torstai 27. lokakuuta 2011

Andreas Rüdiger: Divine physics, the correct road between superstition and atheism, which guides towards the natural and moral well-being of humans (1716)

Some readers might remember that I was rather charmed by Lange's habit of beginning the philosophy of history from biblical times. Well, the same trick does not work as well the second time, hence, I was somewhat dissapointed by the author's insistence that true physics could be found in Genesis and that the further development of philosophy mostly ruined this fabulous start.

The similarity is not accidental, because the obscure author of Physica divina, Andreas Rüdiger, belonged to the same loose circle of philosophers as Lange. Both Rüdiger and Lange were Thomasians, named by their affiliation to Christian Thomasius, first-ever philosopher to write in German. And like Lange, Rüdiger also spent a great deal of his time for criticising Wolff's philosophy, as we shall see in the future.

As the title indicates so well, Rüdiger's book is aimed against both superstition and atheism: superstition divinises the natural world and atheism gets rid of the divine altogether, and the task is to stick with God, but not confuse him with the natural world. True, the book also contains nowadays rather quaint sounding physical theories, which concern all the questions of contemporary natural science – the nature of space, time and motion, movements of planets and stars, basic elements and their combinations, meteorological phenomena, magnetism, plants and animals. But Rüdiger is not satisfied with expounding his own theories, but he also criticises theories of earlier philosophers and shows how his own ideas can help to refute both two extremes.

Most of Rüdiger's enemies are easy to guess: Aristotle and atomists. But the inclusion of Descartes as one of the enemies is somewhat surprising, considering Lange's appreciation of the French philosopher. Yet, Rüdiger's view on Descartes reveals that he understood the implications of Cartesian and generally the modern natural science. In a Cartesian world view, the material things move each other mechanically, through push and pull. The nearest explanation of an event involving material things is another event with other material things. No God is therefore needed, because the eternal movement of matter is enough for explaining the continuance of the movement of matter, and Cartesian physics opens in this way a door to atheism.

Rüdiger's views on Descartes bear a striking resemblance to Jacobi's idea of all modern, mechanistic philosophy leading to atheism, but even more interesting is Rüdiger's idea why Descartes had to fail. The main mistake Descartes made, Rüdiger suggests, is the overt mathematization of physics. Mathematics is a science of possibilities, Rüdiger states. This might be a quip against Wolff, who had stated that philosophy is the science of possibilities. For Rüdiger philosophy is instead the science of what there actually is.

Whereas possibilities meant for Wolff mainly the actual capacities for generating things – real definitions – the possibilities of Rüdiger refer mainly to mere nominal definitions, that is, to mere words which might have no actual reference. In mathematics we can just put together descriptions without any consideration as to whether they describe anything that could be actual. Indeed, mathematics, says Rüdiger, is at least partially false: nowadays we might say that mathematics idealises and hence abstracts from certain characteristics of the actual world. Just because mathematics is an idealised picture of the world, it cannot grasp the true physics.

Rüdiger's idea that mathematics and philosophy are two completely separate disciplines is something that the later German philosophers agreed with: for instance, Hegel made fun of philosophers who tried to use mathematical method, although it was completely unsuitable for philosophical purposes. Interestingly, Kant admits the difference of the two disciplines, but for almost completely opposite reasons than Rüdiger. For Kant, philosophy is the discipline that can only analyse the meanings of concepts, but it cannot construct them – that is, philosophy does not have the means to actualise its concepts, while mathematician can draw his figures at least in pure intuition.

Rüdiger also argues that mathematization of philosophy eventually makes Cartesian proofs for the existence of God futile: Descartes starts by assuming the nominal definition of God, which is completely ineffective in stating anything about what there actually is. Rüdiger's criticism is reminiscent of Kant's later comment that concept of God as such does not involve existence, although ontological proof attempts to deduce one from the other. Rüdiger's further comments that Cartesian mistake is repeated by Spinoza who just assumes the definition of substance as something completely independent of anything else – without noting that such definition might not make sense, because we cannot generate anything corresponding to it: a similar criticism against Spinozan definitions is later voiced by Hegel.

I think that this will suffice for Rüdiger's Physica. Even if I found it philosophically valuable to investigate his theories of air and aether as the basic elements, I would still be in a hurry to move beyond mere physics. That's right, next time I shall begin to do some serious philosophy and tackle the first ever German book on metaphysics.

lauantai 15. lokakuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Thoughts concerning the unusual phenomenon, which was seen at Halle 17th of March, 1716, in the evening after 7 o'clock (1716) and Discovery of the true cause of the wondrous increase of corn, by which at the same time the growth of trees and plants in general is explained (1718)

Having survived Lange's eight-hundred-page -magnum opus I did not want to proceed right away to yet another gigantopedia of a German obscurity. Thus, I decided to read two lighter, non-philosophical works by an old friend, Christian Wolff. Don't let the length of the titles intimidate you, because in these times, the shorter the work, the longer the title. The title was meant to work like an ingress to an article, luring potential readers to buy the latest thoughts ”concerning the unusual phenomenon” – this is the language of the mystery writers.

