Soemmering and Euler: Space and the Soul

  • Robert E. Butts
Part of the The Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 24)


By way of introduction to the matters pertaining to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason that now need to be discussed, I want first to pick up two threads that recurred in ealier chapters. 1) Kant’s problem of evidence or data seemed inevitably to drive him to have to appeal to some respect in which items of experience—at least some of them—occur “outside us”. Kant needs, therefore, an account of an objectively real space (not a merely ideal space, as in Leibniz). As we will see, he also needs to make good his appeal to the required immediacy of the ultimately evidential. 2) We learned that in both Träume and the Inaugural Dissertation Kant came to view the concept of the supersensible (in its many forms: spirits as objects of nonsensory perception, as well as intel1igibilia as nonsensory intuiteds) as surreptitious, as arising by the operation of certain epistemically illicit, although frequently irresistible, processes. Indeed, by 1770 Kant seems to have arrived at the view that subreption takes two forms, one psychological, the other, metaphysical.


Pineal Gland External Object Pure Reason Sick Person Animal Spirit 
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  1. 1.
    In Metaphysik K2 (Schriften 28.2.1, p. 756) there is a brief reference to Descartes’ hypothesis that the seat of the soul is the pineal gland. The note remarks that it has been discovered that this gland (die Zirbeldrüse) is a fossil remnant, and that Sömmering accepts this finding. Little wonder, then, that he sought the seat of the soul elsewhere! The notes are from lectures given in Wintersemester 1791/92 or 1792/93.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Euler discusses questions pertaining to spirits in a large number of the letters (many of them dealing with Leibniz’ monadology). I will refer only to letters XCII-XCVII (all written in January 1761) in volute I of Euler (1843).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Metaphysik K2 (Schriften 28.2.1, p. 756) refers to Bonnet’s groundless supposition that the seat of the soul is the corpus callosum.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Euler’s argument in letter XCVII, “Refutation of the Idealists”, reads so much like Kant’s “Refutation of Idealism” in the 1st Critique that one cannot avoid the hypothesis that Kant’s argument is merely a more formal statement of Euler’s case. Compare the thesis of Kant’s refutation: “The mere, but empirically determined, consciousness of my own existence proves the existence of objects in space outside me” [B275], with Euler’s conclusion: “It is, then, a most undoubted fact, that the soul always concludes, from any sensation whatever, the existence of a real object outside of us” [Euler (1843) p. 322].Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    In all of this Kant is watering the garden of new seeds of a theory of the soul that Mendelssohn had detected in Träume. In discussion of some of the passages in Chapters III, IV and V of my book in the philosophical colloquium in Universitär Konstanz in Spring 1983, Fritz Kambartel, with characteristic and disturbing wisdom, pointed out that my view of the kinds of flowers that would grow in this garden is seriously wrong if Kant was thinking of the soul/body problem as one of relating the soul to the body as Leib, rather than as Körper. This is an important point, because the problem of accounting for animation of an animal body (which does from time to time concern Kant) is not the same problem as locating a non-spatial soul in a space-occupying body (as physical object). Because the Kambartel observations are usually revealing, even when wrong, I checked the Allgemeiner Kantindex to make sure that the problem is not one of Seele/Leib but of Seele/Körper. In Volumes I and II of the Academy Edition of Kant’s works (covering works from 1747–1777, thus including all precritical works on which I base my case) Leib is used only once, and there are 9 occurrences of Leib derivatives. Körper occurs 879 times, with 291 occurrences of Körper derivatives. The Dissertation Latin gives corpus and anima; my Insel-Verlag translation in German supplies Körper and Seele as translations. The word counts thus clearly support my analysis of the contents of the texts. Kant’s pre-1781 problem was one of Seele/Körper relatedness, hence one of physics and metaphysics. This is, however, instructive (and hence the wisdom of Kambartel’s remark), for it reveals again that Kant’s central interest was one of capturing the physics/metaphysics of soul/body relatedness in a way that is mathematizable (or at least mathematically estimable). The telling conclusion is that Kant found that this relationship is not expressible in mathematically determinable ways; that is, that the mechanical method cannot be employed to solve this problem. None of this would be understandable had Kant’s central problem been one of Seele/Leib connection. If the interests of pursuing a thoroughgoing application of the mechanical method are uppermost (as I have been arguing that they are for Kant) then a solution to the problem of animation of an animal body should follow from a solution to the problem of Seele/Körper connection.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Butts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe University of Western OntarioCanada

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