Two sisters, Melinda and Melissa, are given the responsibility to decide on how to proceed with their brother’s, Matthew, treatment after his incident. Due to the incident, Matthew is left brain dead and is only considered alive through the works of life support systems. The sisters must collaborate and come to an agreement on the inevitable question: to pull the plug or not?
On one hand, Melinda believes that Matthew should be kept alive because his soul is still viable, therefore, he is still alive. Matthew is Matthew because of his soul, regardless of his non-functioning body. On the other hand, Melissa believes that because Matthew is brain dead, he is losing all his bodily functions. Without the body to act on fundamental functions, Matthew would not be able to live his live to his fullest potential. Based on that concept, Melissa believes that Matthew is no longer considered as being alive.
The two sisters have two very contrasting understanding of what it means to be “alive”. Melinda coming from a more spiritual perspective and Melissa from a more scientific perspective. In the story, Melinda exclaims, “that’s what makes him the person he is, not just a brain doing whatever in him skull! You have to look at everything…” (The Quandary). If Melinda wanted to convince Melissa that her perspective of souls existing is valid, she would have to refer to Plato’s defense of the existence of souls known as the theories of the immortality of the soul. She could utilize the theory of recollection that explains that we, as humans, contain some amount of unexplainable knowledge such as the knowledge we have at birth. At birth, we are considered “new”. We had no time to learn anything that could’ve contributed to how we already know how to cry or how we know how to grab objects with our hands. So how could we have known? The idea of recollection is that at some point, our soul existed before birth for it to have that knowledge. Because our soul existed prior to birth, humans are born with the experiences that our souls gained.
In addition, Plato suggested a cycle of transitions from living to dead. He argued that the living is born from the dead so there must be something that to give life. With that said, the only explanation would be that souls must exist in order to do so (What’s going on in the Phaedo). With the existence of the soul and the idea of a continuous cycle from living to dead, it supports the idea of Matthew’s soul existing before the physicality of Matthew even existed. The body isn’t the only defiance of Matthew because his soul existed before his physical form and will further continue to exist even after his physical form.
With these two arguments, it could potentially prove to Melissa that Matthew’s soul had already existed before “Matthew” existed, concluding that Matthew is technically still alive. He was who he was even before his physically form and he will continue to be who is after, even when his body isn’t exactly functioning on its own. However, there could be some weaknesses in Melinda’s argument that Melissa could question on. For instance, Melissa could agree that the soul does exist, but could argue that it’s only when the soul is thriving from the body it’s in. If the body is working as it should, the soul continues to thrive and does all that Melinda presented in her belief of the soul. Though, if the body becomes gone, the soul follows its departure. Melissa could also argue that Melinda is only persistent in the existence of the soul because she wants to believe that Matthew is not truly gone, creating bias. Since Melinda is so persistent in the existence of the soul “his soul, Matthew’s soul,” it’s difficult to decipher if it’s due to her true belief or that she just doesn’t want to admit to the fact that Matthew, her only brother, is gone.
From both the sisters’ perspectives, it’s challenging to accept just one side over the other. The fact is that there is no hard truth from either perspective of the existence of the soul before being born. It’s something that can’t physically be assessed, therefore, it difficult to have hard evidence to prove either side. It is nearly impossible to confidently say that the soul is immortal or determine what happens to the soul if it does die at some point.