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Fr. 367

August 7, 2013

This syllogism complete, Wolff now turns to the content of this simple, particularly as concerns the faculties of the soul. He contends that there exists only a single “power” within the soul. He writes: “ …since every self-subsisting thing has a power from which its changes flow as from a source…the soul, too, must have such a power from which its changes flow…(48, §744).” The thing’s possession of a sustaining power is precisely that which makes it a substance, i.e. that to which predicates can be attributed and from which effects can be produced. As such, the soul falls within this category and, hence, possesses this power, which underlies its cognitive economy.

Yet Wolff has still more to say on the soul. He continues:

“(S)ince it is a simple thing…but there can be no parts in a simple thing, a plurality of powers distinct from each other cannot be found in the soul either, because otherwise every power would require a self-subsisting thing to which it would be ascribed…And thus there exists in the soul only a single power from which all its changes derive, even if we typically attribute different names to it due to its different changes” (48-49, §745).

In this passage, Wolff again makes use of syllogistic reasoning:

  1. There are no parts (e.g. plurality of powers) in a simple thing.

  2. The soul is a simple thing.

  3. The soul has no parts (i.e. plurality of powers).

For Wolff, this conclusion follows in a straightforward manner from the exposition above. If the soul were to possess a plurality of discrete powers (e.g. will, intelligence, desire, reason, etc.), each power would plausibly require a discrete substance in which to inhere. As per the above, the soul is, however, a simple thing. The soul must itself be either one substance with one power or an association of distinct substances with discrete powers, each of which plays a vital role in the cognitive economy generated by this association of substances. It is easy enough to understand Wolff’s reasons for rejecting the second option, which puts forth a variegated, fragmented portrait of the soul.

Yet this passage likely marks for Kant one of the clearest transgressions of the rational psychologist. Wolff accepts the account of §745 because his conclusions result from a line of inquiry legitimated by a limitation of evidence admissible for use in further argumentation1: that garnered from consciousness and reflection. Wolff recalls this condition in writing:

“In order to learn how to cognize this power, we must reflect on…those changes that occur in the soul. For, since the soul is the source of changes…it presents itself to cognition only through the changes that it brings about” (49, §748).

This echoes Wolff’s claim above to proceed only “from inferences based on what we are conscious of ( 22, §193).” We can only attain to knowledge or “cognition” of this power through observation of its effects in consciousness, memory, and reflection.


1 Ironically enough, this condition resonates with the spirit of Kant’s entire critical project: to limit methods of discourse and lines of reasoning such that we proceed in a rationally sustainable manner. This recognition on Wolff’s part is itself enough to suggest that his account in Rational Thoughts could be tailored to meet the demands of the Kantian critique. I would even go so far as to suggest that Wolff would not entirely dismiss such an emendation upon further consideration.

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