sunnuntai 30. joulukuuta 2012

Johann Joachim Lange: Humble and detailed research of the false and corruptive philosophy in Wolffian metaphysical system on God, the world, and the men; and particularly of the so-called pre-established harmony of interaction between soul and body: as also in the morals based on such system: together with a historical preface on that what happened with its author in Halle: among treatises of many important matters, and with short check on remarks concerning duplicated doubts on Wolffian philosophy - Mind like a computer

Until now, Lange's criticism has touched Wolffian cosmology: Lange explicitly indicated that he would ignore ontology, because Daniel Strähler had earlier reviewed it thoroughly enough. Next in Lange's line of investigation is then psychology or the study of human soul. Lange's general line of attack is again to claim that Wolff tries to combine idealism and materialism with disastrous results. It takes no genius to guess that Lange is speaking of the topic of pre-established harmony between souls and bodies.

The idealistic feature of pre-established harmony lies in the complete independence of soul from body – bodies cannot affect soul in any manner. Lange points out some obvious incredulities in this notion: for instance, if nothing outside couldn't have affected me, I can't have learnt anything, but instead all my knowledge has mysteriously awakened within my soul.

The idealistic side of the pre-established harmony is only ridiculous in Lange's eyes, and it is the materialistic or deterministic side that Lange finds truly worrisome. Even though bodies cannot literally affect soul, the order of bodily events is mirrored in all details by the order of mental events. Now, because the bodily events occur in the deterministic material world, it appears that the changes in the soul must also be deterministic. True, soul would not be determined by external events, but it would still be internally determined by its own states.

Lange suggests that the determinism of soul is implicit already in Wolff's notion of the soul. Wolff thinks that the central element of soul is its force of representing external reality. Here Wolff clearly emphasizes the cognitive side of soul and especially mere passive cognition of the deterministic world outside human influence. What is then ignored is the volitional side of humans – there are no real choices, because human soul just follows automatically the course which has the weightiest motives. Human mind is just like a computer that has been programmed to strive for certain things, and given the situation, the mind will act in a way that will be beneficial for achieving those goals.

Similar faults Lange finds also in Wolff's notion of the infinite spirit or God, as we shall see next time.

keskiviikko 26. joulukuuta 2012

Johann Joachim Lange: Humble and detailed research of the false and corruptive philosophy in Wolffian metaphysical system on God, the world, and the men; and particularly of the so-called pre-established harmony of interaction between soul and body: as also in the morals based on such system: together with a historical preface on that what happened with its author in Halle: among treatises of many important matters, and with short check on remarks concerning duplicated doubts on Wolffian philosophy - Immaterial materialism

Wolff's deterministic view of the world is essentially a materialistic doctrine, Lange thinks: immaterial souls are free to act how they want and their existence should thus make the world indeterministic. Now, Wolff does admit the existence of souls without renouncing his determinism, and we shall see next time how Lange reacts to this strategy.

In addition to souls, Lange sees immaterialism playing a role already in Wolff's doctrine of world, particularly in latter's notion of simple substances, which Lange interprets as essentially identical with monads of Leibniz. This is yet another point where Wolff himself is truly ambiguous. On the one hand, Wolff does note the resemblance of his simple substances with Leibnizian monads and does say that the simple substances in a sense represent the world. On the other hand, Wolff prefers to speak of elements and explains that representing is here symbolizing the interconnectedness of all things, because elements are not literally conscious of anything.

Despite Wolff's skepticism of full monadology, his doctrine of elements does satisfy some of Lange's criteria for immaterialism or idealism. Material things, Lange says, should be spatial and thus should be e.g. infinitely divisible, while Wolffian elements are not spatial and definitely indivisible. Wolffian matter is thus based on immaterial things and is therefore a species of idealism, which Lange thinks is just as bad as materialism - Wolffian philosophy is then doubly bad, because it combines both idealism (in its doctrine of simple substances) and materialism (in its doctrine of deterministic world).

