The Sleeping Habits of Matter and Spirit: Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins on the Immortality of the Soul


  • Jeff Wigelsworth



In 1706, Samuel Clarke, Newtonian and theologian, engaged in a debate with Anthony Collins, deist and country gentleman, over the nature of the soul and matter. Both men were responding to the work of Henry Dodwell, who earlier that year suggested that the soul was a substance naturally mortal, which was given immortality by God alone. While historians have long noted this debate, the underlying assumptions and intellectual debts of both Clarke and Collins have not been fully explored. Clarke's arguments clearly revealed his Newtonianism and, what is more, it is now evident that he shared Newton's conception of the soul. Collins followed a deist interpretation of both the soul and matter, a view first proposed by the deist John Toland. This article brings these assumptions to light and in so doing, demonstrates that Clarke was even more Newtonian than was previously thought and that deists shared more of a worldview than the denial of revelation.

Author Biography

Jeff Wigelsworth

Jeff Wigelsworth is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. He is the recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship. His dissertation explores the use of natural philosophy by English Deists in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.