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.

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