Letters on England
13. On Mr. Locke
Perhaps no man ever had a more judicious or more methodical genius, or was a
more acute logician than Mr. Locke, and yet he was not deeply skilled in the
mathematics. This great man could never subject himself to the tedious fatigue of
calculations, nor to the dry pursuit of mathematical truths, which do not at first
present any sensible objects to the mind; and no one has given better proofs
than he, that it is possible for a man to have a geometrical head without the
assistance of geometry. Before his time, several great philosophers had
declared, in the most positive terms, what the soul of man is; but as these
absolutely knew nothing about it, they might very well be allowed to differ entirely
in opinion from one another.
In Greece, the infant seat of arts and of errors, and where the grandeur as well
as folly of the human mind went such prodigious lengths, the people used to
reason about the soul in the very same manner as we do.
The divine Anaxagoras, in whose honour an altar was erected for his having
taught mankind that the sun was greater than Peloponnesus, that snow was
black, and that the heavens were of stone, affirmed that the soul was an aerial
spirit, but at the same time immortal. Diogenes (not he who was a cynical
philosopher after having coined base money) declared that the soul was a
portion of the substance of God: an idea which we must confess was very
sublime. Epicurus maintained that it was composed of parts in the same manner
as the body.
Aristotle, who has been explained a thousand ways, because he is unintelligible,
was of opinion, according to some of his disciples, that the understanding in all
men is one and the same substance.
The divine Plato, master of the divine Aristotle,--and the divine Socrates, master
of the divine Plato--used to say that the soul was corporeal and eternal. No doubt
but the demon of Socrates had instructed him in the nature of it. Some people,
indeed, pretend that a man who boasted his being attended by a familiar genius
must infallibly be either a knave or a madman, but this kind of people are seldom
satisfied with anything but reason.
With regard to the Fathers of the Church, several in the primitive ages believed
that the soul was human, and the angels and God corporeal. Men naturally
improve upon every system. St. Bernard, as Father Mabillon confesses, taught
that the soul after death does not see God in the celestial regions, but converses
with Christ's human nature only. However, he was not believed this time on his
bare word; the adventure of the crusade having a little sunk the credit of his
oracles. Afterwards a thousand schoolmen arose, such as the Irrefragable
Doctor, the Subtile Doctor, the Angelic Doctor, the Seraphic Doctor, and the