The Imm ort al ity of t he Soul in Descartes and Spinoza 1. Edwi n M. Cur ley Department of Philosophy University of Michigan

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1 The Imm ort al ity of t he Soul in Descartes and Spinoza 1 Edwi n M. Cur ley Department of Philosophy University of Michigan In dedi cating his Meditations t o those m ost wi se and distingui shed men of the Sacred Faculty of Theology at the Sorbonne, Descar tes decl ar es that he has always thought that the t wo quest ions about God and the soul were t he chi ef ones which ought t o be demonstrated with the help of philosophy rather than with that of theology. For though i t suff ices for t hose of us who are fai thful to beli eve by f ait h that God exists and that the human soul does not die with the body, it certainly does not seem possibl e t o per suade infidel s of any religion, or even of any m oral vir tue, unl ess those t wo things have f irst been proven by natural r eason. Oft en this lif e off ers gr eater rewards to vice than to vi rt ue; so f ew would pr efer the ri ght t o t he useful if they di d not fear God and expect another l if e. 2 Descart es gr ant s t hat we ought to believe that God exists because this is taught i n sacred scripture, and that we ought to beli eve sacr ed scr iptur e, because we have it fr om God. St il l, he notes, we cannot propose that argument to infidel s, because they would judge it to be ci rcular. You know those infidels. Al ways making t rouble. I take it that Descartes is being ironic here. He i s displacing ont o t he infidel a criticism which it would not be diplomatic for him to make himself. But I presume he recognizes that the infidels would be right if they dismissed that argument as circular. Descartes does not offer a similar explanation for saying that we must try to prove the immortality of t he soul by natural reason. Inst ead, he observes that some have been so bold as to say that hum an reasoning favors t he mor talit y of the soul, and that it is by fait h 1 P resen ted at the annual conference of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, November Forthcomin g in the Proceedings of the Association. 2 Descartes, Oeuvres, ed. b y Charles A dam and Paul Tannery, vol. VII, p. 2. Cited hereafter as AT. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 1/20

2 alone that they believe it does not die wi th the body. Believing something by faith does not mean here what it so of ten does in t he fidei sm we encounter in our undergr aduat es: believing something without having any grounds for your belief. Rather it means believing somethi ng because you t rust the teachings of scripture as the revealed word of God. Descartes remarks that the Lateran Council of 1513 condemned fideism with respect to immortality, and enjoined Christian phi losopher s to rebut the arguments of t he fi dei sts, using all their powers to prove the truth. That injunction is no doubt sufficient to justify his project. Still, Descartes treatment of fideism with respect to the existence of God might make us wonder whether it might not be equally circular to base a belief in immortality on faith. Of course, it s not patently circular to say: we ought to believe that the soul is immortal because this is taught in sacred scripture, and we ought to believe sacred scripture because we have it f rom God. But whether there is a ci rcl e beneat h the surf ace here may depend on the nature and qualit y of our evidence f or the exi stence of God. Suppose our theist holds t hat t he evidence f or God s exist ence is mi xed. Collectively, if not individually, she thinks, the traditional arguments for the God s existence make hi s exi stence probabl e; but even t aken as stages i n a cumulat ive argument they are inconcl usi ve, and their cumulat ive f orce would be weakened considerably if we coul d not account for the occurrence of hor rendous evils in a way consistent wit h t he theisti c hypothesis. Suppose, i n f act, our t hei st thinks t hat without a sati sfactory solut ion t o t he problem of evil the traditional arguments will not make it probable (i.e., more probable than not) that God exists. Suppose further that our theist judges global solutions to the problem of evil, like the free will defense, to be ultimately unsatisfactory. 3 It will not, she thinks, suffice to justify the suffering of Ivan Karamazov s innocent children that their torment is a necessary conditi on for t he exist ence of som e greater good whose benef it accrues pri maril y t o others: say, their tormentors possessing the (unrealized) power to make a less sadistic choice. That 3 I intend my hypothetical theist to resemble Marilyn M. Ad am s in cer tain respects. See her Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Cornell UP, 1999, esp. pp Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 2/20

