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Clarke, Collins and Compounds ROBIN ATTFIELD CAN ROOM BE FOUND in between the matter and void of a Newtonian universe for an immaterial and immortal soul? Can followers of Locke with his agnosticism about the nature of substances claim to know that some of them are immaterial? Samuel Clarke, well versed in Locke's thought and a defender both of Newtonian science and Christian orthodoxy, believed he could do both and attempted to prove his case by means of some hard-boiled reductionism. Anthony Collins, a deist whose only lapse from materialism concerned God himself, rejected Clarke's argument. In this paper I discuss their controversy~in order to bring out the state of debate about material systems and consciousness among men influenced by Locke and Newton in the early eighteenth century, and I also assess Clarke's reductionist premise, as he himself frequently invites the "impartial reader" to do. I. The controversialists must first be introduced. Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) was one of the foremost defenders of Newtonian physics in his day. In 1695 he produced a Latin translation of Rohault, the Cartesian textbook, with annotations which brought out the superiority of Newton's system; and in 1706 he translated Newton's Optics. 2 Later he was to be Newton's spokesman in an extended controversy with Leibniz? By the time of his controversy with Collins (1706-1708) he was also well known for his Boyle Lectures of 1704 and 1705, in which he defended natural theology and an intuitionist theory of ethics; and his ecclesiastical appointments by then included the honor of being chaplain in ordinary to Queen Anne? Clarke, who was himself later to be arraigned before Convocation for alleged Arianism, at one point implied that Collins the deist "believed too little." Collins's final words in the controversy comprise the following judicious reply: "I shall not make that Return which such an Insinuation does suggest and would justify, but instead thereof will give him on this occasion a Testimony in his favour, before I finally take my leave of him; That I verily think he neither believes too little nor too much; but that he is perfectly and exactly Orthodox and in all likelihood will continue so.''5 Some have taken Clarke as the model for Demea, the unbending a priorist of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Anthony Collins, the other disputant, was a year Clarke's junior, and was to die the same year as Clarke. His reputation as a deist is based largely on writings later than To be found in Samuel Clarke, A Letter to Dodwell; Wherein all the Arguments in his Epistolary Discourse against the Immortality of the Soul are particularly answered.... Together with a Defence of an Argument made use of in the abo ve-mentioned Letter to Mr. Dodwell, to pro ve the Immateriality and Natural Immortality of the Soul. In Four Letters to the Author of "Some Remarks, Etc .... " 6th ed. (London, 1731). 2Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. "Clarke, Samuel." a See The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence, ed. H. G. Alexander (Manchester University Press, 1956); on Clarke's relation to Newton, see p. xii. 4DNB, s.v. "Samuel Clarke." Letter to Dodwell, p. 390. [45] 46 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY their controversy: his only published work up to that time was hisAn Essay Concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions, the Evidence whereof depends upon Human Testimony (1707), and this was anonymous (yet not enough to prevent Clarke twitting him on apparent disagreements with its author, whom Collins was likely to hold in respectS). It involved an attack on the Lockeian view that there are truths above reason which we should accept on authority. Nevertheless Collins had established close personal ties with Locke in the last two years of his life, and he may be seen in the correspondence with Clarke as developing Locke's own suggestion that possibly thinking is a power of systems of matter, and that the soul is materiaU In the passage concerned, Locke alludes to the difficulties both for and against the soul's "materiality." It is hard, he says, to reconcile sensation and extended matter (maybe because matter was assumed to be inert...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 45-54
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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