torstai 29. joulukuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on God, world, and human soul, furthermore, of all things in general - All you need is love

The early modern philosophers were fascinated by the problem of human emotions that appeared to combine the imcombinable, that is, the material world of bodies and the spiritual world of human souls. For instance, anger is a conscious state, but also something you feel in your chest. They might be called passions or affects, but the task was still the same: to catalogue and define their seemingly endless variety.

It is thus no wonder that Wolff also spends a considerable number of paragraphs on the issue of affects. I already mentioned briefly in the previous post that Wolff had accepted the Leibnizian idea of imperceptible changes in the human soul. Thus, Wolff has to add a layer of sensuous or indistinct subconscious desires (Begierde) and aversions (Abscheu) that we do not consciously perceive, although they do affect us. It is only when such a desire or aversion – or a combination of several – becomes great enough that we experience a real affect.

It would be quite pointless to go through all the different affects in detail: the truly interested will find a short summary of the Wolffian definitions of them at the end of this text. I shall instead investigate one important affect – love – and its definitions in Descartes, Spinoza and Wolff.

Starting with Descartes, we find him defining love as an emotion that induces the human soul to desire joining with the object of its love. I might be reading more to the Cartesian definition than I should, but the mention of joining suggests the idea of matrimony or even the more physical joining in sex. Of course, love is used as an euphemism for sex – we do call sex making love, and when Janet Jackson speaks of loving someone under cover, we know what she is insinuating. Yet, Descartes would still have failed to characterise all types of non-sexual – e.g. parental – love.

Moving on to Spinoza, we find him criticising Descartes for confusing a certain consequence of love with love itself. Spinoza's himself defines love as a pleasure together with an idea of its cause. One might be wary of Spinoza's emphasis on pleasure: term ”lovesickness” tells rather well that love is not always just fun and games. Yet, Spinoza knows that pleasure of love is often mixed with various negative feelings, such as jealousy. Somewhat more disturbing is that Spinoza fails to specify humans as the object of love. True, we do speak of loving chocolate, detective stories or a sip of white wine, and Shirley Bassey sings of Mr. Goldfinger who loves only gold. Still, we usually feel that these are just secondary types of love or even mere likings compared to our love of fellow humans.

Wolff, finally, defines love as a preparedness to be noticeably delighted of the luck befallen on beloved. Compared with Descartes' and Spinoza's rather crude forms of love, Wolffian love is quite refined, altruistic and even saintly. This is the love that mystics spoke about and that Beatles made their song of: all you need is not sex nor gold, but love – respect and care for other living beings and their welfare. Yet, no matter how refined love of Wolffian definition is, it is also removed from the ordinary earthly love – tell a person that she should be glad of her spouse getting lucky and you will probably be thought a bit naive.

Descartes, Spinoza and Wolff have thus been able to define some aspects of love, embodied in the figures of Don Juan, Uncle Scrooge and Buddha, but none of them has truly captured the totality or essence of love. This just shows how complex a seemingly simple emotion like love can be – and indeed, we may wonder if ”love” or "Liebe" designates more than one emotion. Furthermore, this complexity might make us disbelieve that love would be something that could be pointed out in a brain scan: this man obviously loves, because that area is red, says the neuropsychologist, and we may ask what he means by loving – sexual infatuation of a playboy, miser's lust of money, mystical absorption into pantheistic unity or something else?

So much for affects and especially affection or love. Next time, we shall speak of will.

tiistai 27. joulukuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on God, world, and human soul, furthermore, of all things in general - Anytime you feel the pain

Being a human is not just about sensing, imagining and reasoning, which all are relatively passive capacities. In addition, human beings are active and change the world around them. Yet, they do not just act haphazardly, but for reasons: they act, beacuse they feel that they should do something. In other words, they value different situations according to some standards.

Wolff introduces the human faculties of valuing out of the blue. We have seen him defining perfection as an objective value not dependent on any human being: if something is perfect, it is perfect, no matter what. Now Wolff suggests that human beings can intuit or perceive things as perfect or as imperfect. These perceptions he calls respectively Lust and Unlust, which could be translated perhaps as like and dislike. Note that the two feelings of like and dislike are not the only options: one can also perceive things as indifferent.

