Cottingham, however, is not merely wistful. He argues that we cannot make sense of ourselves as humans without believing in a soul of some sort. We pride ourselves on facing the brute reality of the natural world, which scientific truth has ‘disenchanted’ – but wrongly. Rather than being ‘super-natural’, a luxury add-on, the soul is an intrinsic, natural part of a God-filled, purposeful cosmos that we no longer recognise as such. Now a recovering Catholic, I found his straightforward theism almost shocking. Many readers will.
The belief that human beings are essentially autonomous agents is the theistic myth of the soul reiterated in rationalist terms. When philosophers deploy transcendental arguments it is in order deduce themselves as they imagine themselves to be. Because Cottingham argues that the experience of selfhood points in the direction of theism, secular readers may decide that his essay is not for them. But if they do they will be mistaken, for the sense of self he invokes is their own.