3 might make the world overall a better place. But a satisfactory response to the problem of evil would have to attend, not merely to the results of a global cost/benefit calculation, but also to the way the costs and benefi ts are dist ribut ed. A sati sfact ory solution m ust suppose that something in the lives of those very children m akes their l ives wor th li ving, in spit e of the evils they suffer. Given the brevity and misery of their lives on earth, that solution must assume that they wil l have a li fe af ter this li fe, i n which they wil l experi ence a good which wi ll make their li ves as a whol e a great good t o t hem, in spite of what they exper ience here. On t hese assumptions about t he mer it s of t radit ional theisti c arguments, and of traditional theistic solutions to the problem of evil, infidels might after all accuse us of reasoning in a circle if we affirm the immortality of the soul as an act of faith. The infidels mi ght say: accordi ng to you, we ar e assured that t he soul is im mor tal because our scriptur es affirm this; we are assured that what our scriptures affirm is true, because they are the word of God; we are assur ed that there is a God because cert ain r ati onal argument s m ake his existence pr obable; and we are assur ed that these ar gum ent s make God s exi st ence probable, all things considered, because the transcendent goods of the afterlife make the apparently pointless evils of t his l ife just ifi abl e. I abstain fr om any j udgment about the actual circularity of this argument. But it does seem to me that there i s enough appearance of cir cul ar ity here to make a phi losophical proof of the immortality of the soul highly desirable. Does Descart es in fact int end t o provide such a pr oof i n t he Meditations? T he text it self does not seem to cont ain the desired argument. The t itl e page of t he fi rst edit ion adverti sed such an argument, pr ocl ai ming a work in which t he exist ence of God and the immortalit y of the soul are demonstrated. But it appears that Descart es hi mself was not responsibl e for that ti tle page, t hat i t was composed by t he overzealous F at her Mersenne, who inferred too much from Descartes dedicatory letter to the theologians at the Sorbonne. For the second edition the title page was changed, so that it promised only a proof of the Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 3/20

4 distinction bet ween t he soul and t he body, 4 i.e., a proof that the soul can exist without the body, that its death does not f ol low f rom t he destr uct ion of t he body. Thi s i s not to clai m that the soul actual ly does sur vive t he death of t he body, much less that it never dies. It i s only this more modest propositi on that Descartes professes t o establ ish in t he Meditations themselves. Descartes Synopsis of the Meditations ( AT VII, 13-14), however, does sketch a line of argument which might be deployed to get from the the real distinction of mind and body to the immortality of the mind or soul. It s only a sketch, which Descartes defers filling out, on the ground that a proper geometric proof of the immortality of the mind would require an explanation of the whole of physics. But it s very intriguing nonetheless. The fir st and m ost i mportant st ep in proving the immortality of the soul, Descartes says, is to form as clear a concept of the soul as possible, a concept completely distinct from any concept of body. (AT VII, 13) This is the work of t he Second Meditation. T hen i t s necessary to know that all t he thi ngs we understand clearl y and di st inctly are true, in the very way in which we understand them. This Descartes takes to be accomplished by the end of t he Fourt h Medi tation. T he next step i s to have a dist inct concept of corporeal nat ure. This is accomplished partly in the Second, partly in the Fifth, and partly in the Sixth Meditation. The f inal step as f ar as the Meditations are concerned i s to show that all those things which we conceive clearly and distinctly as different substances, as we conceive both the mind and the body, are substances really dist inct from one another. This Descartes claims to have done i n t he Si xth Meditation. If he is successful, he will at least have laid the groundwor k f or a proof of im mortalit y; he wi ll have shown that the m ind does not have t o die wi th the body, that the dest ruction of the body does not ent ail the destruct ion of the mind. Before we consi der how the proof of immortality might be completed, let s look at the way Descart es under takes to lay the gr oundwork f or it in the Meditations. E arl y i n the 4 S ee Descartes, Meditationes de prima philosophia /Méditations métaphysiques, intr. & notes by Geneviève Rodis-Lewis, Paris : J. Vrin, 1978, pp. ix-x. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 4/20

5 Second Medit ati on, after he has establi shed via the cogito argument that he exi sts, he asks What am I, I who am so cert ain of m y exi stence? (AT VII, 25) Characteristically he tackles this quest ion by r ef lecting on what he thought he was before he st ar ted philosophizing. This is Descartes procedure, to start from the beliefs of a hypothetical inquirer who is just beginni ng to philosophi ze, and then see what can and cannot be ret ained in t hose bel ief s when t hey are subjected t o radical doubt. 5 Because Descartes is seeki ng absolute certainty, any reason a skeptic might offer him for doubting, even if it is highly improbable, will count as a valid ground of doubt, so long as the ground proposed is not known t o be fal se. 6 His first answer to the question, What am I?, also characteristically, is a false start: I thought I was a man. Tr ue enough, no doubt, but what is a man? T he beginner in phil osophy has Ari st otelian leanings. So hi s f irst thought is that a m an is a rat ional anim al? And what i s that? What is i t t o be an ani mal? What is it t o be r at ional? Thi s l ine of thought, Descar tes deci des, leads only to quest ions mor e per plexing than t hose from whi ch we star ted. So he m akes a f resh start. When I attend to the t houghts which used to come to me spontaneously and naturally, what I find is that I thought of myself as something which had a face, and hands, and arm s, and all those t hings which go t o m ake up a body, and mi ght equally well be found i n a corpse. In addit ion, I t hought t hat I nouri shed myself, moved, sensed, and thought. All these acti ons I refer red t o t he soul. But I did not not ice what t his soul was, and when I did think about it, I imagined it to be some very subtle material substance, l ike the wind, or fi re, or air, which was spread thr oughout my body. T he natur al man, when he first r efl ect s on the nature of the soul, is a kind of mat eri al ist. 5 On Descartes procedure in the Meditations, see my "Analysis in the Meditations: the Quest for Clear and Distinct I deas," in Essays on Descartes Meditations, ed. A. Rorty, U California P, This is a s imp lication. It states the ep is tem ic requirem en t f or a valid ground of doubt. But a valid ground of doubt must also satisfy an explanatory requirement: it must offer an explanation, even if only hypothetically, for my being deceived. It s the explanatory requirement which enables the Cartesian procedure to produce some positive results, since a valid ground of doubt must entail that I think. For more on these themes, see m y Descartes Against the Skeptics, Harvard UP, Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 5/20

