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Pierre Bayle, Matter, and the Unity of Consciousness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Jean-Pierre Schachter*
Huron University College, London, ON, CanadaN6G 1H3


Proving the immortality of the soul was a common challenge for the religious metaphysical writers of the seventeenth century. One attractive line of argument was premised on the ‘unity,’ ‘simplicity,’ or ‘indivisibility’ of consciousness (‘mind,’ or ‘soul’). While the religious issue of the soul's immortality dropped to a lower place on the philosophical agenda in the eighteenth century, the question of the unity of consciousness continued to run high as philosophers attempted to apply material atomism to mind and to vital phenomena in general.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 2002

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1 For a broader historical introduction with critical analysis, see B.L. Mijuskovic The Achilles of Rationalist Argument (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1974).

2 Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, AT VII 14; CSM II 10. All references to Descartes are to the standard edition, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, 2 vols., John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, trans. and eds. [‘CSM’ below] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1985). There is a third volume devoted to the correspondence which has contributions by Anthony Kenny, when I refer to this, I will label it ‘CSMK.’ I also include the Adam and Tannery pagination as ‘AT.’

3 Descartes, AT VII 86; CSM II 59

4 Pierre Bayle, Historical and Critical Dictionary, 1697, 1702, selections trans. and introduced by Richard Popkin (Indianapolis: Hackett 1991) [‘Popkin’ below], art. Rorarius, rem. C, 216. Some of the marginal notes of the original are omitted in the Popkin edition. See also rem. G, 234.

5 See Descartes, Second Set of Replies, AT VII 153; CSM II 108, 109.

6 S e e Galileo Galilei, The Assayer (1623), included in The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy, Michael R. Matthews, ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett 1989), 56.

7 See Descartes, Meditation V, AT VII 63; CSM II 44.

8 See John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689 P.H. Nidditch, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979), Bk. II, Ch. VIII, §9, 135.

9 Descartes’ struggle with motion, which did not seem analytically included in the concept of extension, indicates the tension between a prioristic physics and empirical explanatory demands. Similarly, Locke's attribution of ‘solidity’ also augmented the original a priori assignment of properties to matter.

10 Pierre Bayle, The Dictionary Historical and Critical of Mr. Peter Bayle, 1736, a translation of the second edition of 1702. (New York: Garland 1984) v. III, art. Leucippus, rem. E, 20, 791. Bayle used margins for numbered notes as we use foot and end notes.

11 Aristotle, Metaphysics Book I, Ch. 8, l. 30, 989b, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKeon, ed. and intro. (New York: Random House 1941), 704

12 Descartes, To More, August 1649 AT V 405; CSMK III 382. The reference was brought to my attention by a footnote in Steven Nadler's Introduction to Causation in Early Modern Philosophy (Pennsylvania: Penn State Press 1958), ‘CEMP.’ See also Descartes, The Principles of Philosophy, Part 2, art. 27 AT VIIIA 55; CSM I, 234.

13 Gottfried Leibniz, Monadology, 1720, trans., introduced, and annotated by Nicholas Rescher in G.W. Leibniz's Monadology (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press 1991), 7. ‘There is, furthermore, no way to explain how a monad could be altered or changed in its inner make-up by some other created being. For one can transpose nothing in it, nor conceive in it any internal motion that could be excited, directed, increased, or diminished within it, as can happen in composites, where there is change among the parts. Monads just have no windows through which something can enter into or depart from them. Accidents cannot be detached, nor wander about outside of substances, as the sensible species of the Scholastics formerly did. And so, neither substance nor accident can enter a monad from without’ ([my italics] 17). Also: ‘shape is an accident, which does not pass from one subject to another, de subjecto in subjectum’ (New Essays on Human Understanding, Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett, trans. and eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997), 232).

14 See R.S. Woolhouse and Richard Francks Leibniz's ‘New System’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997), ch. 5.

