Henry More on substance, body, and spirit

Henry More, The Immortality of the Soul, book 1, chapters 2-4. With slight changes in formatting, but not in spelling, capitalization, or use of italics. Based on the EEBO-TCP version.


1. That the Soules Immortality is demonstrable, by the Authors method, to all but meer Scepticks. 2. An Illustration of his First Axiome. 3. A confirmation and example of the Second. 4. An explication of the Third. 5. An explication and proof of the Fourth. 6. A proof of the Fifth. 7. Of the Sixth. 8. An example of the seventh. 9. A confirmation of the truth of the Eighth. 10. A demonstration and example of the Ninth. 11. Penetrability the immediate property of Incorporeall substance. 12. As also Indiscerpibility. 13. A proof and illustration of the tenth Axiome.

1. And to stop all Creep-holes, and leave no place for the subterfuges and evasions of confused and cavilling spirits, I shall prefix some few Axiomes, of that plainness and evidence, that no man in his wits but will be ashamed to deny them, if he will admit any thing at all to be true. But as for perfect Scepticisme, it is a disease incurable, and a thing rather to be pittied or laught at, then seriously opposed. For when a man is so fugitive and unsetled, that he will not stand to the verdict of his own faculties, one can no more fasten any thing upon him, then he can write in the water, or tye knots of the wind. But for those that are not in such a strange despondency, but that they think they know something already and may learn more, I doe not doubt, but by a seasonable recourse to these few Rules, with others I shall set down in their due place, that they will be perswaded, if not forced, to reckon this Truth, of the Immortality of the Soul, amongst such as must needs appear undeniable to those that have parts and leisure enough accurately to examine, and throughly to understand what I have here written for the demonstration thereof.


What ever things are in themselves, they are nothing to us, but so far forth as they become known to our Faculties or Cognitive powers.

2. This Axiome is plain of it self, at the very first proposal. For as nothing, for example, can concern the Visive faculty, but so far forth as it is visible; so there is nothing that can challenge any stroak to so much as a touching, much less determining our Cognitive powers in generall, but so far forth as it is cognoscible.


Whatsoever is unknown to us, or is known but as meerly possible, is not to move us, or determine us any way, or make us undetermined; but we are to rest in the present light and plain determination of our owne Faculties.

3. This is an evident Consectary from the foregoing Axiome. For the Existence of that that is meerly possible is utterly unknown to us to be, and therefore is to have no weight against any Conclusion, unless we will condemn our selves to eternall Scepticisme. As for example, if after a man has argued for a God and Providence, from the wise contrivance in the frame of all the bodyes of Animals upon earth, one should reply, That there may be, for all this, Animals in Saturn, Jupiter, or some other of the Planets, of very inept fabricks; Horses, suppose, and other Creatures, with onely one eye, and one eare, and that both on a side, the eye placed also where the ear should be, and with onely three leggs; Bulls and Rams with horns on their backs, and the like: Such allegations as these, according to this Axiome, are to be held of no force at all for the enervating the Conclusion. See my Antidote against Atheisme, lib. 1. cap. 2. and 9.


All our Faculties have not a right of suffrage for determining of Truth, but onely Common Notions, Externall Sense, and evident and undeniable Deductions of Reason.

4. By Common Notions I understand what ever is Noematically true, that is to say, true at first sight to all men in their wits, upon a clear perception of the Terms, without any further discourse or reasoning. From Externall Sense I exclude not Memory, as it is a faithfull Register thereof. And by undeniable Deduction of Reason, I mean such a collection of one Truth from another, that no man can discover any looseness or disjoyntedness in the cohaesion of the Argument.


What is not consonant to all or some of these, is meer Fancy, and is of no moment for the evincing of Truth or Falsehood, by either it’s Vigour or Perplexiveness.

5. I Say meer Fancy, in Counter-distinction to such Representations as, although they be not the pure impresses of some reall Object, yet are made by Rationall deduction from them, or from Common Notions, or from both. Those Representations that are not framed upon such grounds, I call meer Fancies; which are of no value at all in determining of Truth. For if Vigour of Fancy will argue a thing true, then all the dreams of mad-men must goe for Oracles: and if the Perplexiveness of Imagination may hinder assent, we must not believe Mathematicall demonstration, and the 16. Proposition of the 3d Book of Euclide will be confidently concluded to contain a contradiction. See my Antidote lib. 1 cap. 4.


Whatever is clear to any one of these Three Faculties, is to be held undoubtedly true, the other having nothing to evidence to the contrary.

6. Or else a man shall not be assured of any sensible object that he meets with, nor can give firm assent to such Truths as these, It is impossible the same thing should be, and not be, at once; Whatever is, is either finite, or infinite; and the like.


