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Archive for October, 2018

This is Part 3 in an exploration of Leibniz’s complaint about “Locke and his followers” in his letter to Caroline (part of the “Leibniz-Clarke” correspondence). What is the problem that Leibniz sees with British philosophy circa 1714? In addition to the problems raised against Newton and his followers, what goes mostly unexplored in the Leibniz-Clarke-Caroline correspondence is the problem with the materiality and natural mortality of the soul because Clarke, too, is opposed to both the materiality and natural mortality of the soul.

Part 1: Henry Dodwell and Anthony Collins

Part 2: Catherine Trotter Cockburn

In 1696, John Toland published Christianity Not Mysterious, raising both his international profile and his notoriety. This was followed by multiple tracts—including, importantly, defenses of republicanism, of the Hanoverian succession, and of the importance of securing Protestant rule in England—before his 1704 Letters to Serena. His pamphlets in support of the Hanoverian succession secured him a spot in the envoy to welcome Frederick, Sophie, Sophie Charlotte, and Caroline. This greatly developed his international network and resulted in a series of debates with Leibniz, which may have served as a basis for Letters to Serena (where Sophie Charlotte is a plausible candidate for the pseudonymous “Serena”).

This is important for our purposes in that it gave Leibniz an opportunity to meet a British philosopher in whom he saw the destructive elements left open by Locke’s failure to condemn thinking matter. Leibniz held a very low opinion of Toland’s philosophical and historical abilities. (He told Sophie that Toland “likes to make grand discourses; in a word, he wants to be an author. … Instead of dabbling in philosophy, which is not his forte, he would do better to restrict himself to the search for facts.” [Strickland, Leibniz and the Two Sophies, 291]) Leibniz, though, took Toland’s views to be important enough that he wrote down multiple lengthy letters for Sophie Charlotte refuting Toland’s views even after he had debated the points in her presence previously. His “Letter on what is independent of sense and matter” went through multiple drafts and culminated in an argument that there are immaterial substances that are outside of matter. (See Strickland’s Leibniz and the Two Sophies, 220ff, esp. 233-236 and 245-247.) Sophie Charlotte passed Leibniz’s letter to Toland, who responded, partly by side-stepping the issue of immortality of the soul by saying he only ever meant to discuss the “present state.” Leibniz again goes through multiple drafts in composing a response. Leibniz and Toland also corresponded directly, including Leibniz’s essay known as “Reflections on the doctrine of a single universal spirit,” which emphasizes the importance of individual souls.

Toland should certainly be included among “Locke and his followers,” despite Locke’s desire to be disassociated from Toland’s notorious religious and political views. Leibniz certainly was distressed by Toland’s views and perhaps also Sophie Charlotte’s openness to his views.

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“Locke and His Followers” 2

Yesterday I wrote about Henry Dodwell and Anthony Collins as potential candidates for Locke’s “followers.” These posts are an exploration of the problem that Leibniz sees with British philosophy circa 1714 but that goes mostly unexplored in the Leibniz-Clarke-Caroline correspondence because Clarke, too, is opposed to both the materiality and natural mortality of the soul.

Let’s review Leibniz’s charge, originally written to Caroline as part of a longer letter, as it gets excerpted in editions of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.

1. Natural religion itself seems to decay very much. Many will have human souls to be material; others make God himself a corporeal being.

2. Mr. Locke and his followers are uncertain at least whether the soul is not material and naturally perishable.

The next candidate for “Locke and his followers” is Catherine Trotter (later Catherine Trotter Cockburn). Notice Leibniz’s language: these folks “are uncertain at least whether…” For Leibniz, it matters not just that the soul is not material and naturally perishable but that we know this to be the case with certainty.

In a 1706 letter to his primary British correspondent/gossipmonger, Leibniz thanks Thomas Burnett for sending him a “defence of Mr Locke written by a very spirited young lady…” (Side note: Thank you to Lloyd Strickland for not only his excellent book that makes available Leibniz’s correspondence with Sophie and Sophie Charlotte, but also the website where he provides important translations like this one.) The timing of this letter, its topic, and its use of “defence” make it overwhelmingly likely that Leibniz is discussing Cockburn’s A Defence of the Essay of Human Understanding (1702).

Her defense of Locke is focused on arguing that Locke relies on a distinction between what is available by the “light of nature” (unaided or amplified but not supplemented human reason) and what is available through special revelation. She finds it obvious that the soul is immortal and all agree on this.

That the immortality of the soul is only highly probable by the light of nature, none can deny, who believe that Apostle, by whom we are told, that life and immortality is brought to light by Jesus Christ through the gospel. Why then is it objected against Mr. Locke’s principles, that they give us no certainty of the immortality of the soul without revelation? By what other way can we be certain of anything, that is only highly probably by the light of nature? (From p53 in Patricia Sheridan’s very useful edition for Broadview).