15 See Daniel Garber, ‘Descartes and Occasionalism,’ in CEMP. Hume writes in the first Enquiry: ‘DES CARTES insinuated that doctrine of the universal and sole efficacy of the Deity, without insisting upon it’ in Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals 3rd ed., P.H. Nidditch, ed. with notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1978), 78, n.1. Hume's remark was frequently echoed in the views of later commentators into the twentieth century. It must be stressed, as Garber does, that while the two are easily conflated, there are really at least two causal issues for Descartes, one concerning causation in general and another concerning mind/body causation. The latter results from the impact required for material causation being impossible for mind. This still leaves the question of whether impact causation is itself compatible with Descartes‘ assumptions. It is this that Henry More is questioning and that Descartes’ reply still leaves unresolved; see n.12. Garber's otherwise illuminating article does not address the question of what Scholastic pressures lead to as counter-intuitive a thesis as Occasionalism. The pressure to which he does draw attention, that of substantial forms, does not by itself entail the impossibility of efficient causation; this is done only by the Non Migrant principle.

16 I n denying the need to assume that what we see resembles its cause, he writes in the Optics: ‘By this means, your mind will be delivered from all those little images flitting through the air, called ‘‘intentional forms,’’ which exercise the imagination of the philosophers’ (AT VI 85; CSM I 153, 52. Cf. Leibniz, n.13 above; Malebranche, The Search After Truth, Bk. 3, Pt. II, ch. 2; Bayle, art. Leucippus, rem. E, Popkin 132).

17 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles ‘accidens non transit a subjecto in subjectum…’ (Bk. III, chap. 69, 2441 & 2458). Also Summa Theologica: ‘accidentia non transeunt de subjecto in subjectum’ Pt. III, 77, art. 1.

18 St. Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones disputatae de potentia Dei: ‘accidens in aliud subjectum transire non possit’ (q. 3, a. 7-8).

19 Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 2nd ed., M. Friedlander, trans. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1951), 125

20 For example, Andrey Smirnov quotes Al-Baghadi, 980-1037: ‘If there is no latencyand- manifestation, but bodies really undergo alterations of their states, and accidents cannot travel from body to body, then an accident's existence in substance is its origination in it’ (my italics). ‘Causality and Islamic thought,’ included in A Companion to World Philosophies, E. Deutch and R. Bontekoe, eds. (London: Blackwell 1997), 493-503.

21 Bayle attributes the book only to Louis de Courcillon, Abbe de Dangeau, (Paris: Chez Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy 1684), but it appears to have been co-authored with his close friend Francois-Timoleon, Abbe de Choisy, 1644-1724, notorious for being a libertine and transvestite. The Princeton Library lists Francois-Timoleon as first author. He apparently lived a dissolute life until 1683 when, staying in Paris with Louis, he had an illness so severe as to call for final rites. The experience was life-transforming and recalled him to his faith so far as to motivate him to travel in 1685 to Siam with the objective of converting the king to Christianity. This project failed, and, on his return in 1687, he was made a member of the Academy Francaise. It may be also that it was the illness and his consequent rededication that inspired the writing of the book, published in 1684. Louis de Courcillon was also brother to Phillipe de Courcillon, Marquis de Dangeau, 1638-1720. Thomas M. Lennon indicates that both the Marquis and his brother Louis abjured Protestantism and were converted to Catholicism by Bossuet's Exposition de la doctrine de l’Eglise Catholique sur les matieres de controverse. See his Reading Bayle (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1999), 120. There was also a sister who may have remained Protestant.

22 Later felicitously put by Leibniz: 12. But beyond the principle of change, there must also be an internal complexity, detail of that which changes, which would produce, so to speak, the specification and the variety of simple substances.