6 The met hod of doubt hel ps me to go beyond this prephilosophi c conception of the soul to a cl ear er concepti on. What is there in that concept ion of soul which survives radical doubt? Because I have found reasonable, i f som ewhat metaphysical, grounds f or doubt ing the existence of the material world, I have rejected my former belief in things material, not merely suspending judgment about them, but denying their existence. So to the extent that my prephilosophic conception of the soul attributed material properties to the soul, or properties which presuppose the existence of material objects, my prephilosophic conception of the self/soul must be rejected. Of course I do not have the head, torso and limbs I thought I had. But neither do I move, or nourish myself, or perceive objects through my senses, or do anything else which requires the existence of a body. But I do t hi nk. I affirm some things, deny others, suspend judgment about still others. I cannot deny these mental activities to my soul. For any ground I might entertain as possibl y t hr owi ng doubt on t he fact of my thinking, no mat ter how permi ssi ve I am in permitting extravagant hypotheses to count as grounds of doubt, will entail that I am thinking. Even if all my present experience is a dream, even if an omnipotent demon is deceivi ng me, I must have some bel iefs if I am to be decei ved. Even sensati on, so l ong as I conceive i t as a process of pur e t hought, and not as a pr ocess which necessari ly invol ves t he body, is somethi ng I cannot deny myself. I t seems to me t hat I see a li ght. I am decei ved, by a dem on, perhaps. In any case, there is no l ight. And I have no physical organs which are capable of processing l ight signal s and relaying them to the brain. Those things can be denied, and si nce t hey can be denied, they must be denied. But that it seems t o me I see a li ght I cannot deny. And thi s seeming to me i s what sensati on is, strictly speaking. This is what it is t o have a cl ear and disti nct idea of the soul: to recogni ze that there ar e som e t hi ngs which I cannot deny to the soul, and ot her s whi ch I can. And when I achi eve cl ar ity and distinct ness i n my concepti on of the soul, I understand it as a thi nki ng thing, and nothing m ore. It may be som ething m ore. But if it has any propert ies which do not presuppose thought, they are not revealed in my clear and distinct conception of it. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 6/20

7 The process of clarifying my prephilosophic conception of body is similar. There ar e no bodies, of course. T hat is, in the S econd Medit ati on the exi stence of bodi es is not yet established, and therefore to be rejected until a proof of their existence can be found. But in the last f ew paragraphs of t he Second Medi tation Descar tes l ets loose his natur al insti nct t o beli eve in t hei r exi stence, so that he can consider what t heir nat ur e woul d be if they did exist. Suppose some body exist s, say, thi s piece of wax. What does it s nat ure consist in? I.e., what propert ies do we find our sel ves compell ed to ascr ibe to i t? What pr opert ies do we find that it might lack while still remaining in existence as the particular material object it is? In t he thought- exper iment where the wax is brought closer to the f ir e, all of i ts sensible proper ties its size, shape, hardness, color, smell, etc. change, yet the wax remains. What is there in t he wax which r em ains constant through this change? Descart es identifies three things: extension, flexibility, and mutability. Two of these are second-order pr opert ies, whi ch pr esuppose the exi stence of some f irst-order property, and one of those second- order pr opert ies is simply a special case of the ot her. To be f lexible is to be changeable with respect to shape ( and size, per haps). The only fi rst-order proper ty Descart es ident ifi es in the wax is extensi on. So that is what he takes the wax to be: an extended t hi ng, whose essent ial nature is to be a geometri cal object, and whose essenti al nature, as Descart es conceives it, does not involve anythi ng pertaining to t hought. The thought -experim ent with the wax leads him fr om a confused and obscur e conception of the wax to one which i s clear and dist inct. Descart es has m ore t o say about the nat ure of body t han that, but I thi nk that wil l be sufficient f or now t o enable us to see how t he argum ent for the real di sti nction goes. The Synopsis of the Meditations says t hat t he contribution of the Fourth Meditation is to prove that all the things we clearly and distinctly understand are true, in the very way we understand them. I take i t that what t his t alk of the truth of clear and dist inct int el lectual percept ions means in this case is that, if I have a clear and dist inct per cepti on of somet hi ng, then it is at l east logicall y possible that it exi st in the way I under stand it as possibl y exi sti ng. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 7/20