Indeed, the whole phenomenon at Halle feels like a cross between X-Files and Mythbusters. A strange light was seen at the sky after 7 o'clock in the evening at Halle, and the same phenomenon could be viewed all over the Europe, from London to Königsberg. ”Flying saucers!” would be the cry of modern UFO-enthusiasts; ”wrath of God” thought the religious enthusiasts or Schwärmereien of Wolff's time.

But then the consulting philosopher, C. Wolff arrives at the scene and deduces at once that the public has no need for alarm: such phenomena are not that unusual. The cause of the strange light has been a gaseous evaporation bursting into flame: predecessor of swamp gas, apparently. And was it God behind it all? Well, the Allmighty can use all sorts of natural phenomena as symbols for his messages, but because there is no mention of flaming gases in the Scripture, there is no need to assume any greater meaning behind the light.

(Of course, if Wolff would have taken the sign seriously, traveled to the easternmost point where the phenomenon was seen and waited for a couple of years, he would have witnesses the birth of a boy named Immanuel, who would have been the one to deliver philosophy from dogmaticism. A missed opportunity, indeed.)

The second text, then, is a somewhat more serious work, although agricultural studies are far from what modern philosophers usually spend their time with. But Wolff was not afraid to stain his hands with dirt and he even disapproved philosophers who failed to do anything useful. What is really remarkable in this short work is Wolff's ability to put his scientific methodology to real practice: we hear how Wolff studies previous agricultural works and does his own experiments in the garden, before finally concluding that planting seeds deep enough and far from one another might increase the yield.

Wolff's agricultural study was also apparently under a serious discussion. A year after the original work Wolff had to publish an elucidation answering some questions from an interested reader. Even more striking is that the work was translated to English, which is more than can be said for Wolff's philosophical works. One has the impression that Wolff truly was a notable botanist and not just an incompetent diletantte.

Wolff's achievements in both myth busting and agriculture are a good example of a remark C. D. Broad once made of major philosophers often having experience with some fields of science: just think of Descartes' books on analytic geometry, optics and mechanics, Leibniz's work on differential calculus and Kant's early works on physics. Even Hegel proudly stated at the frontispiece of his Phenomenology that he was a member of the German mineralogical society.

If we extend our focus from sciences to all fields of life beyond philosophy, we find statesmen, like Francis Bacon, philologists like Nietzsche, playwrights like Lessing or Sartre and psychoanalysts like Lacan. We might even suggest that a good philosopher needs such an anchor in something else beyond philosophy, so that her ideas and thoughts will have some substantial relevance. Indeed, the only philosopher Broad knew who could be called a pure philosopher was his mentor, McTaggart – and his metaphysical theory of a timeless reality of spirits perceiving one another is as far removed from practice as any philosophy can be.

Let this suffice for a detour. Next time, another obscurity waiting an examination.

sunnuntai 9. lokakuuta 2011

Joachim Lange: Mental medicine - Curing your mind through Descartes

Last time I gave a preliminary account of what philosophy and its negation, philomoria, were for J. J. Lange and how the two were supposed to be related. This time I shall say something about the concrete methodology of philosophy as Lange conceived it.

As we should remember from the previous text, for Lange philosophy was essentially striving towards wisdom, which was defined as a connection with God. This connection or harmony is actually what humans are intended to live in. Yet, in the current state of things humans are naturally disharmonious. The natural human being is disturbed by sense impressions, and while education can help a person to correct her original state, it might lead her to even worse things – like Aristotelianism.

It is this state of disharmony that Lange strives to cure in Medicina mentis. Although Lange mentions many methods of cure, such as conversation with other persons and prayer, philosophically most interesting is the use of lumen naturale, natural light or human cognitivie capacities.

As one might remember, Descartes was in addition to Socrates the only philosopher that Lange viewed in a completely positive light. For instance, Lange views Cartesian method of doubt as a sober form of skepticism, because it strives to find a reliable and indubitable ground, while an unhealthy skepticism, like the ancient Pyrrhonism, leads merely to turbulence of mind and eventually to libertine denial of all values.

Interestingly, Lange sees the core of unhealthy skepticism not in doubt, but in refusal to accept some facts. Thus, Lange regards both infamous atheists of the time, Spinoza and Hobbes, as partial skeptics, because they did not accept the validity of the Christian notion of God. This peculiarity is connected with Lange's definition of skepticism as the opposite of what he calls formal truth.