3D16DF2F-7515-42C4-9ACE-B87F27BE7920We do not have demonstrative knowledge, without revelation, that the soul is immortal, according to Cockburn’s reading of Locke. She is critical of attempts in natural theology to arrive at the immortality of the soul through routes such as arguing for the soul’s immateriality. It “may be dangerous” to require the soul’s immortality to depend on its immateriality because some people will fail to follow a good proof; arguments (even very good ones) affect people differently. Putting the argument for the soul’s immortality on “false or uncertain grounds” is an aid to those who oppose the soul’s immortality (Sheridan 63-64). Those who want to defend “the future state” (which many worried was necessary to keep people doing good in this life) ought not require demonstrations of immortality of the soul that require immateriality.

This is just one of her lines of argument, nestled in other questions about whether a thinking substance must be always thinking and other abstruse questions. One of her key points, though, is that by reason alone we can establish with high probability that the soul is immortal and special revelation gives us certainty. Leibniz, remember, is concerned about those who are “uncertain at least whether the soul is not material and naturally perishable.” By denying that immateriality and natural imperishability are required to establish immortality and by furthermore arguing that, by the light of nature alone, it is “highly probable” (rather than certain) that the soul is immortal, Leibniz would have seen her “spirited” defense as not going far enough in establishing what can be known through natural theology (without special revelation).

It seems likely, then, that Trotter (Cockburn) is included in “Locke and his followers,” who fall short of guaranteeing demonstrative certainty of the soul’s immateriality without the aid of revelation.

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When Leibniz writes to Caroline to express his concern over the dangerous thinking in England he specifically names “Locke and his followers” and “Newton and his followers.” But who exactly were Locke’s “followers,” and why don’t we talk about them more in the context of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence?

First, some context. Sophie Charlotte and her husband, King Frederick I of Prussia, were (for a while) guardians to Princess Caroline of Ansbach. Sophie Charlotte frequently hosted Leibniz in Berlin and elsewhere (while Leibniz was supposed to be working on his history of the Brunswick family), and it is in her court that he met Caroline and eventually became her tutor. Caroline would become the central (but hidden) figure in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, passing the letters between them with her own observations stated in accompanying letters. In addition to the broader public and the official correspondent, Caroline is the unstated audience for both Leibniz and Clarke. (See Meli 1999 for more on Caroline’s role in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.)

Leibniz’s initial letter to Caroline (printed as the first letter in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence) is an attempt to keep Caroline from straying from his views and toward the (to Leibniz) dangerous views in England. He specifically mentions “Locke and his followers” and “Newton and his followers” in his opening salvo.

Because Clarke, who takes up the cause of English “natural religion,” is clearly a member of “Newton and his followers” and defends (half-heartedly) Newton’s use of sensorium and defends (very well) Newton’s “very odd opinion concerning God’s workmanship,” scholarship has focused on the letters as a debate between Leibniz on the one side and Newton-Clarke (with various weightings assigned to Newton and Clarke as author) on the other. Partly this is because Clarke is clearly opposed to the position ascribed to “Locke and his followers” that they “aren’t sure whether the soul is material and naturally perishable.” In asking who “Locke and his followers” are, we can look to those who think the soul is “material and naturally perishable.”

The debate about a “naturally perishable” soul focused in early eighteenth century Britain on Henry Dodwell, who had argued that the soul only became immortal at baptism. Clarke opposes this view in a typically public letter. Anthony Collins responds, and the two men’s subsequent correspondence (1707-1708) on the immateriality and natural immortality of the soul is a fascinating example of a substance dualist (who unlike Cartesian dualists is open to the soul being extended) and someone working towards an emergentist view long before such views became popular. Collins holds the sort of view that Leibniz sees as following from Locke’s openness to thinking matter in the later editions of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, while Clarke defends a thinking, immaterial soul. Leibniz is aware of Dodwell as early as 1706, due perhaps to his primary British correspondent Thomas Burnett. Dodwell, then, is the first candidate for “Locke and his followers,” with Collins worth consideration, as well.

The debate between Clarke and Leibniz quickly focuses on Leibniz’s objections to Newton and Clarke rather than on the thinking matter views entertained by Locke and Collins because Clarke is the clear opponent of both Dodwell and Collins. This is part of why, I think, we think today of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence as about Leibniz’s problems with Newtonian natural philosophy and Clarkean natural theology rather than with post-Lockean concerns about whether all souls are immortal. Because it was Clarke who, at Caroline’s request, answered Leibniz’s charge, the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence focuses on the immortality question only insofar as it is connected to questions like the nature of the sensorium and God’s relationship to space (e.g., as a world-soul).

