also "cool, cool, dry". Psyche therefore means first "breath, (breath) breath", but then also "breath as a life principle", (sign of) "life force", yes "life" in general. For the Greeks , psyche also stood for the “shadow” of the dead after the “loss of life” (a concept that was later mixed with animistic ideas of the soul , so that today psyche can also mean “soul”). In detail, psyche stands for the following, predominantly or exclusively self-perception accessible life phenomena such as "thinking ability, understanding " and "cleverness", then "mind, heart (liability)" as well as "courage, seat of passions, desire, lust" and “Appetite” up to the description or description of the (whole) person , the “most valuable” and “most precious”, which would indicate the basis of modern psychology quite well. (cf. also Julian Jaynes: Psyche. In: The emergence of consciousness. 1993, pp. 329–331 and 350–356; on the PDF version of the German text posted online in various places on the WWW, see note. 9)
  4. From lat. Spirare for: “blow, breathe, sigh, roar, snort, exhale, live, smell, exhale, exhale, filled, be animated, seal” - (see spirometer ); Spiritus therefore stands for “air, breath, breath” and “breathe, breath, breath of life, sigh, life, breath, courage, arrogance, arrogance, pride” and “sense” as well as “disposition, enthusiasm” - or “spirit” - up to towards "poetic creation" and the ethereal "-geist" called spirits (as in raspberry spirit ) or just as ethereally the ammonia spirit .
  5. For the equally rich horizon of meaning of this Latin word s. in the case of mens ( mind ) the "note" in the note;
  6. In contrast to them widely differing use of the words " anima and animus " in CG Jung goes lat. Animus on the breath as such back - and less like spirit and pneuma and psychä the name of activity to breathe ; etymologically is "animus" with ancient Greek ἄνεμος Anemos for: wind and storm related
  7. According to Der Große Duden , "Geist" is etymologically based on the typical root * gheis- . Interestingly, so here is originally not in the modern sense Intellectual meant but in this case an emotional reaction, namely the (!) - remarkable psychologically, and for us human beings literally "strange" - Erschauderns or being grasped , the Erregt- or Broken Bracht One . The historical change in the meaning of "spirit", according to which it is now possible to speak of "spiritual processes" such as perceiving , remembering , imagining , dreaming , fantasizing and other forms of thinking , may have to do with circumstances and contexts that Julian Jaynes describes in his epochal work The Origin of Consciousness (see above all II / 5 " The intellectual consciousness of the Greeks. " Pp. 311–356; for the PDF version of the German text posted online in various places on the WWW see p . Note 9). According to the philosopher and scientific theorist Dirk Hartmann (in “ Philosophical Foundations of Psychology ”, p. 80 f.), “Spirit” today is similar to time , space , matter or matter and the like. General terms are best understood as a so-called “ reflection term ”: a word “with which a categorization of certain statements” is to be indicated; He therefore proposes to restrict “mind” in scientific usage to the designation of “statements about cognitions ” (and thus to differentiate from emotions , the so-called “emotional reactions” or the “emotional life” of everyday psychology).
  8. Hellmut Bock: Anglo-American Common Sense and German Geist, in: American Quarterly , 1956, pp. 155-165
  9. on the far-reaching psychoevolutionary background of the contexts that appear here (also) in terms of language history, see. Julian Jaynes' " The Origin of Consciousness " (complete as PDF file; Attention: the page numbers here are not identical to the original print !; 2.4 MB)
  10. ^ Translation of Ps. 33, quoted in the German dictionary by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
  11. Max Weber : The Protestant Ethics and the 'Spirit' of Capitalism 1904
  12. Julius Stenzel : On the development of the concept of spirit in Greek philosophy (1956), printed in To the conceptual world of the pre-Socratics / (by Kurt Riezler and others); ed. by Hans-Georg Gadamer . - Darmstadt: Scientific Book Society, 1968 (Paths of Research; 9)
  13. Anaximenes : DK 13 B 2
  14. a b G. Verbeke, Geist. II. Pneuma , in: Joachim Ritter u. a. (Ed.): Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, Vol. 3, Basel 1974, Sp. 154–166
  15. a b Francesco Moiso: Spirit. 2. Concept history. 2.1 'Pneuma' and the other Greek words , in: Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Ed.): Enzyklopädie Philosophie, Hamburg 1999, p. 434 f.