What then is a formal truth for Lange? First of all, a material truth is simply a validity of some fact: this is so and so. Formal truth, on the other hand, is a material truth that is in harmony with a mind. Thus, a material truth might not be a formal truth for some person, if that person fails to assent this truth. Then again, a material truth might not be a formal truth, if it is only a part of the whole picture or fails to describe anything essential to the mind involved. In other words, formal truth is an assent by mind of an essential material truth.

The bad form of skepticism, then, is the opposite of formal truth, because it involves a failure to assent to an essential material truth. Thus, atheism as a rejection of God's existence is by Lange's definitions this sort of skepticism. On the other hand, Descartes is not a skeptic in this sense, because ultimately Descartes doesn't reject e.g. God's existence.

In light of Lange's appreciation of the great French philosopher, it is no wonder that Lange's ideas of using the natural light of human reason derive largely from Descartes. Indeed, Lange even calls the use of natural light meditation, borrowing the name obviously from Cartesian Meditations. The meditation, Lange says, should begin from an indubitable starting point. Like Descartes, Lange affirms that this starting point is not demonstrated syllogistically. In fact, Lange goes a step further and says that it is indemonstrable in all senses, that is, an incontrovertible fact.

Lange's rejection of the demonstrability of the first truth is connected with another modification of Cartesian meditations. While Descartes begins from an indubitable proposition, ”I think, therefore I am”, Lange begins from a non-propositional self-consciousness, which he further defines as perception of mind by itself.

Similarly, Lange does not demonstrate other truths concerning mind from the fact of its existence, but says that these truths are just contained within the original self-consciousness. Indeed, he explicitly criticises Descartes for limiting the foundational notion of mind to cognition. Still, what Lange actually tells of mind has a Cartesian air: mind is a non-material substance, but intrinsically connected to a material body, through which it receives impressions of material things and which it can control.

Langian meditations continue in a Cartesian manner, although not through demonstrations: thinking about oneself leads one to think of God, through whom one can even find some certainty in thinking sense objects. Yet, the most important point for Lange is to point out that through self-consciousness one can discern also the limits of natural light and the need for a supernatural light of divine revelation: reason itself shows the need for antirationalism.

Lange's Cartesian inspired antirationalism has an interesting relation to Jacobi's later antirationalism. The purpose of both writers is the same: to move the attention from the mundane science to God as the true meaning of human life, and both also begin from some immediate, indemonstrable starting point: Lange from self-consciousness and Jacobi from Glauben or faith. Yet, for Jacobi it is not Descartes, but Hume, who offers the starting point.

Considering that Descartes was a stout believer, but Hume leaned more towards agnosticism or even atheism, Jacobi's position might seem awkward. But the tides of philosophy had changed from the days of Lange. For Lange, the immediate starting point was human self-consciousness, which immediately led to God as the ground of that consciousness. Self-consciousness was thus a justification for the existence of God, while God was the only thing giving value and stability to the sense world.

At the time of Jacobi, on the other hand, self-consciousness as the first principle was almost exclusively used by philosophers of Kantian inspiration. Now, one thing that philosophers like Fichte appeared to do was to downgrade the role of God in the trinity of self-consciouness, God and material things. Indeed, they seemingly tried to account for the existence of the material things in terms of mere self-consciousness.

Jacobi thought this strategy was ultimately nihilistic, because it destroyed the true source of values. Furthermore, it made it more difficult for Jacobi to use Lange's strategy of justifying the existence of God through self-consciousness: who needs God to account for the existence of material objects, if they can be accounted by the self-consciousness itself?

In this light Jacobi's endorsement of Hume becomes more understandable. Hume had argued that we couldn't really demonstrate the substantiality of the objects of experience through our mere self-consciousness, but that we had to just believe in their stable existence. This stability inhered then somewhere beyond self-consciousness, and Jacobi could then just assume that it inhered in God as the source of all values.

So much for Lange, for the time being. Next time, we shall see what happened 17th of March, 1716, around 7 PM, at Halle.

maanantai 3. lokakuuta 2011

Joachim Lange: Mental medicine (1708)

No, I haven't been reading any books on psychiatry lately. Medicina mentis was apparently a popular name for a philosophy book near 1700 – for instance, such a book was published by von Tschirnhaus, the missing link between Spinoza and Wolff. The title refers not so much to any mental illnesses in the modern sense, but to the task of improving one's mind and its abilities. In effect, we are threading on the same ground as with Wolff's book on logic.