13. This internal complexity, detail must enfold a multiplicity in unity or in the simple. For as every natural change happens by degrees, something always changes and something remains. Consequently there must be a plurality of properties and relations within a simple substance, even though it has none of parts. (18 [my italics])

23 Pierre Bayle, Nouvelles de la Republique des Letters, Aug. 1684, VI, ps. 54-6, reprinted (Geneve: Slatkine Reprints 1966), 162 [translations of de Courcillon and Lamy are my own, but I am indebted to Dr. Marianna Ionescu for reviewing, improving, and repairing them where necessary]. ‘Quand vous vous chauffez la main, il est sur que vous sentez une sorte de plaisir. Si dans le meme temps on approche de votre nez une odeur agreable, vous sentez une autre espece du plaisir. Si je vous demande lequel de ces deux plaisirs vous plait davantage, vous me repondez, c'est celuy-ci, ou c’est celuy-la, vous comparez donc ensemble ces deux plaisirs, & vous jugez d’eux en meme temps.’

24 Ibid., ‘Il faut donc conclure de toute necessity que votre ame qui est le principe de vos sentimens, est un Etre simple. Si elle est simple, elle est indivisible, & si elle est indivisible, elle est immortelle, par ce qu'il ne se fait point de destruction naturellement que par la separation des parties qui compoient un Tout.’

25 Ibid., ‘C’est une preuve manifeste, que votre nez ne sent point l'odeur, & que votre main ne sent point la chaleur, &c. car comme la main & le nez sont deux choses absolument distinctes l'une de l'autre, il est aussi impossible que l'une sent ce que l’autre sent, qu'il est impossible que nous sentions dans cette chambre le plaisir que sentent presentement ceux qui sont a l’ Opera.’

26 Locke, Bk. IV, Ch. III, §6, l. 8, 541

27 While Descartes was committed to the soul's ability to exist even in separation from a body, its contents were necessarily different in that condition. Having sensory Ideas was dependent on the body's neural activity and the action of the Imagination on the surface of the Pineal gland.

28 See, for example, Julien de la Mettrie's l’Homme Machine, 1747, incl. in Machine Man and Other Writings, Ann Thomson, intro. and trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1996): ‘But since all the soul's faculties depend so much on the specific organization of the brain and of the whole body that they are clearly nothing but that very organization, the machine is perfectly explained!’ (26)

29 See Aram Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes: A Study of Scientific Naturalism in the Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1953).

30 Francois Lamy, De la connoissance de soi-meme 2nd ed. (Chez Nicolas le Clerc 1701). Lamy was born in Montereau, Diocese of Chartres, 1636 and died Saint-Denis, April 4, 1711. ‘While fighting a duel he was saved from a fatal sword-thrust by a book of the Rule of St. Benedict which he carried in his pocket. Seeing the finger of God in this remarkable occurrence, he took the Benedictine habit at the monastery of St-Remi at Reims in 1658’ (The Catholic Encyclopedia 1913).

31 Ibid., Second Treatise, v. II, Part I, ch. VIII, #6, 119, 120: ‘le grand principe de toutes les forces de la nature, c’est le mouvement. Eles ne vont qu'a choquer, qu'a deranger, qu'a briser, qu’a diviser, qu'a pulveriser; mais que peut-on choquer dans un etre qui n'a point d’etendue? Que peut-on deranger ou briser dans un etre qui l’a point de parties? que diviser & pulveriser dans un etre aussi indivisible & aussi immaterial qu’est mon ame? Que toute la nature s’arme donc contre moi; qu’on emploie le fer, le feu, les tenailles & les roues; mon cors poura etre disloque, hache & reduit en poudre: mais rien de tout cela n’ira jusqu’a mon ame: ele en est a une distance infinie, & echape aux prise de tout ce qu’il y a d’agens naturel.’