Like and dislike need not be connected with true perfection – we can like things that just appear to be perfect. In other words, knowing what is objectively good and bad – say, for our health – is completely different from feeling it in our guts that something is nice (candies) or disgusting (Brussels sprouts). Wolff also makes the suggestion that the difference between the two is only a matter of clarity and that by clarifying one's notions of good and bad, one could learn to like what is truly or invariably good. Yet, this suggestion seems somewhat implausible: although I know very well that candies are bad for my teeth, I still feel enjoyment when eating them.

Even more unsatisfying is Wolff's inability to distinguish like and dislike concerning bodily feelings from those concerning other things. We have already noted that Wolff has clear dualistic tendencies and that body is for him just some external thing that happens to be constantly connected with human soul. Now, just because the body is there always disturbing the clarity of our thoughts, we have to take a special care of its perfection.

At times, the body is somehow broken – Wolff speaks in a very literal manner of a cut in the continuity of a body, such as a wound is, but I think we need not follow him in this regard. Such a state of brokenness Wolff calls Schmertz, which would usually be translated as pain, but the word is truly unsuitable here: pain is a feeling, while Wolffian Schmertz is just a state of a body. Of course, this state is usually accompanied by a feeling of dislike, but only because the imperfection of the body is constantly there to remind us. If I had an ugly painting constantly in my field of vision, I would find the situation not just less uncomfortable, but also qualitatively different from a situation where I would be having a constant headache – the ugliness of painting would not concern me, but something external to me.

Wolff's account of pain has a further difficulty. If Wolff is right, I will always feel pain, when I am conscious of the imperfection of my body. Yet, there are cases where this is not true. For instance, I could know that I have a tumour somewhere in my body without having any pain to show for it. Wolff might answer to me by insisting that I would indeed have a sensation of pain in this case, but it would be of so small a magnitude that I would not be aware of it.

Still, Wolff's explanation fails to account for an experience familiar to all who have gone through dental surgery, that is, the anesthesia of one's mouth. When the anesthesia is working, you literally cannot feel any pain within your mouth – for instance, you might even bite your tongue accidentally, causing Wolffian pain, but feel nothing until the anesthesia stops working. In this example, the quantity of the supposed pain cannot just be very small, because then one would still have the possibility of enlarging the pain to a level of conscious awareness – but this very awareness of pain is prevented by the anesthesia.

So much for pain. Next time, we shall discuss affects.

maanantai 19. joulukuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on God, world, and human soul, furthermore, of all things in general - I just don't understand

I have already investigated Wolff's views on understanding in a series of texts based on his German logic. Hence, I shall ignore familiar details in Wolff's account of understanding in German metaphysics – such as the levels of clarity in concepts – and instead focus on presenting a general account of understanding in Wolff.

According to Wolff, the faculty of understanding is based on something more active than mere passive sensibility: the idea of an active understanding will be developed in more detail by Kant and the later German idealists. The particular activity Wolff is speaking of is the capacity of concentrating one's attention (Aufmerkung) to a certain thought: this thought will then become clearer than all the other current thoughts. In other words, we cannot decide that we are seeing a bunch of trees, a rock and an ant hill in front of us, but we can choose to ignore everything else and look at the anthill more carefully – or we can even forget all the information given to us by senses and recollect the football match of the previous night.

Through the capacity of changing and concentrating our attention, we can go through even an object with a complex and multifaceted structure (Wolff calls this ability überdenken). Then again, we can also recognise through our memory that a certain complex structure is something we have been earlier aware of. A thought of a general structure repeating itself in various situations is what Wolff calls concepts (Begriff). What Wolff is describing here is a process of abstraction: one compares different situations and notes they share some complex of characteristics and so one is able to think of the general notion of having such a complex.

As we might remember from Wolffian logic, distinct concepts are such that we can define, and when we think of something through a distinct concept, we understand it (verstehen): similarly, the capacity to think or cognise some possible thing through distinct concepts is understanding (Verstand). In other words, understanding uses the results of analysis in order to see what there might be. We may note in passing how this Wolffian notion of understanding as the capacity of using distinct concepts will be changed by later philosophers. For Kant, understanding becomes a source of certain concepts – namely, categories – while in Hegel, the understanding is finally the source for all concepts, that is, the very act of analysing and abstracting that creates all general concepts.

When the human understanding thinks or cognises a thing, it makes judgments. That is, the understanding represents the thing as having certain characteristics, although at the same time it is aware that the thing and its characteristics cannot be identified, because e.g. redness is something that is not restricted to berries. This rather awkward definition of judgement is essentially retained by later German philosophers.

