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Two Early Modern Concepts of Mind: Reflecting Substance vs. Thinking Substance EMILY MICHAEL FRED S. MICHAEL 1, KRISTELLER POINTS OUT that during the medieval period the doctrine that "the soul is incorporeal and by nature immortal.., became a part of standard medieval doctrine, more or less taken for granted by everybody, and especially the followers of Augustine, but it was rarely challenged or discussed in detail."' During the early seventeenth century, a strikingly large number of works were expressly dedicated to the detailed discussion of immortality as a serious philosophical problem. ~ Why the soul's immortality became so central We gratefully acknowledge that research for this project was supported by an N.E.H. Fellowship and by a grant from the American Philosophical Society. All translations are our own, unless otherwise noted. ' P.O. Kristeller, "The Immortality of the Soul," Renaissance Concepts of Man and Other Essays (Harper & Row: New York, 1972), 99. See also 3o-31: "the doctrine of immortalitydid not play a major role in medieval thought, especially not during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when the teachings of Aristotleand his commentators tended to prevail." 2 For example, see Hieronymus Pontanus, De Immortalitate Animae (1597); Sir John Davies, Poem on the Immortality of the Soul (London, 1619); M. Mersenne, "Spiritualityand Immortality of the Soul," Impiety of the Deists (Paris, 1624), esp. 116-21; F. Licetus, De animarum rationalium immortalitate... 0629, fol., Genoa, 1631); A. Oregius (Cardinal), Aristotelis vera de rationalis animae immortalitate sententia. . . explicata, etc. (163~); Jean De Silhon, De l'Immortali# de l'ame (Paris, 1634); David Buchanan, "Arguments Proving the Immortality of the Soul," Historia Animae Humanae (Paris, 1636; 2d edition, 1637)[Buchanan's Historia is noted as "Buc."]; Edward Reynolds, "Of the Soule's Immortality," Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soul (London, 164o); P. Athanasius, Tractatus tres, primus.., anima immortalitate (1643); P. Gassendi, "Esse Animos Hominum Immortaleis , Contra Epicurum" Animadversiones in Decimum Librum Diogenis Laertii (Leiden: G. Barbier, 1649), vol.l: 549-6o9, and "De Animorum Immortalitate," Opera Omnia (Lyons, 1658), vol.9: 62o-58 [Gassendi's Animadversions is cited as "G. Anim" and Gassendi's Opera Omnia is noted as [29] 3 ~ JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY ~7:1 JANUARY 1989 an issue during this period is an interesting, though largely unexamined, question.3 Through considering this question, we became aware of a seventeenthcentury non-Cartesian dualism, presented, for example, by Gassendi, in which two substances were distinguished not as a thinking and an inert substance respectively, but rather as an incorporeal substance capable of non-imagistic reflective cognition and a corporeal substance capable, at best, only of the reception and processing of sense ideas, but not of perceiving itself. The terms 'reflection' and 'idea' were used as technical terms to denote self-conscious awareness and sense cognition respectively, which, in turn, were analyzed as the distinctive cognitive activities of the human understanding and the brain. The understanding, an incorporeal reflecting substance, and the brain, a corporeal sensitive substance, each have their distinctive cognitive activities, objects and contents. With this insight, we looked at Descartes with new eyes. We realized that Descartes' claim that he wishes to demonstrate the independence and distinctness of mind and body to prove that the human soul is immortal is a consistently repeated refrain that goes largely unnoticed by contemporary commentators . Some commentators go so far as to question Descartes' genuineness in such statements, but though this may represent only a part of Descartes' complex motivation, it seems most unlikely that Descartes would have been deceptive about his desire to prove the soul's immortality in personal letters to such friends as Mersenne or Regius.4 Further, following the pattern noted above, the first edition of the Meditations (1641) was entitled: Meditations on First Philosophy in which the Existence of God and the Immortality of the Soul is Demonstrated.5 This makes more pressing the question of why immortality played so dominant a role in seventeenth-century psychology. In what follows, we will consider this question. We will examine the context "G"];W. Charleton, TheImmortalityof theHuman Soul (London, 1657);Henry More, Immortalityof the Soul, (London, 1662); K. Digby, Two Treatises... the ImmortalityofReasonableSoules(London, 1665); R. Baxter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 29-48
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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