Lange is clearly advocating the Aristotelian idea of matter as a undifferentiated mass, which can be carved out into different shapes, but which does not consist of independently existing units. While Wolff does accept his own idea of matter without any proper justification, Lange is equally stubborn and just states the self-evidence of his views – matter just cannot consists of something that is not matter. Lange would probably have been horrified of the modern nuclear physics, which he would have had to condemn as even more immaterial – matter consists there mostly of void together with some small points without any determinate place.

Interestingly, Lange's criticism has thus far dealt with questions that were later made famous by Kantian antinomies. Lange believes that world had a specific beginning in time and thinks that Wolff supposed it to be eternal; he holds determinism to be broken by free actions of humans and God, while he assumes Wolff to deny true freedom; and he believes matter to be infinitely divisible, while Wolff supposed it to consist of indivisible substances. Strikingly, Lange's anachronistic answer to second antinomy was diametrically opposite to others, probably because the doctrine of indivisible substances was associated with notorious atomism.

So much for Lange's views on Wolffian cosmology, next time we'll see what he thinks of Wolffian psychology.

lauantai 22. joulukuuta 2012

Johann Joachim Lange: Humble and detailed research of the false and corruptive philosophy in Wolffian metaphysical system on God, the world, and the men; and particularly of the so-called pre-established harmony of interaction between soul and body: as also in the morals based on such system: together with a historical preface on that what happened with its author in Halle: among treatises of many important matters, and with short check on remarks concerning duplicated doubts on Wolffian philosophy - Stuck in a clockwork world

While Lange's interpretation of Wolff in the question of the eternity of the world was at best questionable, his view of Wolff and determinism is spot-on. Wolff does believe that world – that is, an entity containing all complex things – is governed by strict rules where the previous states of things determine the further states of the things, just like in a clock the current state of all the bits and pieces determines their next state.

Lange's fear is that the strict determinism of Wolffian world leaves no room for human freedom, or at least it deprives from soul the possibility to control its body – it is strictly speaking not I who lift my hand, but the movement of the material objects in the vicinity of the hand. And if my hand happens to strike body of a fellow soul – well, how could I be accused, because the movement of the hand was necessary and people cannot be punished for necessary actions. The judge could, of course, retort that it is just as necessary for his mouth to utter the condemning words, but still a lingering doubt is left – were truly all these actions necessary?

Wolff's strategy would probably be to deny the necessity of the world. After all, there are many different possible worlds that God could have chosen to actualize and it is in a sense contingent that he happened to pick out this world. Thus, it is not necessary that I hit my neighbour, because in another possible world I – or someone very similar to me – would not have stricken a man in similar circumstances.

Lange would be very unsatisfied with this answer, and it all comes to how to define modalities like necessity and contingency. Necessity Wolff speaks of Lange calls geometric necessity, probably thinking of Spinoza's geometric method – we might call it logical necessity. But it doesn't matter at all to us, whether something happens in another possible world or not. It is our own world we are interested of, and here everything happens deterministically, that is, all the future states are determined once the beginning has been given, without any possibility to actually change the course of nature. This is the sense in which Lange wants to speak of necessity – as the inevitability of events in the context of the actual world. The respective contingency would then not concern possibilities in another world, but indeterminacy of the actual world.

Lange can then conclude that Wolff is in this matter no better than Spinoza, who both rank as extreme materialists. Wolff is in a sense even worse, because he is also an extreme idealist. We shall see next time how this curious combination is possible.

keskiviikko 19. joulukuuta 2012

Johann Joachim Lange: Humble and detailed research of the false and corruptive philosophy in Wolffian metaphysical system on God, the world, and the men; and particularly of the so-called pre-established harmony of interaction between soul and body: as also in the morals based on such system: together with a historical preface on that what happened with its author in Halle: among treatises of many important matters, and with short check on remarks concerning duplicated doubts on Wolffian philosophy (1724)

C. D. Broad's Examination of McTaggart's philosophy is an example of how commentaries should be made. Broad goes painstakingly through all the details and intricacies of McTaggart's Nature of existence, notes all the different variations that e.g. a theory of time might have, considers fairly how McTaggart's own theory fairs and then suggests the alternative he favours. Broad attempts to read McTaggart's sometimes convoluted ideas in as clear and believable manner as possible, sometimes agreeing with him, other times not. Never is any statement of McTaggart discarded before an honest consideration of what he attempts to say.