8 Ther e would be no contradiction involved in its existing in the way I understand it to exist. 7 One thing the Sixth Meditation contributes is the reflection that if it is logically possible for somethi ng to exist i n a cert ain way, then God i s capabl e of creati ng it in t hat way. T his makes l ogi cal possibili ty a suf ficient condi tion of God s being able to cr eate it. 8 My clear and di sti nct conception of the mi nd as a thinking, non-extended t hi ng entails that it is logically possible for it to exist as I conceive it to exist. Similarly, my clear and distinct concept ion of t he body as an extended, non-thinking t hi ng ent ai ls that it is logically possible for it too to exist as I conceive it. The logical possibility of these things existing i n these ways ent ai ls that if there is a God, an om nipotent being, then t here is something more than a mere logical possibility of their existing as I conceive them. If there is a God, then there is a power capable of realizing these logical possibilities. Suppose we introduce here a notion of real, or metaphysical possibility, understanding an entity to be really possible if and onl y i f i t is not m erely logicall y possible, but genui nel y capabl e of coming into existence, because there is a power suff ici ent t o bring it int o exi stence. If God does not exist, then the mere logical possibility of something s existing is no guarantee that it really can exist. But if God exists, then logical possibility does guarantee real possibility: it is really possible for the mind to exist apart from the body, and really possible for t he body to exist without t he mi nd. And to say thi s i s to say t hat my m ind and my body are really disti nct, they are substances each of which is capable of exist ing apar t f rom t he ot her. (VII, 162) So if God exists, m ind and body are real ly disti nct. On this interpretation of Descartes argument, the proof of the real distinction of mi nd and body does depend on the proof of the existence of God. But I do not t hink the argument is circular in the way I earlier suggested that an argument for i mm ort ali ty mi ght be ci rcular. F irst of all, Descar tes does not thi nk hi s arguments for the existence of God are merely probabilistic. His preferred argument, the ontological argument, purports to be as demonst rat ive as any mathematical pr oof. And he also seem s to thi nk of the causal 7 Descartes makes this connection between clear and distinction perception and the absence of contradiction in the first paragraph of the Sixth Meditation, AT VII, 71. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 8/20

9 arguments in the Third Meditation as demonstrative. So he does not think of establishing God s existence as a matter of wei ghing the positi ve evidence agai nst t he negat ive and seei ng whi ch is st ronger. I f t hese argument s accomplish what t hey are supposed to, then any probabil ist ic argument against t he exist ence of God must be fallacious. More cr uci ally, though, Descartes solution to the problem of evil, to the extent that he has one, does not assum e the im mortalit y of the soul. Hi s soluti on is of the global vari ety, whi ch does not require that evil be defeated i n t he li fe of each individual who i s suffering evil. It s a global solution, but as I read Descartes, he does not ultimately rely on the free will defense to relieve God of responsibility for evil. The emphasis on human freedom in the Fourth Meditation might suggest otherwise. But in the end, I think his solution i s what I call a holistic one, which demands t hat we not be concerned about individuals who are in some way imperfect, but consider only the value of the whole. That s rather abstract. Let me make it more concr ete. Descartes does not treat the pr oblem of evil in i ts ful l generali ty. He is concerned onl y with what we m ight cal l epistemological evil, human error. So he has nothing to say, really, about the problem of apparently pointless suffering. Throughout most of the Fourth Meditation his solution to the pr oblem of error seems to be that God i s not responsibl e f or our err ors, we are. We do not have indeterminist freedom with respect to the things we perceive clearly and distinctly. When I per ceive cl early and distinct ly that I exist, I cannot help but judge that pr oposit ion t o be t rue. So if I were decei ved about m y clear and dist inct per cepti ons, God would be a deceiver. But when I am m aking a judgm ent about som ething I do not per cei ve cl ear ly and distinctly, I do have ability to judge otherwise. It may be very difficult for me, in the First Meditation, to suspend judgment about the proposition that there are bodies. The reasons which incline m e t o aff irm t he exi st ence of bodies are ver y powerf ul. But when I reflect on other reasons, which may undermine my reasons for affirmation, say the dream argument, I fi nd that I can, i f onl y f or short peri ods of t ime, doubt the existence of bodi es. If I err in 8 Not that it is a necessary condition. That, I take it, would conflict with the doctrine of the creation of the eternal truths. On that doctrine, see my "Descartes on th e Creation of the Eternal Truths," Philosophical Review, 19 84, 93 : Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 9/20

