Emanuel Swedenborg

Published Philosophical Works

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Nothing in Swedenborg's Philosophical and Mineralogical Works indicated that purely material explanations of the universe satisfied him. His writings rest upon the assumption that divine force underlies all matter and his speculations next turned to the relationship between the finite and the infinite. His book-length essay on the Infinite published in 1734, carried the full title "Outlines of a Philosophical Argument on the Infinite, and the Final Cause of Creation and on the Mechanism of the Operation of Soul and Body." In this and similar studies, Swedenborg judged that although the finite could not know the infinite, reason compelled man to conclude that the human individual was the end of creation. Everything in creation contributed to man's functioning as a thinking being. The soul must be the link between God and man, the infinite and the finite, even though man could not see or measure that soul.

Swedenborg developed his search for the soul most comprehensively in a study which he called The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, published in two lengthy volumes in 1740 and 1741. As the title implies, he found the kingdom of life to be a marvelous unity, tautly structured according to some grand design consistent with the concept of the individual soul as the center of creation. His speculations, which made use of the best anatomical knowledge of the day, focused on the blood as the most likely carrier of the soul. Swedenborg came close to predicting the manner in which the lungs purify the blood at a time when the discovery of oxygen was fifty years in the future. He then drew upon his earlier studies of the brain and concluded that the operations of the brain and the body, by means of the blood, depended upon a "spirituous fluid" which, while it could not be "known" scientifically, must be the carrier of the soul. He pursued his search for rational explanations of the workings of the soul in a second book, The Animal Kingdom, and in other works. He hoped to disperse the "clouds which darken the sacred temple of the mind" and open a path to faith. Other books from this period, some published and some left in manuscript, include The Brain, The Senses, The Organs of Generation, and Rational Psychology.

The Economy of the Animal Kingdom drew praise from the scholars of the day. However, reviewers increasingly ignored later work in his search for the soul, and his unpublished manuscripts were, of course, unknown outside the circle of Swedenborg's intellectual intimates.

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