What is rejected by one, none of the other Faculties giving evidence for it, ought to goe for a Falsehood.

7. Or else a man may let pass such Impossibilities as these for Truth, or doubt whether they be not true or no, viz. The part is greater then the whole; There is something that is neither finite nor infinite. Socrates is invisible; and the like.


What is plainly and manifestly concluded, ought to be held undeniable, when no difficulties are alledged against it, but such as are acknowledged to be found in other Conclusions held by all men undeniably true.

8. As for example, suppose one should conclude, That there may be Infinite Matter, or, That there is Infinite Space, by very rationall arguments; and that it were objected onely, That then the Tenth part of that Matter would be infinite; it being most certain That there is Infinite Duration of something or other in the world, and that the Tenth part of this Duration is infinite; it is no enervating at all of the former Conclusion, it being incumbred with no greater incongruitie then is acknowledged to consist with an undeniable Truth.


The Subject, or naked Essence or Substance of a thing, is utterly unconceivable to any of our Faculties.

9. For the evidencing of this Truth, there needs nothing more then a silent appeal to a mans owne mind, if he doe not find it so; and that if he take away all Aptitudes, Operations, Properties and Modifications from a Subject, that his conception thereof vanishes into nothing, but into the Idea of a meer Undiversificated Substance; so that one Substance is not then distinguishable from another, but onely from Accidents or Modes, to which properly belongs no subsistence.


There are some Properties, Powers and Operations, immediately appertaining to a thing, of which no reasons can be given, nor ought to be demanded, nor the Way or Manner of the cohaesion of the Attribute with the Subject can by any meanes be fancyed or imagined.

10. The evidence of this Axiome appeares from the former. For if the naked substance of a Thing be so utterly unconceiveable, there can be nothing deprehended there to be a connexion betwixt it and it’s first Properties. Such is Actuall Divisibility and Impenetrability in Matter. By Actuall Divisibility I understand Discerpibility, gross tearing or cutting one part from another. These are immediate properties of Matter, but why they should be there, rather then in any other Subject, no man can pretend to give, or with any credit aske the reason. For Immediate Attributes are indemonstrable, otherwise they would not be Immediate.

11. So the Immediate Properties of a Spirit or Immateriall Substance are Penetrability and Indiscerpibility. The necessary cohaesion of which Attributes with the Subject is as little demonstrable as the former. For supposing that, which I cannot but assert, to be evidently true, That there is no Substance but it has in some sort or other the Three dimensions; This Substance, which we call Matter, might as well have been penetrable as impenetrable, and yet have been Substance: But now that it does so certainly and irresistibly keep one part of it self from penetrating another, it is so, we know not why. For there is no necessary connexion discernible betwixt Substance with three dimensions, and Impenetrability. For what some alledge, that it implyes a contradiction, That extended substance should run one part into another; for so part of the Extension, and consequently of the Substance, would be lost; this, I say, (if nearly looked into) is of no force. For the Substance is no more lost in this case, then when a string is doubled and redoubled, or a piece of wax reduced from a long figure to a round: The dimension of Longitude is in some part lost, but without detriment to the Substance of the wax. In like manner when one part of an extended Substance runs into another, something both of Longitude, Latitude and Profundity may be lost, and yet all the Substance there still; as well as Longitude lost in the other case without any loss· of the Substance. And as what was lost in Longitude was gotten in Latitude or Profundity before, so what is lost here in all or any two of the dimensions, is kept safe in Essential Spissitude. For so I will call this Mode or Property of a Substance, that is able to receive one part of it self into another. Which fourth Mode is as easy and familiar to my Understanding, as that of the Three dimensions to my Sense or Fancy· For I mean nothing else by Spissitude, but the redoubling or contracting of Substance into less space then it does sometimes occupy. And Analogous to this is the lying of two Substances of several kindes in the same place at once. To both these may be applied the termes of Reduplication and Saturation: The former when Essence or Substance is but once redoubled into it self or into another; the latter when so oft, that it will not easily admit any thing more. And that more extensions then one may be commensurate, at the same time, to the same Place, is plain, in that Motion is coextended with the Subject wherein it is, and both with Space. And Motion is not nothing; wherefore two things may be commensurate to one space at once.

12. Now then Extended Substance (and all Substances are extended) being of it self indifferent to Penetrability or Impenetrability, and we finding one kind of Substance so impenetrable, that one part will not enter at all into another (which with as much reason we might expect to find so irresistibly united one part with another that nothing in the world could dissever them. For this Indiscerpibility has as good a connexion with Substance as Impenetrability has, they neither falling under the cognoscence of Reason or Demonstration, but being immediate Attributes of such a Subject. For a man can no more argue from the Extension of Substance, that it is Discerpible, then that it is Penetrable; there being as good a capacity in Extension for Penetration as Discerption) I conceive, I say, from hence we may as easily admit that some Substance may be of it self Indiscerpible, as well as others Impenetrable; and that as there is one kind of Substance, which of it’s own nature is Impenetrable and Discerpible, so there may be another Indiscerpible and Penetrable. Neither of which a man can give any other account of, then that they have the immediate Properties of such a Subject.


