August 21, 2014
The majority of Kant scholars has taken it for granted that for Kant the soul is in some sense present in space and that this assumption is by and large unproblematic. If we read Kant’s texts in the context of debates on this topic within 18th century rationalism and beyond, a more complex picture emerges, leading to the somewhat surprising conclusion that Kant in 1770 can best be characterised as a Cartesian about the mind. The paper first develops a framework for describing the various positions on the place of the soul in space as varieties of ‘localism’, since German philosophers of the 18th century all agreed on the fact that the soul is in some sense present in space. Strong localists (Crusius, Knutzen) maintain that the soul occupies a place that cannot at the same time be occupied by a material substance. The Königsberg Wolffian Christian Gabriel Fischer is an ‘epistemic localist’ defending the view that our knowledge about the presence of the soul in space is limited. Bilfinger holds that the soul only represents itself as being present in space, he is a ‘representational localist’. The Cartesians, including Leonhard Euler and his teacher Samuel Werenfels, assume that the soul is effective in a region of space without truly being present there. They are ‘virtual localists’. Kant’s attitude towards this problem before the 1760s is a bit unclear. But his writings in this period are at least compatible with the strong localism defended by Knutzen. In the Herder transcripts (1762-1764) and other texts after 1760, Kant begins to distance himself from this view, but he does not articulate clearly his own position. This trend culminates in Dreams of a Spirit Seer (1766), where Kant oscillates somewhat uneasily between epistemic and virtual localism and criticises explicitly the Cartesian thesis that the soul’s presence in the body is limited to a determinate region. The dissertation from 1770 marks another radical change in Kant’s views on the place of the soul. Here, he subscribes to virtual localism and its concomitant thesis that the soul itself is, properly speaking, nowhere. Together with the thesis that the soul knows that it belongs to the mundus intelligibilis this makes Kant in 1770 a Cartesian about the mind.