Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Samuel Drew

The soul of man must either be material, or it must not. If it be material, it must be capable of divisibility; and if with this capacity it be divided, I would ask, Does consciousness survive this division, or expire? If it survive, then the adhesion of the different parts of the soul is not necessary to its existence; and we are led to this absurd conclusion, that consciousness is dependent for its being, on a concrete substance, which is not necessary to its existence. But if consciousness expire, then it must have depended for its existence, not upon the component parts of the soul, but upon the adhesion of these component parts, because nothing but adhesion is now destroyed: but in admitting a mere adhesion of parts to be capable of producing what the parts themselves had no power of communicating, is to ascribe agency to mere adhesion. It therefore must follow, that consciousness, volition, &c. cannot inhere in any adhesion of a material substance; and if so, a substance which is immaterial must necessarily be admitted.

[Samuel Drew, An Original Essay on the Immateriality and Immortality of the Soul, p. 89.]

I was reminded of this work by Edith Hall's fine essay on the extraordinary historical importance of classical education and self-education in the classics to the British working class. Samuel Drew (1765-1833) was a shoemaker from Cornwall from a dirt-poor family who was known by his friends as a good-natured man who would be glad to argue any topic. When he published An Original Essay on the Immateriality and Immortality of the Soul, it became a worldwide bestseller, and for the best of reasons -- it is without any doubt the single best examination of the titular topic in the early modern period, and still holds up quite well today as a model of philosophical analysis. The widespread popularity of the work eventually allowed him to retire from the cobbler shop and devote his time to philosophical and theological writing.

It is perhaps worthwhile to get some advice from the admirable Drew; from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1816 (emphasis in the original):

When you write me, let me know what books you have been reading, and what proficiency you have made in metaphysics. Your last letter was written with too much hesitation, diffidence, and perplexity. You must not be afraid of me. You saw me a plain, blunt fellow, in London, who was mistaken for a blacksmith. Do not be afraid of committing yourself. Remember this rule—The person who never made a blunder never made a discovery. If you always tread near the central parts of a circle, you will never obtain much accurate knowledge of its circumference; and, consequently, you will never widen the horizon of knowledge. It is on the extremity of the circle that metaphysicians must walk; and they must not be terrified, if they sometimes slip their feet, and fall.

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