10 maki ng a j udgment about things I do not perceive clearl y and di sti nctly, t hat s my f aul t, not God s. So f ar we have a classic version of the free will defense, applied to the only kind of evil Descartes takes it on himself t o discuss. But thi s i s not, i t seems to me, his fi nal solution to t he probl em of epist emological evil. Toward the end of the Fourth Meditation Descartes recognizes that God could, in various ways, have created him free of error without depriving hi m of freedom: God might have given him clear and distinct perceptions of everything about which he would ever have to make a j udgment; or he m ight have impressed i t f ir mly on his mem or y t hat he ought never to make a judgment about anyt hing he did not per ceive clearly and distinctly. (AT VII, 61) So God could have brought it about that he never erred without compromising his freedom. 9 If human f reedom does not explain the occurr ence of err or, what does? At this poi nt Descart es invokes what I have call ed a hol istic appr oach: had God made him i n such a way that he was exempt from error, he would have been m or e perf ect t han he i s; but i t does not follow that the uni verse as a whole would have been more perfect. Indeed, Descart es seems to t hink t hat t he universe as a whol e i s bet ter for having i n i t som e beings who are pr one t o er ror, along wi th those ot her beings who are im mune from err or. T he pr inciple seems to be the one whose hist or y Arthur Lovej oy tr aced in The Great Chain of B eing: the m ore different kinds of thing there are in the world, the better the world, even if the addition to the worl d of dif fer ent kinds of thi ng means that some of them ar e very i mperfect compared with others. The variety displayed by the whole more than compensates for any imperfection in the par ts. I don t suggest that this holistic solution to the problem of evil i s a very satisfying one. I t m ay seem harml ess enough so long as the onl y evil under considerati on is er ror. I don t t hink you coul d extend it to cases of int ense and pointless suffering wit hout seeming indifferent to the well-being of the individuals whose afflictions you were trying to justify in Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 10 /20

11 this way, or compromising the love God is supposed to have for his creatures. That is the characteristic defect of global solutions. But it is, I think, some advantage that Descartes holistic solution does not require a prior acceptance of the immortality of the soul. Let s review our sit uat ion. The Meditations offer a demonstrati on of the r eal distinction between mind and body, though not a demonstration of the immortality of the soul. The demonstration of the real distinction depends on Descar tes having a demonstration of the existence and veracit y of God, but that demonst rat ion does not presuppose a proof of the immortality of the soul. So far so good. Let s suppose, for the sake of ar gument, that Descartes has in fact demonst rat ed the existence and ver aci ty of God, and hence, t he real distinct ion between mi nd and body. These are no sm all assumpt ions, but we m ust make them if we ar e to get on t o t he next st age of t he argum ent, t he one sketched in the Synopsis of the Meditations. In t he Synopsis Descart es calls at tenti on to one distincti on between mi nd and body which he might have used as the basis for an argument for immortality: as a thinking, nonextended substance, the mi nd is indi visibl e; to be divi sible it woul d have t o be ext ended; t he body, on the other hand, whose essence consists in extension, is inherently divisible, in principle, if not in practice. 10 Now i t m ight be ar gued I believe it of ten was ar gued t hat the body s susceptibility to destruction is a consequence of its divisibility. If it were not divisible, it would be indestructible. These considerations might lead us to infer that if Descartes is right about the essence of the mind, it will follow quite easily that the mind (or soul ) is immort al, or as i s som eti mes said i n t hese contexts, naturally immortal, meaning that it cannot be destr oyed by any natural f orce, though it can, of course, be destr oyed by an act of God. 9 This assumes, I think, that where we have clear and distinct ideas, a liberty of indifference is not required for freedom, but that a compatibilist account is appropriate there. I believe Descartes does assume this. Cf. AT V II, Descartes had noted this in the Sixth Meditation, AT VII, 85-86, and he reminds us of it in the Synopsis, AT VII, 13. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 11 /20

12 It s a striking feature of the Meditations, one f or which I have at present no explanation, that Descartes makes no appeal to this argum ent. No sooner has he r emarked in t he Synopsis on t his di ff erence between m ind and body t han he wri tes: But I have not treat ed thi s mat ter f urt her i n t his work, bot h because t hese argument s are enough to show that the death of the mind does not follow from the corruption of the body, and hence are enough to gi ve mor tals the hope of an afterl ife, and secondly, because the premises from which the immortality of the mind can be inferred depend on an expl anati on of the whole of physi cs. ( AT VII, 13) This seems t o m e qui te ext raordinary, not merel y because Descar tes decl ines to avail himself of what might seem a simple and straightforward argument for immortality, but more importantly because the only substantial reason he offers for not providing any argument for immortality in the Meditations i s that t o do thi s he would need to work out the whole of physics. Why on earth should it be necessary to have a com plete account of physics in order t o know whether or not the soul i s imm ort al? What Descartes goes on to say in the Synopsis may provide us with some clues, but any answer to this question must be speculative. The first thing we must know, Descartes says, i s t hat Absolut ely all subst ances, or t hings which m ust be created by God in or der t o exist, ar e by their natur e incorr uptible, and can never cease to exist unless God r educes them to nothing by denying t hem hi s concur rence. (AT VII, 14) Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. You would think that ordinary material objects are clearly corruptible, and can cease to exist by purely natural means. After all, it is the corruptibility of one material thing, the human body, which gives rise to the problem of understanding how the human soul can survi ve it s destructi on. This seems t o f orce us to the surprising conclusion that ordinary mater ial t hings, l ike the hum an body, are not really substances this in spite of the fact that the real distinction which Descar tes cl ai ms bet ween mind and body im pli es that the body i s a substance and in spit e of the fact that the human body would seem to sat isfy the defi nit ion of substance Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 12 /20

