torstai 22. syyskuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on the capacities of the human understanding and their correct use in knowing truth - Methodology of learning

As I have said for a number of times, Wolff's German logic is essentially a book on methodology. We have already seen how Wolff has tackled the methodology of mathematical sciences – especially syllogistics – experimental sciences – for instance, Wolff knew that correlation does not always imply causation – and even history.

But almost half of the book is aimed not so much for easing scientific or philosophical work, but for teaching skills necessary for university studies. Thus, we find Wolff giving hints about how to evaluate cognitive capacities in oneself and in others, how to evaluate new discoveries and writings, how to interpret books, how to dispute, and finally, how to develop one's powers of thinking. I shall not comment on these parts of the book extensively, but merely raise some interesting points:

  1. Wolff makes the observation that if a person is to have an ability for making discoveries in some field of science, it is not enough that she knows the necessary data and that she knows the general rules of reasoning. In addition, the person must also have practice in how things are justified in that precise field. In a sense Wolff is here going against the idea that there is some unitary superscience, like physics is sometimes presented nowadays to be, with which problems in all fields of life could be solved. Wolff thus accepts that result of one science cannot be directly transferred to another, because one must also learn how things are justified in this second science.

  2. When discussing the interpretation of Bible – a task probably very important at the time – Wolff announces the following hermeneutical principle: because the Bible is, by definition, a book made by a good understanding, we must assume that apparent contradictions etc. are caused by our incapacity of combining the correct meaning with the words used. Interestingly, Wolff notes that the same principle should be applied to all books that are ”made with understanding”. In principle Wolff is here assuming the so-called principle of charity that we should interpret a writing in the best manner that is possible.

  3. Wolff also admits that all writings should be evaluated only according to the context of their own time. This is something that philosophy scholars sometimes forget to do.

  4. Wolff thinks that it is more virtuous to leave disputations with people who clearly do not know anything about the issue talked about than to continue arguing with them. This is a very appropriate advice in the age of heated and polemical Internet discussions.

With these few words I wrap up Wolff's German logic. My next guest shall be finally someone else than Christian Wolff. Who is the philosopher? Well, he is probably so obscure that most of the readers wouldn't even know him if I revelaed his name, so I shall leave the revelation to the next time.

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