The Nature of The Soul As Perishing At Death

  • Poster: I don't think my personal spirit lives past death. But we all live as if we have spirits. What else is willpower and taste?

    Cassius Amicus Nobody in Epicurean texts said that you did not have a spirit - they simply denied that the spirit is immortal or "divine."

    Cassius Amicus

    On this point, Frances Wright reconsructs the Epicurean position in her chapter 15:

    Metrodorus: “Mind or thought I consider a quality of that matter constituting the existence we call a man, which quality we find in a varying degree in other existences; many, perhaps all animals, possessing it. Life is another quality, or combination of qualities, of matter, inherent in — we know not how many existences. We find it in vegetables; we might perceive it even in stones, could we watch their formation, growth, and decay. We may call that active principle, pervading the elements of all things, which approaches and separates the component particles of the ever-changing, and yet ever-enduring world — life. Until you discover some substance, which undergoes no change, you cannot speak of inert matter: it can only be so, at least, relatively, — that is, as compared with other substances.”

    Theon: “The classing of thought and life among the qualities of matter is new to me.”

    Metrodorus: “What is in a substance cannot be separate from it. And is not all matter a compound of qualities? Hardness, extension, form, color, motion, rest — take away all these, and where is matter? To conceive of mind independent of matter, is as if we should conceive of color independent of a substance colored: What is form, if not a body of a particular shape? What is thought, if not something which thinks? Destroy the substance, and you destroy its properties; and so equally — destroy the properties, and you destroy the substance. To suppose the possibility of retaining the one, without the other, is an evident absurdity.”

    Cassius Amicus Further as to spirit being material, Thomas Jefferson to John Adams: Jefferson to John Adams, August 15, 1820:

    . But enough of criticism: let me turn to your puzzling letter of May 12. on matter, spirit, motion etc. It’s crowd of scepticisms kept me from sleep. I read it, and laid it down: read it, and laid it down, again and again: and to give rest to my mind, I was obliged to recur ultimately to my habitual anodyne, ‘I feel: therefore I exist.’ I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organisation of matter, formed for that purpose by it’s creator, as well as that attraction in an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tract of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart.

    At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us indeed that `God is a spirit,’ but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the ancient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter. Origen says `Deus reapse corporalis est; sed graviorum tantum corporum ratione, incorporeus.’ Tertullian `quid enim deus nisi corpus?’ and again `quis negabit deumesse corpus? Etsi deus spiritus, spiritus etiam corpus est, sui generis, in sua effigie.’ St. Justin Martyr `{to Theion phamen einai asomaton oyk oti asomaton—epeide de to me krateisthai ypo tinos, toy krateisthai timioteron esti, dia toyto kaloymen ayton asomaton.}’ And St. Macarius, speaking of angels says `quamvis enim subtilia sint, tamen in substantia, forma et figura, secundum tenuitatem naturae eorum, corpora sunt tenuia.’ And St. Austin, St. Basil, Lactantius, Tatian, Athenagoras and others, with whose writings I pretend not a familiarity, are said by those who are, to deliver the same doctrine. Turn to your Ocellus d’Argens 97. 105. and to his Timaeus 17. for these quotations. In England these Immaterialists might have been burnt until the 29. Car. 2. when the writ de haeretico comburendo was abolished: and here until the revolution, that statute not having extended to us. All heresies being now done away with us, these schismatists are merely atheists, differing from the material Atheist only in their belief that `nothing made something,’ and from the material deist who believes that matter alone can operate on matter.

    Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of the Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes deceived, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with their faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for all the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

  • Jefferson's statement there was probably informed partially by the arguments Thomas Cooper later included in The Scripture Doctrine of Materialism"

    Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, December 11, 1823.


    MONTECELLO, DEC. 11, 1823.


    I duly received your favor of the 23rd old ult. as also the two pamphlets you were so kind as to send me. That on the tariff, I observed, was soon reprinted in Ritchie’s Enquirer. I was only sorry he did not postpone it to the meeting of Congress, when it would have got into the hands of all the members, and could not fail to have great effect, perhaps a decisive one. It is really an extraordinary proposition that the agricultural, mercantile, and navigating classes should be taxed to maintain that of manufacturers.

    That the doctrine of Materialism was that of Jesus himself was a new idea to me. Yet it is proved unquestionably. We all know it was that of some of the early Fathers. I hope the physiological part will follow; in spite of the prevailing fanaticism, reason will make its way. I confess that its reign at present is appalling. General education is the true remedy, and that most happily is now generally encouraged. The story you mention as gotten up by your opponents, of my having advised the Trustees of our University to turn you out as Professor, is quite in their style of barefaced mendacity. They find it so easy to obliterate the reason of mankind that they think they may enterprise safely on his memory also; for it was the winter before the last only, that our annual report to the Legislature, printed in the newspapers, stated the precise ground on which we relinquished your engagement with our Central College. And, if my memory does not deceive me, it was own your own proposition, that the time of our setting into operation being postponed indefinitely, it was important to you not to lose an opportunity of fixing yourself permanently; and that they should father on me too, the motion for this dismission, than whom no man living cherishes a higher estimation of your worth, talents, and information. But so the world goes. Man is fed with fables through life, leaves it in the belief that he has known something of what has been passing, when in truth he has known nothing but what has passed under his own eye. And who are the great deceivers? Those who solemnly pretend to be the depositories of the sacred truths of God himself! I will not believe that the liberality of the State to which you are rendering services of science which no other man in the Union is qualified to render it will suffer you to be in danger from a set of conjurers.

    I note what you say of Mr. Finch; but the moment of our Commencement is as indefinite as it ever was. Affectionately and respectfully,