13 Descartes has just given: surely it is, on Descartes view, a thing which must be created by God in order to exist. Nevertheless, as t he Synopsi s cont inues, Descar tes does dr aw that surpr isi ng conclusion. The second thing he says we need t o know, to const ruct our pr oof of t he immortality of the soul, is that Body taken in general is a substance, and therefore, never perishes either ; but the human body, insofar as it di ffers fr om other bodies, is only composed of a cert ain configuration of members and other accidents of this kind; the human mind, however, does not consi st in this way of any accidents, but is a pur e substance. For even if al l its acci dents ar e changed, so that it under stands other thi ngs, wil ls ot her things, senses other things, etc., it does not on that account become another mind. But the human body becomes diff erent si mpl y from t he fact that the shape of cer tai n of i ts par ts is changed. Fr om thi s it fol lows that the body indeed per ishes very easily, whereas the mind, by its very nature, is immortal. (AT VII, 14) Ther e seem t o be a number of st range things her e. F irst, there is t he Spi nozistic-sounding pr oposi tion that t here is only one m aterial substance, body taken in gener al, all parti cul ar bodies apparently being just a combination of acci dents of one kind or another. T hi s i s certainly contrary to the way Descartes usually talks about material objects. Then there i s t he cl aim that an apparently m inor change in t he accident s of the human body, specif icall y, a change i n t he shape of some of i ts par ts, can cause the body t o cease t o be the same body. Is any change what soever i n t he human body enough to destr oy its identity? Is this a peculiarity of the human body, or does it apply to bodies generally? If so, what of the wax, which Descart es said remai ned t he sam e substance, in spite of quit e dramatic changes in its accidents? As stri ct as Descart es sounds when he i s set ting t he condi ti ons for the persist ence of a body over tim e, he seems t o be ext raordi naril y l iberal about the conditi ons f or the persistence of a mind over time. It looks as though a mind might remain numerically the same even though all of its particular thoughts had changed. That would contradict the Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 13 /20

14 common intuition that some continuity of memory is required for personal identity. But if Descartes does not intend to be that liberal, he gives us no indication of what limits there might be to the amount a change a mind can sustain without losing its identity. I cannot t hi nk that Descar tes was oblivious to the questions this sketch of an argument for immortality might raise. I presume his sense of those difficulties explains why he deferred a full presentation of his argum ent to a later work, and why he thought it would be necessary for him to make hi s argument in the context of an explanation of t he whole of physics. The cont rast he wants to draw between the mind as a substance which i s nat urally immortal, and the body as a mere combination of accidents, whose identity over time is extremely fragile, would certainly require some fancy footwork to reconcile the claims he want s t o m ake with t hose he has al ready made. So far as I can see, he never worked thi s out. That being so, I think we can only pronounce his attempt to prove the immortality of the soul extremely disappointing. II. I must now pass to S pinoza, if I am to say anything useful about him at all in the ti me remai ni ng to me, t hough as you wil l see, I have not qui te finished wi th Descart es. But I approach t his aspect of my subject wi th more than the usual diff idence, si nce it seem s t o me one of the most difficult topics in Spinoza, and I doubt my ability to say anything useful about i t i n any fi ni te period of time. Let me begin wi th a puzzli ng fact about Spinoza. As many of you wil l be aware, he was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam, and raised in a community established there by r efugees from t he persecution of the Jews in Iber ia towar d t he end of t he 16 th Century. As he was gr owi ng up, he seems to have had a gr eat i nterest in quest ions of theology, and to have devot ed hi s energi es to learning what he coul d from t he rabbi s of the Amst erdam Jewish community. T her e are reports that they considered him one of their best pupils, and hoped t hat he woul d become a rabbi. But he was not sat isf ied with t he answers they gave t o Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 14 /20

15 hi s questi ons; he began to seek educati on outsi de the comm unity, and was par ticularl y attracted to the philosophy of Descartes. By t he tim e he was 23, Spi noza had been excommunicat ed from the synagogue for holding cert ain heretical vi ews, t he exact nature of which i s something of a mystery. We owe our most credible information to the curiosity of the Inquisition, which seems to have retained an interest in the theological activities of the émigré community even after they were no longer the subj ect s of the kings of Spain or Portugal. Two years af ter the excommunication, a South American monk, Fr. Tom as Solano, vi sit ed Am sterdam, met Spinoza and talked with him, and then reported back to the authorities in Iberia about what he had learned. Fr. Solano reports that there were three doctrinal grounds for the excommunication: Spinoza is supposed to have held that God only exists phi losophical ly, that the Jewish law is not t he true law, and that the soul dies wi th the body. This is puzzling. I n t he earli est work we have fr om Spinoza it looks as t hough he i s defending some doctrine of immortality. I refer here to the Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well-Being, where ther e are two arguments for the im mortalit y of the soul. And i n his most definit ive work, t he Ethics, Spinoza ar gues t hat the human m ind cannot be absolut ely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal. (VP23) This is surprising, not merely because it seems to cont radict what we t hink we know about the gr ounds for his excommunicat ion, but al so because it seems hard to r econci le wi th the phil osophy of m ind we f ind i n t he Ethics, accor ding to whi ch mi nd and body are one and the same thing, conceived in different ways. (IIP21S) You would think t hat if t he mind and the body ar e one and t he same thing, however dif fer ent ly they may be concei ved, the dest ruction of the body woul d entail the destructi on of the mind. Now my normal way of trying to understand Spinoza, at least on topics like this, is to approach him via Descartes, not taking him to be merely an eccentric Cartesian, but rather seei ng him as someone who was attr acted by cert ain i deas i n the Cart esi an philosophy, and repelled by others, and who for med his own views l ar gel y by cri tical reflect ion on t hose of Descartes. Here is my best effort to explain how this works on this particular topic. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 15 /20

