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Fr. 366

August 5, 2013

Preliminaries in place, I now turn to the form and content of this inferential knowledge. Scrutiny of §738, 741, and 742 is particularly helpful in this matter; these passages deal specifically with the simplicity of the soul, the subject of the Second Paralogism. Wolff sets out his first premise:

“Therefore, if a body were to think, thoughts would have to be a change that occurred in the position of several parts of a certain size and shape through a determinate motion…if the body is supposed to be conscious of this change, the two similar states of the body…would have to be compared to each other, and one would have to note their intrinsic similarity, but [also] differences according to time as well as with respect to its body” (47, §738).

He concludes that “a body cannot be conscious of this change and of the representation that is thereby brought about (ibid.).” In short, on a materialist conception of mind, thoughts would be discrete parts of the composite body. By what material mechanism might these parts be compared? Wolff’s contention that the body, being no more than a composite or totality of such parts, seems sound on first inspection; the body as material lacks the capacity of reflection and memory necessary for an assessment of the kind discussed above. Consciousness seems to require something beyond the mere arrangement of material components.

Wolff now turns to the second premise. Therein, he criticizes the use (by certain of his contemporaries) of God’s omnipotence as a means by which to secure the possibility of thinking body. Specifically, he makes use of the law of non-contradiction:

“In this way, God would have to make it be the case that something could follow from the essence1 of a body that cannot follow from it, and accordingly change its essence, or at the same time give it the essence of another thing from which the thoughts could come…however, it is well known that the essence of one thing is immutable…” (48, §741).

Wolff’s point consists in a denial of the predicate of thinking to the concept “body.” Even God could not make some thing x other than its “essence.” For it would simply cease to be thing x and instead become some new thing y wholly distinct from its earlier essence; in this sense, the essence of x is “immutable.” Wolff compares this doubling of essence to God’s turning “iron into gold so that it would be iron and gold at the same time (ibid.).” This manner of speaking proves unintelligible and untenable in the end.

In §742, Wolff brings together the above premises to complete this inferential line of reasoning:

“Because a body cannot think according to its essence and its nature (§738, 739), and because neither a body nor matter can be given the power to think (§741), the soul cannot be anything corporeal and cannot consist of matter…And since it is clear from the proofs of the stated grounds that thoughts cannot be attributed to a composite thing, the soul must be a simple thing…” (48, §742).

Using the first and second premises laid out above, Wolff concludes that, since the body does not and cannot be made to think, that which thinks cannot “consist of matter.” Moreover, his argument for these premises likewise precludes the possibility that composite things can think; indeed, there must be some simple thing to which thoughts can be attributed. In sum, the soul is neither material nor composite, being instead immaterial and simple.

In turn, Wolff makes use of the simplicity of the soul as a premise in a further line of reasoning, one linking the soul’s simplicity and substantiality (the subject of the First Paralogism) with its faculties or powers. In §743, he offers a syllogism, noting that “since all simple things are things that subsist by themselves, the soul, too, must be a self-subsisting thing…(48, §743).” The implied minor premise is “the soul is a simple thing,” i.e. the conclusion of the previous argument on the soul’s simplicity. In short, its simplicity secures its substantiality.


1 Here, Wolff first introduces the term “essence” in his discussion of simplicity. This usage and its relation to the rational psychologist’s equivocation will prove informative in the discussion to follow.

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