The writer of this particular book on mental medicine was Johann Joachim Lange. Yes, you probably have not heard of him, but he is famous as one of the most vehement opponents of Christian Wolff, and we shall undoubtedly meet the fellow also in the future. Lange was a follower of pietism, a radical Christian movement that emphasised personal experience over institutionalised church – a protest against the stagnation of protestantism. Indeed, Lange's main occupation was theology and many of his works concern interpretation of Biblical texts, but Medicina mentis should be Lange's main philosophical work.

Regarding Lange's pietist background, it is no wonder that his view of philosophy differs radically from Wolffian view. For Wolff, as we have seen, philosophy practically equaled science and was characterised by a certain method, namely, deductive system based on evident axioms and reliable experiences. Lange, on the other hand, starts from the supposed goal of philosophy. Philosophy is love of or striving towards wisdom, and true wisdom, says Lange, lies in being itself, or as it can be said in Hebrew, Jehovah (”I am”). Thus, philosophy is for Lange all about finding God.

You won't have to read Lange to see that this idea of philosophy is in at odds with the Wolffian notion of philosophy, which is largely neutral as to the object of philosophy. It is thus no wonder that Lange explictly distances himself from the idea of philosophy as worldy wisdom (Weltweisheit) that was so important for Wolff: what is wisdom for the world is folly, when it comes to God. Lange even coins the term philomoria, love of foolishness, to describe this perverted or ”pseudo-ortohodox” brother of philosophy.

Lange even gives an account of the development of both philosophy and philomoria: the picture above is a summarised version of the latter. Nowadays histories of philosophy don't usually begin from antediluvian age, but Lange boldly starts from the creation itself. The tales of philosophy and philomoria begin with the sons of Adam. Philomoria was an invention of Cain and his offspring, who dabbled with such frivolities like music, while the third son of Adam, Seth, and his offspring meditated important matters. Yes, these still were the times when Bible passed as a reliable historical source.

I shall spare my reader Lange's further summarisation of Bible, which quickly becomes rather repetetive. Suffice to say that Lange thinks Bible to be the source of all important knowledge. All the mythologies of Greek and other people are, of course, mere incomplete recollections of the true biblical history, while all that is good in the thoughts of Greek and later philosophers is of biblical origin. Pythagoras and Plato evidently learned all that they knew from Jews: a suggestion, which goes all the way to Philo, the first famous Jewish philosopher, and which always reminds me of a devoted Hare Krishna who tried to sell me his religion by telling that Plato learned his wisdom in India.

Despite the biblical origins of Greek and later philosophy, Lange has little good to say of any particular philosopher. Especially Lange attempts to discredit Aristotle, who in logical works introduced scholastic erudition to philosophy, who in his theoretical philosophy suggested that all events are caused by the movement of the celestial spheres and whose practical philosophy is hedonism fit for Macedonian court. The only philosophers who come clean in Lange's scheme are virtuous Socrates and Descartes, who purged philosophy from scholasticism.

It would be really easy to ridicule Lange, but this would go against the primary purpose of my blog – my aim is to understand past philosophers and their theories, not make fun of them. Indeed, Lange is not just an isolated figure in the arena of German philosophy, but an instance of an antirationalist, anti-enlightenment movement that later surfaces in such fellows as Hamann and Jacobi, who were as fierce Christians as Lange and who opposed Kant and the later German idealists, but who also influenced them in some measure.

Indeed, German idealism might be characterised as a combination of the two streams of Enlightenment, the German version of which begun with Wolffe, and antirationalism opposing Enlightenment. This characterisation is illustrated by Hegel's tale of the battle between Enlightenment and faith in his Phenomenology of spirit. Enlightenment, says Hegel, is characterised by being ”a form” or a method of investigation. Furthermore, it is a method open for everyone and thus what the modern world is after. In fact, Wolffian ideal of philosophy characterised through a method of axiomatic-deductive-empiricist science fits just this description.

But as a mere ”form” Enlightenment lacks its proper content or purpose the method is used for. Instead, the method of Enlightenment or science can be applied to any, even the most superficial issue: good example is Wolff making complex deductions of the question how one can change dates between Julian, Gregorian, Hebrew, Arabic and Bablylonian calendars. Faith, on the other hand, has just this content, that is, it strives for the highest fulfilment possible, which Lange and other antirationalists called God and which we might describe in a more secular manner as the meaning of life. But faith lacks the necessary form, that is, it merely proclaims where the fulfilment is to be found without providing the tools by which a person could by herself discover it.

Combining these two strands was what Hegel thought philosophy should do, that is, philosophy should give everyone a chance to discover what makes life meaningful: it is thus highly valuable and still publically teachable enterprise. But right now we are still far from seeing how Hegel manages to do this. Instead, next time I shall be looking at more closely how Lange describes the actual methodology of philosophy – and we shall see that his antirationalist ideology has strikingly rationalist roots.