16 In P art II of t he Ethics S pi noza states two axi oms which have a part icular ly Cartesian resonance: A2: Man thinks, or, to put it differently, we know t hat we t hink. A4: We feel that a cert ain body, viz. our body, is affected in many ways. In stat ing t hese axi oms I have translated not just t he Lat in of the Opera post huma, but also two glosses whi ch Spinoza, or his contemporary translator, put on the Latin in the Dutch translation which appeared almost simultaneously with the Opera post huma. I work on the assumption that if Spinoza himself is not responsible for those glosses, he at least had the opportunit y to see and approve them. The fir st of these assumpt ions restates a pr oposit ion which Spi noza took t o be one of the foundations of the Cartesian philosophy: the existence of the self as a thinking thing. Spinoza gives it his own twist. He deliberately avoids stating it in the first person singular. The axi om is either that man t hi nks (as it is in the Latin) or that we t hi nk (as i t i s i n the Dutch). One of the thi ngs S pinoza i s not attracted to i n Descar tes i s his methodol ogical solipsism. We can start f rom t he assum pti on that there is a pl urali ty of thinking t hings. But the second assum pti on is the one which i s m ost crucial f or our purposes: we feel that a certain body, our body, is affected in many ways. For t he Spinoza schol ar approaching him via Descartes, this inevitably calls to mind certain passages in the Sixth Meditation which I passed over in my exposit ion of Descart es, passages whi ch do not sit easily with the argument for the r eal dist incti on, but whi ch seem to me to provide a cr uci al br idge to Spinoza. At the same time that Descartes insists on the separability of mind and body he also insi sts on t hei r uni on. There is somethi ng very speci al about my r elationship to t his body which I call mi ne, and whi ch I thi nk of as being, in some sense, a part of m yself. It s not just that I view t he world f rom it s per spect ive, apparentl y wit h t he ai d of its sense organs, or that I exercise a di rect control over i ts movem ent s, but can only contr ol the m ovements of other bodies by moving this body. If that were all, then Ryle s accusation that the Cartesian Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 16 /20

17 mi nd is a ghost in a machi ne mi ght be j ust. But as a consequence of my relation t o thi s body I exper ience certain bodily sensations pleasure, pain, hunger, thirst, etc. which are highly charged emotionally, and which give me strong reasons either to pursue them or to try to reli eve them. It is these bodi ly sensations which convince me that my rel at ion to t he body is not mer ely an external one, that I am not, as Descar tes puts it, present i n my body as a sai lor is present i n his ship. (AT VII, 81) The sai lor can know what i s happening i n his ship, and cause changes i n t he ship, but his r elation to the ship is an external one; he does not feel pain when the shi p i s dam aged, or hunger when i t needs fuel. My rel ati on to my body is so close, and I am, as it were, so m ixed thr ough it, t hat I compose one t hing wit h i t. This talk of mixture, of course, is a metaphor, drawn from the world of corporeal things. I f the soul is a non-extended subst ance, it cannot be lit erally true that i t i s m ixed throughout the body. And it s not clear, in Descartes philosophy, what literal truth might underli e and justi fy that metaphor. Spinoza does not use the m etaphor, and I do not think he woul d f ind i t an ent irely happy one; but he does hol d views about the m etaphysi cs of mi nd and body whi ch would explain why i t is a t em pti ng one. The fir st thing, he says, which constit utes the actual being of a human mi nd is that it is an idea, a representation in thought, of a singular thing which actually exists; specifically, of somethi ng corporeal; and mor e specif icall y, of one of t he modes which consti tut es the human body. 11 Whatever else it may be, t he hum an mi nd is fi rst t he idea of the human body. All it s awar eness of t he wor ld is medi ated by its awar eness of the states of i ts own body. But t o put it that way i s sti ll to sound too dualisti c. The mind s awar eness of the world is in the first instance an awareness of a state of a particular body, an awareness which is t hat stat e of the body, but conceived now under t he at tri bute of thought. It f oll ows f rom this metaphysics t hat t he human mi nd is not a simple entit y. I t i s, rather, as complex as the body which is its object. It consists of a multiplicity of representations of the body, in one-to-one correspondence with the states of the body they represent or rather, a multiplicity of r epresent at ions of the body which are t he various Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 17 /20