The discovery of some Power, Property, or Operation, incompetible to one Subject, is an infallible argument of the existence of some other, to which it must be competible.

13. As when Pythagoras was spoken unto by the River Nessus, when he passed over it, and a Tree by the command of Thespesion the chief of the Gymnosophists saluted Apollonius in a distinct and articulate voice, but small as a womans; it is evident, I say, That there was something there that was neither River nor Tree, to which these salutations must be attributed, no Tree nor River having any Faculty of Reason nor Speech.


1. The general notions of Body and Spirit. 2. That the notion of Spirit is altogether as intelligible as that of Body. 3. Whether there be any Substance of a mixt nature, betwixt Body and Spirit.

1. The greatest and grossest obstacle to the belief of the Immortality of the Soul, is that confident opinion in some, as if the very notion of a Spirit were a piece of Non-sense and perfect Incongruity in the conception thereof. Wherefore to proceed by degrees to our maine designe, and to lay our foundation low and sure, we will in the first place expose to view the genuine notion of a Spirit, in the generall acception thereof; and afterwards of several kindes of Spirits: that it may appear to all, how unjust that cavill is against Incorporeall substances, as if they were meer Impossibilities and contradictious Inconsistencies. I will define therefore a Spirit in generall thus, A substance penetrable and indiscerpible. The fitness of which definition will be the better understood, if we divide Substance in generall into these first kindes, viz. Body and Spirit, and then define Body to be A Substance impenetrable and discerpible. Whence the contrary kind to this is fitly defined, A Substance penetrable and indiscerpible.

2. Now I appeale to any man that can set aside prejudice, and has the free use of his Faculties, whether every term in the definition of a Spirit be not as intelligible and congruous to reason, as in that of a Body. For the precise notion of Substance is the same in both, in which, I conceive, is comprised Extension and Activity either connate or communicated. For matter it self once moved can move other matter. And it is as easy to understand what Penetrable is, as Impenetrable, and what Indiscerpible as Discerpible; and Penetrability and Indiscerpibility being as immediate to Spirit, as Impenetrability and Discerpibility to Body, there is as much reason to be given for the attributes of the one as of the other, by Axiome 9. And Substance in its precise notion including no more of Impenetrability then Indiscerpibility, we may as well wonder how one kind of Substance can so firmly and irresistibly keep out another Substance (as Matter for example does the parts of Matter) as that the parts of another Substance hold so fast together, that they are by no means Discerpible, as we have already intimated: And therefore this holding out in one being as difficult a business to conceive as the holding together in the other, this can be no prejudice to the notion of a Spirit. For there may be very fast union where we cannot at all imagine the cause thereof, as in such Bodies which are exceeding hard, where no man can fancy what holds the parts together so strongly; and there being no greater difficulty here, then that a man cannot imagine what holds the parts of a Spirit together, it will follow by Axiome 7 that the notion of a Spirit is not to be excepted against as an incongruous notion, but is to be admitted for the notion of a thing that may really exist.

3. It may be doubted, whether there may not be Essences of a middle condition betwixt these Corporeal and Incorporeal Substances we have described, and that of two sorts, The one Impenetrable and Indiscerpible, the other Penetrable and Discerpible. But concerning the first, if Impenetrability be understood in reference to Matter, it is plaine there can be no such Essence in the world; and if in reference to its own parts, though it may then look like a possible Idea in it self, yet there is no footsteps of the existence thereof in Nature, the Souls of men and Daemons implying contraction and dilatation in them. As for the latter, it has no priviledge for any thing more then Matter it self has, or some Mode of Matter. For it being Discerpible, it is plain it’s union is by Juxtaposition of parts, and the more penetrable, the less likely to conveigh sense and motion to any distance. Besides the ridiculous sequel of this supposition, that will fill the Universe with an infinite number of shreds and rags of Souls and Spirits, never to be reduced again to any use or order. And lastly, the proper notion of a Substance Incorporeal fully counter-distinct to a Corporeal Substance, necessarily including in it so strong and indissoluble union of parts, that it is utterly Indiscerpible, whenas yet for all that in this general notion thereof neither sense nor cogitation is implyed, it is most rational to conceive, that that Substance wherein they are must assuredly be Incorporeal in the strictest signification; the nature of cogitation and communion of sense arguing a more perfect degree of union then is in meer Indiscerpibility of parts. But all this Scrupulositie might have been saved; For I confidently promise my self, that there are none so perversly given to tergiversations and subterfuges, but that they will acknowledge, whereever I can prove that there is a Substance distinct from Body or Matter, that it is in the most full and proper sense Incorporeal.