Then there is the other type of commentary, where the opinions of the commented author are assumed beforehand, ambiguous phrases and passages are interpreted in the worst possible manner and generally the author is treated like a customer of Spanish inquisition. Lange's Bescheidene und ausführliche Entdeckung der falschen und schädlichen Philosophie in dem Wolffianischen Systemate Metaphysico von GOtt, der Welt, und dem Menschen; und insonderheit von der sogenannten harmonia praestabilita des commercii zwischen Seel und Leib: Wie auch in der auf solches Systema gegründeten Sitten-Lehre: Nebst einem historischen Vorbericht, von dem, was mit dem Herrn Auctore desselben in Halle vorgegangen: Unter Abhandelung vieler wichtigen Materien, und mit kurzer Abfertigung der Anmerckungen über ein gedoppeltes Bedencken von der Wolffianischen Philosophie: Nach den principiis der gesunden Vernunft falls into the latter category.

I cannot blame Lange for a lack of thoroughness. On the contrary, he has read through all of Wolff's major works published thus far and apparently even some not as significant publications, and has left only his logical work uncommented, because it doesn't significantly differ from other contemporary books of logic. Lange has even found time to read books of Wolff published in the same year as Lange's own title, such as the book on teleology, I've just dealt with. It is not even pretense of assuming axioms, which are far from evident that I find fault with. This is just Lange playing with Spinoza's geometric style, which is already familiar from an earlier work (Lange even makes fun of Wolff, because he fails to present his theories in such a format). What I found fault with was Lange's reading of Wolffian philosophy,

The very first ”theorem” of Lange suggests that Wolff held onto the eternity of the world. I found this rather surprising, because in reading Wolff I had received the diametrically opposed impression that Wolff thought world was not eternal. Problem lies with Wolff's ambiguity. On the one hand, Wolff makes some remarks that appear to suggest that all things are infinitely grounded on other things, that is, that there has been an infinite series of events leading to this particular moment of time. On the other hand, he also clearly states that world is contingent and contingency is equivalent with non-eternity of the world. We have then stumbled on a seeming contradiction in the Wolffian system.

Lange's strategy in avoiding the contradiction is to assume that Wolff is just trying to sneak in the assumption of the eternity of the world and only pay lip service to the idea of creation, thus making the hypothesis of a creator superfluous. I, on the contrary, try to take seriously Wolff's explicit commitment to the non-eternity of the world. True, the references to infinite grounding remain problematic, but I consider the meaning of these passages to be more uncertain. I can accept the idea that Wolff might have toyed with the idea of an eternal world, but left the question purposefully ambiguous. Furthermore, I might also assume that the infinite grounding means just the fact that any thing in Wolffian world is supposed to be in a necessary relation with all the other denizens of a spatially infinite world.

In addition to finding fault in Lange's interpretation of Wolff, I also question his assumption that the acceptance of an eternally existing world would necessarily lead to atheism. This conclusion holds only if the creation is supposed to happen with time, as the first event of the world. The assumption completely ignores the possibility that the creation happened outside time, which would still allow the eternity of the world. Lange's assumption makes God not just personal, but almost a worldly thing – God is like a lead programmer of an interactive netgaming world, who actively takes part in the events by using the powers of moderator. The supposedly Wolffian God, on the other hand, is like a programmer who knows he has done so good work that he never needs to do anything to improve it. This doesn't mean that this second type of God would be e.g. incapable of miracles – they would just be like preprogammed Easter eggs that bend the rules of the game when players stumbled onto right coordinates.

