Friday, November 02, 2007

"Matter endowed with thought"

Jefferson, letter to John Adams:

"Were it necessary however to form an opinion, I confess I should, with Mr. Locke, prefer swallowing one incomprehensibility rather than two. It requires one effort only to admit the single incomprehensibility of matter endowed with thought: and two to believe, 1st. that of an existence called Spirit, of which we have neither evidence nor idea, and then 2ndly, how that sprit which has neither extention nor solidity, can put material organs into motion. These are things which you and I may perhaps know ere long. We have so lived as to fear neither horn of the dilemma. We have, willingly, done injury to no man; and have done for our country the good which has fallen in our way, so far as commensurate with the faculties given us. That we have not done more than we could cannot be imputed to us as a crime before any tribunal. I look therefore to that crisis, as I am sure you also do, as one 'qui summum nec metuit diem nec optat' [Who neither fears the final day nor hopes for it]."

Proof of atheism? Maybe: at least proof that Jefferson did not subscribe to a Cartesian ghost-ego, instead siding with Locke's somewhat physicalist view of consciousness: in a few select sections of reality (such as human brains), matter thinks (or appears to think). Either way, TJ generally affirms Locke, whether in terms of metaphysics or politics--i.e. TJ's no pal of monarchists, or mafiosos--tho' TJ perhaps a bit optimistic in regards to his hopes for democracy. Of course, even Lockean natural law presents some conceptual difficulties for the typical Americun Caliban (buh bye, Calibanonius). That doesn't prevent Caliban from invoking ye olde Founding Fathers ad nauseum at his weekly Shriners' meetings.

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