In his book The Soul of the Marionette: A short enquiry into human freedom the philosopher John Gray writes- “What seems to be singularly human is not consciousness or free will but inner conflict- the contending impulses that divide us from ourselves.” The character of Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer I think illustrates this point. He functions perfectly well as a vampire until he is cursed by a Roma clan who impose a soul upon him.
The series does not, so far as I can recall, attempt any definition of what a soul might be but they do depict its impact on Angel. From being single minded and ruthlessly focussed he becomes self-divided and tormented. Effectively he ceases to be a monster and assumes the characteristics of a human as Professor Gray further describes them- “no other animal seeks the satisfaction of its desires and at the same time curses them as evil.”
It might be supposed that what is implied is that when one possesses a soul one also gains a conscience although explaining one concept we don’t full understand by referring to another concept we also don’t fully understand doesn’t get us much further. If conscience is that part of our psyche which, basing itself upon reason, tells us that certain actions are ‘wrong’ and others are ‘right’ because of the consequences which flow from them to ourselves and the community of which we are a part then Angel would not require a soul to access this. He would simply require the ability to reason and this, as a vampire who was able to function in a concealed way within human society, he already possessed prior to the curse.
In fact in his vampiric mode Angel operated in a perfectly rational way; in order to become practically human he had to become less reasonable not more. Which is to say that humans are creatures who possess reason but are not governed by it acting alone. Why might this be? Gray also writes “There is nothing to say that when all the work of reason is done only one view of the world will remain.” We are faced at many moments in our lives with choices to make and any one of them will be more or less as reasonable as the others. The basis for the choices we make cannot then be simply reason but must flow from some other source. The self-division which is our species characteristic may in fact be that necessary source. The aspect of our personality which is most dominant at a particular moment will determine our action, not because it is most reasonable but because it is most congenial, although other parts of our self may not find it so.
Why does this inner conflict exist? Professor Gray offers us this- “Being divided from yourself goes with being self-aware. This is the truth in the Genesis myth: the Fall is not an event at the beginning of history but the intrinsic condition of self-conscious beings.” As an aside I would say that this is an unnecessary either/or, the Fall could be both/and- an explanation of our inner lives as well as a description of an historic rupture between humans and the Divinity. However that might be the mere fact that we are aware of ourselves sets up an inner duality- that which is aware and that of which it is aware both of which are ourselves. And while this number must be at least two it can be much more depending upon our inner complexity. Angel shows us that humans are not only more conflicted and less rational than monsters but also more complicated.
Was he then happier as a vampire than as a quasi-human? I don’t think so because he had less to achieve. Monsters cannot grow they can only continue. Humans in seeking to resolve or at least address their inner-conflicts can change and gain in not knowledge so much as wisdom. Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism wrote- “The note of the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace.” Which I think is true enough. The rebellion of ourselves against ourselves can, if we manage it wisely, resolve itself into a position of inner harmony. One of the neoplatonists suggested that it is only the lowest and the highest forms of life which are simple everything in between is complex. The monster abides in its bestial simplicity the human, or the vampire with a soul, can come through these complexities and divisions to a state of inner unity, a oneness.
How is this possible? Wilde argues “What a man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.” This accords with the Stoic view which Epictetus rendered as “What do we admire? Externals. What do we make the prime object of our concern? Externals.” combined with the injunction to look instead at those things which are wholly within our power which are the ability to give our consent to the right and refuse our consent to the wrong. As Professor Gray pointed out it is our desires which form the centrepoint for our struggles. If once we can master desire and subdue it to our control then our complexities reduce themselves to simplicity at a higher level. That is, at a low level we are simple because we fulfil our desires without hesitation. Go slightly higher, acquire in Buffyian terms a soul, and we struggle between our inclination to yield to our desire and our apprehension that we would be wrong to do so. Travel higher still, which it is now open for Angel to do, and we can arrive at a new simplicity where we do not yield to our desires at all only to the necessary which is also the good.