18 states of the body t hey repr esent, conceived now as modes of thought, r ather than as modes of extension. (II P21S) Nor is the human m ind a substance. It is rather a coll ect ion of m odes of thought whose i denti ty over tim e as the same collect ion is a funct ion of t he ident it y over t ime of t he collection of modes of extension which const itute the human body. T he body can remain the sam e body over a period of tim e dur ing which i t changes, during whi ch some of the modes of ext ension which consti tut e the body ar e r eplaced by ot her s, so long as the rel ati ons of m oti on and r est which t he parts have to one another rem ai n m ore or l ess constant dur ing that period of tim e. 12 The body has a cer tai n t endency to maint ai n a constant r at io of the moti ons of i ts par ts to one another. When i t succeeds in doing that, i t per sists as one complex mode of extensi on. When i t fai ls, i t ceases to exist as t hat part icular body. 13 Its success in maintaining that ratio is constantly threatened by surrounding bodies which may disturb the ratio. The mind s duration as the particular mind it is depends on its body s success in maintaining the ratio of motion and rest among its parts. Man, whether conceived as a thinking t hing or as an extended t hing, is a part of natur e, const ant ly st riving t o m ai ntain it self, but constant ly at ri sk of being put out of existence by some st ronger f orce in its environment. This does not seem t o be par ticularl y prom ising soil in which t o grow a theory of the immortality of the soul, and I do not in fact think it will support any very traditional theory of immortality. What survives the dest ructi on of the body, for Spinoza, i s not the mind as that compl et e complex enti ty which was the r efl ect ion i n t hought of its body and endured as the thi ng it was so long as the body endur ed as the thi ng it was. I t i s onl y a port ion of t he mi nd which S pinoza proclai ms to be eter nal. 14 That por ti on of the m ind cannot retai n any sense of i tself as an individual existing over time, with those memories of its past which are essential to its continued identity as the same person. Continuity of memory is destroyed when the t races in t he brain which r ecord past exper ience ar e dest royed. What sur vi ves 11 Ethics I I Pro ps Cf. the miniature physics which S pinoza introduces in Part II, after Prop. 13, and particularly the definition of an individual at II/ The ph ysiology is primitive here, but its implcations are clear. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 18 /20

19 must be something quite impersonal, with which we cannot really identify, and about whose fate we cannot deepl y care. Nor i s it impor tant t hat we should. Spinoza is opposed to the cartesian idea that we require the hope of reward and fear of punishment in the afterlife to motive a preference for the right over the useful. The reward of virtue is not blessedness in the world to come, but virtuous living itself (V P42). When Spinoza told Fr. S olano about t he her esies for whi ch he was excomm uni cated, he stat ed hi s view about God in a way which we might think was designed to m iti gat e its offensiveness: God exists, he says, though only philosophically. Put less diplomatically: ther e is no God of the kind the Jewish and Christian traditions believe in, no personal creator who exercises a constant providence over his creatures. There is something which fulfills some of the functions God has in traditional theology: it is a first cause of all things, itself uncaused, eternal and immutable. As first cause, it requires no further cause, but is complet ely i ndependent. But that fi rst cause i s an impersonal system of l aws, in no way capable of loving the finite beings whose actions it causes, or of valuing their love for it ; human love for God is typically confused about the nature of its object. Had Spi noza wor ked out, in 1658, t he vi ews he l ater tri ed to ar ticul ate in t he Ethics, then he mi ght have said this to Fr. Sol ano: the soul i s i mm ort al, but onl y phi losophicall y. That is: t he soul does not persist as t he parti cul ar thinking substance which t radit ional theology imagines existing, with all its thoughts, memories, passions and desires. What survives t he death of t he body is somet hing much m or e abst ract and i mpersonal: cal l it the intellectual love of God, that sense of joy whi ch mi nds experience when they come to understand the system of laws which defines and gives structure to their lives. This love of God must, of course, be experienced by particular, finite individuals. But it need not be, and in fact will not be, experienced by any individual numerically identical with my self. There wi ll be no such indi vidual. My assurance that thi s love wil l cont inue to exist is grounded only in my knowledge of human nature, and of it s i nevit abl e str ivi ng to know things by the thir d kind of knowledge. That knowl edge can be achi eved, even if it is wi th di ffi culty. And when it is achieved, the intellectual love of God follows. 14 O n the to pics of this paragraph, see Ethics V P P21-23, and IV P 39S. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 19 /20

20 This is a very austere conception of immortality, if it even deserves that name. I do not imagine that t he pr ospect of such an i mm ort ali ty would be m uch consolati on to someone afflicted with intense suffering, or to someone gr ieving t he loss of a loved one. But for some of us, perhaps, it is enough. Curley, The immortality of the soul in Descartes and Spinoza 3/21 /02 20 /20

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