We'll continue with Lange's criticism on Wolffian cosmology with the notion of determinism.

keskiviikko 14. marraskuuta 2012

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on the purposes of natural things (1724)

16th of March, 1938. Two uniformed men are walking through Vienna. They knock on a door and ask the housekeeper to let them in. Noting the telltale swastika on their clothes, she refuses to let them in – her employer has Jewish roots. The arguments grows louder, but then a voice is heard above: ”Watch out!” Pedestrians quickly disperse, and the body of a scholar of Novalis, obese cabaret actor and dilettante historian hits ground. Egon Friedell has died.

This story, told in a preface for Friedell's magnum opus, the three-part cultural history of modern age, awoke my interest to the book itself in my youth. Friedell is not viewed as particularly reliable source these days, but his style is memorable. He was an enthusiastic admirer of such great philosophers like Leibniz, Hegel and especially Kant, and it was Friedell who particularly made me fall in love with classical German philosophy.

This is the stuff that stories are made of. Without his grim death, I might never have read Friedell's books, thus, I might never had dedicated myself to German idealism and this blog might have never existed. The events have a distinct end which makes sense of everything leading to it and in a sense even justifies all the grim details. Such a chain of events makes one ask whether it might have been planned all along.

Such considerations drive teleological explanations, which purport to explain what happens through what derived of it. Of course, one might always suggest that such explanations reflect more our expectations than anything in the world, but the criticism can be argued against through the very same means – if we believe that there are purposeful events, then we will probably see them everywhere, but if we believe that there are no purposeful events, then we will describe apparent purposeful events as mere coincidences, even if they would really be purposeful.

It is apparent that at least human behaviour involves purposiveness, and thus it becomes as no surprise that I chose to begin this text with a reference to Friedell - I had a distinct purpose in my mind, when I did this. As it happens, Friedell was also my first source on Christian Wolff, whom Friedell ridicules as a philosopher obsessed with teleology: night exists so that we can sleep and fish, but Moon exists so that it wouldn't be too dark even at night. So far I had not yet found any corroboration of Friedell's characterization, but the current book,Vernünfftige Gedancken von den Absichten der natürlichen Dingen, is especially a work dedicated to teleology.

Nowadays it is thought a sound scientific methodology to avoid teleological explanations and idea of natural purpose, and therefore a whole book dedicated to teleology will probably appear ridiculous. Yet, teleological explanations might not be completely unscientific. Witness, for instance, Aristotle's Physics, which contains a reference to an end as one sort of cause. What Aristotle means is that when things are left to their own devices, they tend to move toward certain stable condition – for instance, a rock falls to the ground, where it will rest. Thing in a stable condition might not be completely inactive, in so far as their activities are stable: Aristotelian examples of such stable actions include recurring movement of stars and ongoing processes of living organisms. All in all, Aristotelian teleology might involve then nothing else, but a supposition of the existence of such stable conditions of things.

Wolffian teleology cannot be reinterpreted in a similar manner, because the supposed end of e.g. metals lies not in their own nature, but in their various uses in human culture. Instead, Wolffian teleology is essentially a technological undertaking – Wolff describes how we can use metals to produce kitchenware, weapons, scientific instruments and so on. This is nothing but applied science, we could say.

What goes beyond applied science is the assumption that things in general are useful for technological purposes – this in an attitude justified by Wolff's metaphysical theory of gracious, wise and powerful God. What appeared particularly unconvincing to Friedell in this attitude was the idea that humans especially are the central beings whom all other things should serve – even all the stars in the sky exist only to help navigation.

This apparent anthropocentricity is explained by a metaphysical assumption of Wolff – every object contains in a sense the whole world in itself, in other words, an individual is so closely interconnected with the world around it that neither could exist without the other. Thus, in a sense we could take any object of the world as its central or most essential object. For instance, we could view Earth as the most important place in the whole universe, but for equally good reasons also Jupiter or an arbitrary planet in the Andromeda galaxy fit the bill. In other words all things are both means and final purposes.

