May 13, 2009

Quote of the Day: Stillingfleet on the Natural Immortality of the Soul

You [Locke] say, That all the ends of Religion and Morality are secured barely by the Immortality of the Soul without a necessary Supposition that the Soul is Immaterial.

I am of the opinion that the great ends of Religion and Morality are best secured by the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul from its Nature and Properties; and which I think can prove it Immaterial. I do not question whether God can give Immortality to a Material Substance; but I say it takes off very much from the evidence of Immortality, if it depend wholly on God's giving that, which of its own Nature it is not capable of.
    - Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester, The Bishop of Worcester's Answer to Mr. Locke's Letter (London: 1697), pp. 54-55

Leibniz references, but does not quote, this passage in the Preface to the New Essays (Ariew and Garber, p. 302), and I was intrigued. It took me quite some time to track it down. (For those who have access via a university library: it is available from EEBO.) Stillingfleet here takes the establishment position for the 17th century Church of England to be that the soul is naturally immortal. He treats the view that immortality is only granted by divine miracle as a sort of crypto-Socinianism.

Is the soul naturally immortal? I couldn't tell you. But it does seem clear that in early modern England the religious establishment took it to be naturally immortal and regarded the claim that survival of death occurs only by divine miracle as a dangerous step toward the claim that there is no after-life at all. Leibniz seems to take this position as well.

Posted by Kenny at May 13, 2009 3:58 PM
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