  16. Aristotle : De An. III, 4, 429 a 22 f.
  17. a b Christoph Horn / Christof Rapp : Vernunft / Verstand. II. Antiquity , in: Joachim Ritter u. a. (Ed.): Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, Vol. 11, Basel 2001, Sp. 749–764
  18. ^ Augustine : De animae quantitate 13.
  19. Thomas Aquinas : Summa theologiae I, 76, 2.
  20. René Descartes : Meditationes de prima philosophia , 1641
  21. Saul Kripke , Naming and Necessity , Blackwell Pub., Oxford, 1981 ISBN 0-631-12801-8
  22. ^ David Chalmers : The conscious Mind , Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-19-511789-1
  23. On the Critique of Political Economy. Preface. MEW 13, p. 9, 1859.
  24. ^ Emil Heinrich du Bois-Reymond : Beyond the limits of nature knowledge , lecture, 1872
  25. ^ Wilhelm Dilthey: Introduction to the humanities , 1863
  26. Edmund Husserl : Ideas for a pure phenomenology and phenomenological philosophy. First book: General introduction to pure phenomenology 1913
  27. Classics are: Ullin Place : Is Consciousness a Brain Process? in: British Journal of Psychology , 1956 and John Jamieson Carswell Smart : Sensations and Brain Processes in: Philosophical Review , 1956.
  28. Thomas Nagel : What is it like to be a bat? In: The Philosophical Review , 1974, pp. 435-450
  29. ^ Klaus Dörner : Citizens and Irre . On the social history and sociology of science in psychiatry. (1969) Fischer Taschenbuch, Bücher des Wissens, Frankfurt am Main 1975, ISBN 3-436-02101-6 ; Pp. 263, 270
  30. Manfred Spitzer : Spirit in the net , models for learning, thinking and acting. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag Heidelberg 1996, ISBN 3-8274-0109-7 . P. 10
  31. The protosociologist Montesquieu already used " esprit " in this sense in his Vom Geist der Gesetz from 1748.
  32. ^ Günter Bierbrauer. (2005), Social Psychology, ISBN 3-17-018213-7
  33. ^ John R. Anderson / Christian Lebiere : The atomic components of thought , Erlbaum, 1998, ISBN 0-8058-2816-8
  34. Sigmund Freud : The I and the It , 1923
  35. Exceptions are described in: J.-D. Haynes, G. Rees: Decoding mental states from brain activity in humans. In: Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7, 2006, pp. 523-534 and G. Kreiman, C. Koch, I. Fried: Category-specific visual responses of single neurons in the human median temporal lobe. In: Nature Neuroscience 3, pp. 946-953
  36. Rudi Paret : The Koran . Translation. 4th edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1985, ISBN 3-17-008994-3 , pp. 213 .
  37. See Josef van Ess : Theology and Society in the 2nd and 3rd Century Hijra. A History of Religious Thought in Early Islam. Volume V. Berlin-New York 1993. p. 111.
  38. See Josef van Ess: Theology and Society in the 2nd and 3rd Century Hijra. A History of Religious Thought in Early Islam. Volume III. Berlin-New York 1992. p. 115.
  39. Cf. van Ess III 369f.
  40. For example in Augustine, “ De vera religione ” 39.
  41. So apparently with Meister Eckhart , Von der Stadt der Seele
  42. Texts such as Angelus Silesius , First Book , Chapter 6 , can also be classified in this tradition .
  43. M. de Certeau: Art. Mystique in: Encyclopédie Universalis; ders: Le corps folié: mystique et folie aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles , in La Folie dans la psychanalyse , Payot, 1977, 189–203 tried to analyze and explain this.