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.

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