Note how the capacity of judgment is here seen as a mere modification of the general capacity of understanding. Indeed, because the faculty of understanding is not the source, but the application of concepts with Wolff, it is natural to equate understanding with the capacity for making judgments. With Kant and the later German idealists the identification is not self-evident, because understanding is already a faculty for making concepts: in some cases they appear to follow Wolff, but in other cases they appear to distinguish judgement as a separate faculty.

The judgements are then mental processes, but they can also be translated into verbal form through use of words. Wolff undertakes an investigation of grammar that need not concern us. What is important, instead, is that Wolff distinguishes between what he calls intuitive (anschauende) and figurative (figürlich) cognition. This distinction is nearest Wolff comes to separating intuition and understanding. Still Wolffian distinction is not a distinction between constituents of experience, but more one between different types of experiences, in which different consituents preponderate.

In intuitive cognition one is thinking directly a thing appearing to our senses: this is what happens when we perceive or imagine things. Intuitive cognition is characteristically limited to individual things – we cannot see, for instance, a triangle in general, but only individiual triangles. In figurative cognition, on the other hand, we do not investigate things as such, but only signs referring to those things. The most common of these signs are probably words, but Wolff also recognises the importance of mathematical symbols. The figurative cognition is in a sense based on the intuitive knowledge, because the words and the symbols must refer to general characteristics of individual things. Yet, it is the figurative cognition that has more value for Wolff, because it allows us to cognise general structures.

The difference between sensation/intuitive cognition and understanding/figurative cognition is reproduced in a higher level in the difference between experience and reason (Vernunft), which were the two recognised sources of knowledge in the premodern philosophy. We have seen in an earlier text that Wolff was not a pure rationalist, and indeed, accepted as a valid source of knowledge the experience, that is, cognition based on perceptions and observation of mental processes (note that Wolff included both passive observations and active experiments under experiences). Experiences can tell us, Wolff suggests, that our concepts refer to possible structures (we know there can be flying machines, because we have seen them) and that certain connections between concepts or judgements are valid. Finally, because we can see that certain judgments are valid only in certain contexts where determinate conditions hold, experiences can provide information about causal connections.

The problem in taking experience as the only source of knowledge is that experience can only tell that something is the case. At best, experiences can be generalised through analogies of the sort ”this has happened before in these circumstances, hence, it must happen always in similar circumstances”. Yet, even such generalisations do not tell why something is the case. Explaining a truth means for Wolff connecting it to other truths in a systematic manner: we understand why e.g. apples fall toward Earth by seeing how it follows from more primordial truths of physics. Wolff begins the tradition of calling the capacity for such systematics reason – a tradition continued by Kant and the later German idealists.

Later German classics usually distinguished reason and understanding – either they thought, like Kant, that reason was emptier of content than understanding, or they disparaged understanding for its incapacity of reaching the level of reason, like Schelling. But for Wolff, reason is just another modification of understanding, just like capacity of judgment is. More precisely, reason is in Wolff a capacity for using formal deductions to connect judgements. Note that the connection between reason and reasoning or deduction is something German idealists also accepted, although the formalism of reason will be rather difficult to combine with the more substantial notion of reason in later German idealists. Hegel in fact went so far as to call the reason as formal reasoning the reason in the guise of understanding – we might call this a partial return to Wolff's original notion of reason as a species of understanding.

We might finally note that the reasoning in Wolff is not limited to mere Aristotelian syllogistic. One might remember from an earlier post that Wolff supposed judgements have different levels of certainty. Wolff also notes that reasoning might be applied not just to certain truths, but also to judgements of uncertain nature. Wolff is thus envisioning a logic of probabilities, whereby we could deduce e.g. from almost certain judgements other almost certain judgements.

The hierarchy of senses/intuition/perception, imagination and understanding/judgement/reason is something that is faithfully followed by later German philosophers and taken almost as a universal truth of human consciousness. Despite the seeming perfection of the threefold scheme, Wolff himself notes that the nature of the human soul might not be exhausted by it. Indeed, the scheme deals only with different types of thinking or consciousness. Then again, consciousness might be only an external criterion for recogning one as a human soul and it might not tell the whole story of the essence of the humans. Indeed, human affections, pleasures and pains are something that is not reducible to theoretical capacities of cognition. We shall investigate in next post what Wolff has to say about this other side of human soul.

keskiviikko 14. joulukuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on God, world, and human soul, furthermore, of all things in general - Imagine all the people

Thus far Wolff has mentioned a capacity of thinking oneself and a capacity of thinking other things that happen to affect one's body – the latter capacity we might call sensation or perception. These two capacities concern things which are truly present, but human beings have also the capacity of thinking something that is not present. Wolff calls this capacity Einbildung – word which is usually translated as imagination.

