Scholasticism and Immortality

  • C. F. Fowler
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 160)


Descartes’ confidence in receiving a favourable judgement for his Meditationes from the Dean and Doctors of the Paris Faculty of Theology was firmly based on his claim to be delivering a very simple solution to two highly contentious and confused contemporary questions, those concerning the philosophical demonstration of the existence of God, and of the immortality of the human soul, or as he carefully expressed it, the real distinction between mind and body. Some of the Sorbonne doctors of theology had themselves made wordy contributions to the defence of immortality, and the much sought-after approbatio of their Faculty had been bestowed on a wide variety of apologetic publications since the beginning of the century.1 It was understandable, therefore, given the Sorbonne’s active role in this debate, that Descartes should present what he claimed to be a decisive contribution to Christian apologetics in an appropriately deferential and self-effacing way. In his letter of dedication he expressed respect for the fine efforts of others in the defence of immortality, and he modestly presented his own contribution in terms of mere selection and ordering, organisation and articulation:

I know that the only reason why many irreligious people are unwilling to believe that God exists and that the human mind is distinct from the body is the alleged fact that no one has hitherto been able to demonstrate these points. Now I completely disagree with this: I think that when properly understood almost all the arguments that have been put forward on these issues by the great men have the force of demonstrations, and I am convinced that it is scarcely possible to provide any arguments which have not already been produced by someone else. Nevertheless, I think there can be no more useful service to be rendered in philosophy than to conduct a careful search, once and for all, for the best of these arguments, and to set them out so precisely and clearly as to produce for the future a general agreement that they amount to demonstrative proofs.2


Seventeenth Century Human Soul Christian Doctrine Christian Philosopher Aristotelian Theory 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. F. Fowler
    • 1
  1. 1.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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