1. That the notions of the several kindes of Immateriall Beings have no Inconsistencie nor Incongruitie in them. 2. That the nature of God is as intelligible as the nature of any Being whatsoever. 3. The true notion of his Ubiquity, and how intelligible it is. 4. Of the union of the Divine Essence. 5. Of his power of Creation.

1. We have shewn, that the notion of a Spirit in general is not at all incongruous nor impossible: And it is as congruous, consistent and intelligible in the sundry kindes thereof; as for example that of God, of Angels, of the Souls of Men and Brutes, and of the [GREEK] or Seminal Forms of things.

2. The notion of God, though the knowledge thereof be much prejudiced by the confoundedness and stupidity of either superstitious or profane men, that please themselves in their large Rhetorications, concerning the unconceiveableness and utter incomprehensibleness of the Deity; the one by way of a devotional exaltation of the transcendency of his nature, the other to make the belief of his exsistence ridiculous, and craftily and perversly to intimate that there is no God at all, the very conception of him being made to appear nothing else but a bundle of inconsistencies and impossibilities; Nevertheless I shall not at all stick to affirm, that His Idea or Notion is as easy as any Notion else whatsoever, and that we may know as much of him as of any thing else in the world. For the very Essence or naked Substance of nothing can possibly be known by Axiome 8. But for His Attributes, they are as conspicuous as the attributes of any Subject or Substance whatever; From which a man may easily define him thus; God is a Spirit eternal, infinite in essence and goodness, omniscient, omnipotent, and of himself necessarily existent. I appeal to any man, if every term in this Definition be not sufficiently intelligible. For as for Spirit, that has been already defined and explained. By Eternal I understand nothing here but Duration without end or beginning: by Infiniteness of essence, that his Essence or Substance has no bounds, no more then his Duration: by Infinite in goodness, such a benign will in God as is carried out to boundless and innumerable benefactions: by Omnisciency and Omnipotency, the ability of knowing or doing any thing that can be conceived without a plain contradiction: by Self-existency, that he has his Being from none other: and by necessary Existence, that he cannot fail to be. What terms of any Definition are more plain then these of this? or what Subject can be more accurately defined then this is? For the naked Subject or Substance of any thing is no otherwise to be known then thus. And they that gape after any other Speculative knowledg of God then what is from his Attributes and Operations, they may have their heads and mouths filled with many hot scalding fancies and words, and run mad with the boysterousness of their own Imagination, but they will never hit upon any sober Truth.

3. Thus have I delivered a very explicite and intelligible notion of the nature of God; which I might also more compendiously define, An Essence absolutely perfect, in which all the terms of the former Definition are comprehended, and more then I have named, or thought needful to name, much less to insist upon; as his power of Creation, and his Omnipresence or Ubiquity, which are necessarily included in the Idea of absolute perfection. The latter whereof some ancient Philosophers endeavoring to set out, have defined God to be a Circle whose Center is every where and Circumference no where. By which description certainly nothing else can be meant, but that the Divine Essence is every where present with all those adorable Attributes of Infinite and absolutely perfect Goodness, Knowledg and Power, according to that sense in which I have explained them. Which Ubiquity or Omnipresence of God is every whit as intelligible as the overspreading of Matter into all places.

4. But if here any one demand, How the parts, as I may so call them, of the Divine Amplitude hold together, that of Matter being so discerpible; it might be sufficient to remind him of what we have already spoken of the general notion of a Spirit. But besides that, here may be also a peculiar rational account given thereof, it implying a contradiction, that an Essence absolutely perfect should be either limited in presence, or change place in part or whole, they being both notorious Effects or Symptoms of Imperfection, which is inconsistent with the nature of God. And no better nor more cogent reason can be given of any thing, then that it implyes a contradiction to be otherwise.

5. That power also of creating things of nothing, there is a very close connexion betwixt it and the Idea of God, or of a Being absolutely perfect. For this Being would not be what it is conceived to be, if it were destitute of the power of Creation, and therefore this Attribute has no less cohaerence with the Subject, then that it is a contradiction it should not be in it, as was observed of the foregoing Attribute of Indiscerpibilitie in God. But to alledge that a man cannot imagine how God should create something of nothing, or how the Divine Essence holds so closely and invincibly together, is to transgress against the 3. 4. and 5. Axiomes, and to appeal to a Faculty that has no right to determine the case.