Whereas we would nowadays think of creating something novel as an epitome of imagination, for the early modern philosophy imagination was particularly a capacity for representing something that had been perceived or generally thought earlier. Thus, Spinoza explains imagination through the example of Paul thinking his friend Peter, although Peter is currently somewhere else. Later on, Kant and his followers would call this capacity reproductive imagination and separate it from productive imagination, which was required for constituting experience itself.

It is then no wonder that Wolff also connects Einbildung with memory (Gedächtnis). Memory is not then, according to Wolff, a capacity for thinking things that once were thought – this is already covered by imagination. Instead, the memory is left only with the task of recognising that a certain thought is something that has been thought before. Note that neither imagination nor memory need to concern just earlier sensations, but they can also reproduce all sorts of thoughts or conscious states.

Still, Wolffian Einbildung also includes the possibility of thinking something that has not been thought before: if nowhere else, this happens at least in dreams. This is still no Kantian productive imagination, because Wolff admits that at least the materials of these imaginations must derive from perceptions, that is, that the imaginations are mere recombinations of previous thoughts. The imaginations in general are thus always dependent on perceptions. Furthermore, the products of imagination are also weaker than direct perceptions. Thus, the Wolffian difference between perceptions and imaginations shares some similarities with the Humean difference between impressions and ideas.

Wolff distinguishes two possibilities of imagining new thoughts. Firstly, the imagined recombination of previous thoughts might be groundless, that is, something that could not be generated. This is what Wolff calls an empty imagination and it is exemplified by mythical notions like centaur, but also by fantastic notions of different types of artists. Wolff would probably include the utopian Lennon song mentioned in the title among the products of an empty imagination.

Then again, the combination might be based on the principle of sufficient reason, or in other words, we might know how to produce it. In this case, Wolff maintains, the combination has truth, and as we've seen before, Wolff means by truth actually order: in other words, such a combination is regulated. This is the highest point of beauty for Wolff – creativity that is controlled by rules. It seems no wonder that Wolff is especially presenting architecture as an example of true beauty (I have examined Wolff's attitude towards architecture in an earlier post). Wolff is pleased of a roof protecting us from the weather, because it is something we can truly make to happen, unlike dreams of love and peace.

In addition to architecture, Wolff assumes the controlled, but creative imagination is used in mathematics: we might not have seen a particular sort of curve, but we still know how to construct one, because we know its equation. In Wolff's time all known curves were undoubtedly such that could be constructed so easily. Yet, nowadays we are familiar also with curves that cannot be completely constructed, but which can only be approximated through a series of constructible curves: the desired curve is then defined as the limit of such series. If Wolff were consistent, he would probably have to consider such curves results of an empty imagination.

In any case, Wolff appears to think that if creative imagination is to be fruitful, it requires external control. Although the control is not assigned to any particular faculty, it is probably understanding (Verstand) Wolff is thinking. I shall consider this faculty next time.

tiistai 13. joulukuuta 2011

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on God, world, and human soul, furthermore, of all things in general - Observing oneself

After a short Cartesian detour on the certainty of our own existence, Wolffian metaphysics began from ontology – after all, one has to look at all things in general, before one can say something about any particular thing. While Wolff's choice of beginning appears almost inevitable, it is not as easy to decide where to continue. Even if one is to leave God last as the metaphysical object most remote from us, one must still determine whether to start from ourselves or from the world around us. Wolff's strategy is mixed: we do first start from ourselves, but then go on with the world and afterwards return to discuss our own nature. What is behind the reason to divide the treatment of human consciousness in two parts?

The study of human nature or soul – traditionally called psychology – was at the time of Christian Wolff actually divided into two subdisciplines, empirical and rational psychology. The subject matter of both disciplines was the same, but they were distinguished by the method used. Empirical psychology was based on experiences: it described e.g. what sort of capacities one could find through observing oneself. Rational psychology, on other hand, tried to go beyond experience by help of deductions. Wolff is apparently following this division: he is firstly listing all the characteristics of consciousness that are apparent from introspection, and only after a digression to the world does he discuss what we can deduce of human consciousness beyond mere experience.