32 Ibid., 118-19. ‘40. L’indivisibilite de l’ame est encore une suite necessaire de sa nature. Le moi apercevant, ou, pour parler ainsi, le j’apercevois ne soufre point de partage; & je defie qu’on me done, ou qu’on concoive la moitie, le tiers, ou le quart d’une perception. D’ailleurs ce qui n’a nule etendue n’est point divisible; l’etre apercevant n’a nule etendue; puisque, come je viens de le prouver, il n’est ni cors, ni rien de corporel; & qu’enfin il est parfaitement immateriel.’ ‘60. Enfin j’ai presentement tout ce qu’il faut pour demonstrer incontestablement l’immortalite de mon ame. La question de fait est pleinement resolue…. Je sai certainement que cete ame est immateriele, indivisible & spirituele: en ﹛118﹜ faut-il davantage pour resoudre la question de droit, je veux dire, pour decider si cete ame est immortele ou non?… Le cors ne se detruit & ne meurt que parceque ses ressorts se debandent, ses parties se derangent, se divisent, se detachent les unes des autres & se ﹛119﹜ resoudenten vapeur & en fumee, & c’est ce qui s’apele se corompre: mais l’ame n’aiant ni etendue, ni parties, & etant parfaitement indivisible, ele est incapable de se corompre ainsi, & de se resoudre en vapeur & en fumee. Enfin de quelque maniere que je prene le mot de mortel; soit pour ce qui peut se corompre; ou pour ce qui a peut perir par les forces de la nature; ou pour ce qui peut perdre la vie; mon ame me paroit toujours egalement immortele.’

33 Popkin, 129, art. Leucippus, rem. E: ‘E…. From the supposition that each atom is not animated, it follows that a collection of atoms feels nothing. They [the ancient Atomists] might have answered an objection they were never able to resolve. It is the one that Plutarch proposed to the Epicurean Colotes, and that Galen has set forth forcefully, as has been seen above. It consists in this: that, since each atom is destitute of a soul and a sensitive faculty, it is obvious that no collection of atoms can become an animated and sensible being.’ The unacceptability of ‘emergence’ also follows from the Non Migrant principle; see the discussion of emergence in reference to the Abbe de Dangeau following n.24.

34 Ibid., 134-5, art. Leucippus, rem. F.

35 Speaking of Leibniz's ‘Pre-Established Harmony,’ Bayle writes: ‘Before preferring this theory to that of occasional causes, I will wait until its able author has perfected it’ (ibid., art. Rorarius, rem. H, 238).

36 Mijuskovic, 10, draws attention to a virtually identical argument in Plotinus, Ennead, IV, 7, 6; 346-7.

37 Eileen O'Neill, ‘Influxus Physicus,’ in CEMP. At the same time, if ‘the way of influence’ was, in fact, a Leibnizian ‘construction’ as she argues, it is odd that Bayle should have repeated that exact expression in his description of the available alternatives at art. Rorarius, rem. L, Popkin, 245.

38 Recall that the Non Migrant principle was taken to imply Occasionalism by the Mutakallimun because of its incompatibility with efficient causation.

39 See Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, AT XI 355 § 335; CSM I 341.

40 E.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: ‘ But in those things which have knowledge, each one is determined to its own natural being by its natural form, in such a manner that it is nevertheless receptive of the species of other things: for example, sense receives the species of all things sensible’ (Part I, q80 a. 1, B. Par. 1/2).

41 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, L.A. Selby-Bigge, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1964), 636

42 Denis Diderot, ‘d'Alembert's Dream,’ in Diderot: Interpreter of Nature, Jean Stewart and Jonathan Kemp, trans. (Westport, CT: Greenwood 1990), 65

43 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Norman Kemp Smith, trans. (New York: St. Martin's Press 1965), the Transcendental Deduction, B, paragraph 16, B134, 154

44 Herbert Feigl, The ‘Mental’ and the ‘Physical’ in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. II (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1967), 396.

45 Daniel Dennett argues that Hume's commitment to what I call ‘perceptual atomism’ forced him to assign the intentional properties we normally assign to persons instead to the atoms. See his ‘A Cure for the Common Code?’ Brainstorms (Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press 1979), 101.