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NB: I found this in my drafts folder for this site from October, 2014(!). I reiterate now my desire to see more discussion of Watts. I didn’t recheck the texts, but my complaints align with what I remember of my worries from the time. (A poor confirmation.) I generally find Watts to be interesting, although I find his writing on space to be especially obscure, as his style of writing, strongly shaped by reactions to other writers, does not always make clear when we are getting his glosses on others and when we are getting his own vies..

You cannot make Space think, or will, or act, as a Spirit does; for, join Thinking and Space, which are two distinct Ideas, as near as possible in your Mind, yet you cannot unite them into one Being, nor conceive of Space as having any Share in thinking, or as exerting a Thought. So you may join Iron and Joy together in your Mind as two neighbouring Ideas, but they will be two Ideas for ever distinct: No Force can squeeze, melt or weld them together, and make them unite in one; you can never make Iron become joyful: There is an utter Inconsistency in their Ideas, and they are eternally incompatible. Space can no more exert a Thought, than Iron can exert Joy. (Isaac Watts, Philosophical Essays, 2nd Ed., Essay 1.9, p. 31)

Having given reasons for thinking that space is a real being (either God or a property of God, as many British philosophers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries thought), Isaac Watts turns to arguing that space is not a real being. His argument often appeals to parallels with darkness, which serves as an example of how we could come to form an idea that is really a privation of something else (body or light). The passage excerpted above is part of a section in which he is giving his first set of arguments that space is not real because real beings either act or are acted upon and space neither acts nor is acted upon (that is, it has no active powers or passive capacities).

I find this particular passage perplexing. The argument perhaps owes some debt to Descartes’ conceivability argument, but it is not obviously identical to it. It also might remind readers of Locke’s thinking matter hypothesis, but since the topic is mere spatial extension and not appropriately disposed body, it is not quite the same point (although perhaps the discussion of iron suggests that Watts wants to extend the argument to body, but this still falls short of complex material systems).

What I find perplexing, though, is what it means for the two ideas to remain distinct. Watts seems to be denying that there is an unrestricted combinatorial ability in the mind (of the sort that Hume endorses for the imagination). I can’t just put any two ideas together and make a new complex idea. But why not? Does he think that if two ideas are capable of being joined it must be because they aren’t truly distinct? (E.g., I can weld my idea of the beer in the glass to the idea of the glass because they were never really distinct.) This seems oddly restrictive and at least not clear in the text. Does he think that only ideas of the same sort (e.g., regarding extension, regarding thought) can be combined? (E.g., I can combine my idea of the table and the beer into a complex idea of the beer on the table because they are not just consistent but I can “weld” them into a new idea.) This might be question-begging (or at least not an interesting argument). Does he think that there is some inconsistency in conceiving of thinking space? This wouldn’t be surprising for the time, especially for someone like Watts who wants to maintain certain orthodox religious positions. But I take this to be an argument for why they are inconsistent (if we can’t join two distinct ideas, then they are inconsistent), and I’m trying to understand the initial claim.

We can turn to his much-read logic textbook for some help. If we have two ideas, we can “join them by Affirmation, or disjoin them by Negation, according as we find them to agree or disagree” (Logick, 9th Ed., 1751, p. 142). He denies that this judgment is a “mere Perception of the Agreement or Disagreement of Ideas“; judgment also includes an act of the will. In some ways, this helps explain the earlier case, since we now see that he may be thinking of “space” and “thinking” in terms of our ability to form propositions (which always involve a judgment of two ideas for Watts) and thus while “This iron is joyful” or “Space is thinking” are presumably grammatically correct they do not form actual propositions. However, this also complicates the problem because (1) we now need to address Watts on judgment and on propositions to make sense of this passage about distinct ideas, (2) by adding in the will to these judgments it is clear that he is not only restricting our ability to form new ideas without an act of the will, we also cannot form them with an act of the will, and (3) saying that we can’t will them together is no clearer than saying we can’t join distinct ideas. Even more worryingly, he claims that mathematical parts (which includes physical parts like the limbs of a human body) are really distinct but can

I apologize for not being able to pose a nice solution to this problem, and perhaps it wasn’t the best introduction to his thought. (I do think he’s worth reading, and his influence in his lifetime has not been matched by discussion of him in ours.)

Addendum: If anyone knows of work on Watts’ philosophy, I’d appreciate being made aware. Watts appears occasionally in footnotes, but I don’t know of any article-length work on his philosophical thought (rather than his hymnody).

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