The starting point of Wolff's empirical psychology is then the same Cartesian idea of thinking, with which the whole Wolffian metaphysics began. I have already remarked in an earlier post that by thinking Wolff refers to all processes in which human being is conscious of itself. Despite his Cartesian beginning, Wolff is quick to point out that human beings appear to be involved also in processes in which they are not conscious of themselves, in other words, that the human minds are not necessarily conscious all the time. A simple example is the state of dreamless sleep, where there is no trace of self-consciousness to be found at all.

Wolff makes quickly the distinction between two self-conscious states. In one type, we are conscious also of other things beyond ourselves. We have already seen that Wolff has characterised these other things as spatial and complex or as constituted by other things. Now Wolff adds that there is one particular thing that we are always conscious of, although it is spatial and complex – this is obviously our own body.

Wolff is thus at the outset accepting a dualism between consciousness and its body: body is something different from the consciousness, although consciousness is – at least according to our experience – constantly connected to it. The obvious problem in such a dualistic notion is that it ignores the centrality of the body for the consciousness and treats it like any material object whatsoever, although one we are constantly aware of. We shall see in a later text how this problem makes Wolff's theory of pleasure and pain difficult to accept.

The consciousness of external objects is in some cases connected to physical processes involving our body. For instance, when I hear the voice of a violin, vibrations produced by the playing of the violin reach my ear. Such a state of consciousness Wolff calls Empfindung, and as I have noted earlier, Wolff appears to include, in addition to sensations, also perceptions under this notion. Still, Wolff's Empfindung and the corresponding capacity of Sinnlichkeit are passive like the respective Kantian notions: consciousness cannot decide by itself what it will sense, when it looks upon something.

Wolff's apparent confusion is a fine example how unanalysed the pre-Kantian psychological notions seem when compared with Kantian classifications. Then again, while Kantian analyses might suggest the idea that e.g. we could have sensations that are not components in any perception, the seemingly careless style of Wolff never hides the necessary interconnectedness of such components – individual sensations are always just sensations of an object and thus components of perceptions.

In addition to other things, we are also conscious of ourselves. As confusing as Wolffian account of Empfindung is from a Kantian viewpoint, as confusing is his idea of self-consciousness. Kant himself divided our consciousness of ourselves into two aspects, roughly corresponding to aspects of our consciousness of other things. Firstly, we have an capacity of inner sense, which is like ”outer sense” in its passivity, and secondly, we have a more active transcendental apperception. Wolff, on the other hand, speaks simply of our self-consciousness without any consideration of a possible complexity of that notion.

What is more confusing is Wolff's reluctance to relate his account of self-consciousness to his notion of Empfindung. Wolffian sensation/perception is clearly connected to the human body, but a possibility of a similar relation between self-consciousness and body is not even mentioned. Undoubtedly Wolff's dualistic presuppositions are the primary reason preventing him of even conceiving this possibility, because he does not even try to argue against it.

Indeed, when Wolff himself accepts the idea that some sensations/perceptions might be so faint that we are not consciously aware of them, he could not have dismissed the corporeal nature of self-consciousness just on basis of not being aware of any bodily processes, when thinking ourselves. Furthermore, one might even argue with Hegel that internal processes of human being have in some cases clear bodily manifestations, for instance, in a headache we feel after a long spell of abstract thinking.

Wolff's incapability of explaining what observation of oneself involves is especially fatal, because the very possibility of empirical psychology is based on such a capacity of introspection. In fact, Wolff's study of empirical psychology consists of Wolff remarking how we can observe ourselves doing something and concluding that we have a capacity for doing such a thing. One might note, by the way, how this line of reasoning is dangerously close to interpreting the capacities as modules separable from the ”soul” having these capacities – something which Hegel was later to criticise.

No matter how dubious Wolff's method of empirical psychology then is, we should still investigate what capacities or faculties he finds within human mind: after all, the Wolffian psychological terminology will be shared by later German philosophers. I shall continue with this task in the next post, but for now I shall note an interesting point that Wolff appears to accept the possibility of quantifying the different faculties of human soul, somewhat like intelligence is nowadays quantified in the IQ score. Thus, Wolff speaks of several faculties having different grades: remember that by grade Wolff means a characteristic that is analogical to a spatial or numeric quantity (of course, these grades are not static, because a person can e.g. improve his capacity of remembering things). This possibility of quantifying human capacities will be important for Kant in an attempt to show why traditional proofs of the immortality of soul must fail – and later on Hegel will criticise the very same notion Kant uses.