This principle of a reciprocal purposefulness allows Wolff to enlarge our knowledge beyond what we can immediately experience. If all heavenly objects and their occupants are final purposes, these objects must have the necessary means for fulfilling the purposes of the occupants – they must have oceans, an atmosphere etc. This is a place where Wolff clearly breaks the limits of the acceptable use of teleology, and as the moon landings have shown, there are heavenly objects that are very inimical to life.

(Well, unless the stories of moon landings weren't just clever government tricks meant to confuse people. We might passingly note how all conspiracy theories resemble a sort of negative teleology – the conspiracy theorist believes that all negative events are the result of an evil person with almost divine capacities. No wonder one favorite Moriarty of at least Christian conspiracy theorists is the Devil, who is apparently out there to make us all atheists.)

Wolff does also admit a more substantial centrality in teleology. Inorganic objects exist only as tools for organic objects, and furthermore, irrational organisms exist only for the sake of rational beings – human beings are at least the most essential entities on Earth. The most crucial question is undoubtedly then what these rational entities are supposed to do. According to Wolff, the main aim of the rational entities is to witness the existence of God and particularly his goodness, wisdom and power – he has the will to create the best possible world, he knows what it's like and then just creates such a world. Like a small child, the omnipotent God requires an audience to praise his achievements, we might ironically say.

So much for teleology, next time we shall see whether Wolff's philosophy can hold on against a thorough attack.

tiistai 30. lokakuuta 2012

Ludwig Philipp Thümmig: Institutions of Wolffian philosophy provided for the use of academics, part 2 (1727?)

I noticed that in my investigation of the theoretical part of Thümmig's work I left out a crucial element, namely, the very structure of the science in question. A quick schematic is here:

Few words of explanation. Logic forms its own module in Wolffian philosophy. On the one hand, logic precedes all other sciences, because it introduces the very method used in all sciences. On the other hand, logic is clearly based on psychological considerations: to know how human cognition should work, we must know something about human cognitive powers. Because psychology is partly an empirical science, Wolffian logic, as described by Thümmig, must also have an empirical element.

The second module in the picture consists of metaphysics. Here the foundation of the whole lies in ontology, of which it is difficult to say whether it is empiricist of rational – remember the controversy about the principle of sufficient reason. On ontology are based both cosmology and psychology, first of which deals with the sum of all complex objects and second of which deals with one type of simple object or soul. Both cosmology and psychology also have empirical foundations. In addition to the ontological theory of complex objects, cosmology contains also the highest generalizations from physical laws, clearly based on observations. Even more clearly, psychology contains an empirical part, which the so-called rational psychology then tries to explain. Furthermore, rational psychology is also partially based on cosmology, because psychology must explain the supposed interaction of the soul with its body, a complex object. Finally, natural theology is based on both cosmology and psychology – for instance, the existence of God is deduced cosmologically from the existence of the world and the soul.

The final module of theoretical philosophy is then structured similarly as psychology. First, there is the so-called experimental philosophy, which contains results of the physical observations and experiments. The physics proper offers then a rational explanation for the content of the experimental philosophy , just as rational psychology was supposed to explanation of the results of empirical philosophy. Physics is also grounded on cosmology, which defines the most general laws governing the physical things.

If we finally move to Thümmig's vision of the practical philosophy of Wolffian school, we may firstly note how the practical philosophy is dependent on the theoretical philosophy – logic is used to show how human being should use their intellectual capacities, ontology to define the concept of goodness, psychology to show what humans are capable of and theology to determine how humans should take God into account.

In Wolff's writings practical philosophy was detailed in two writings, the one dealing with ethics and the other with civil philosophy, Thümmig's scheme makes it much clearer that the two disciplines are actually just two parts of one discipline. Indeed, the practical philosophy forms a more definite unity with Thümmig than theoretical philosophy:

The practical philosophy has then a general part, on which both of its major divisions are based. The aim of this general part is to establish natural law as the guiding principle of all good actions – all actions must aim towards perfection. The natural law is then divided into two different sublaws, depending on whether the actions involve only a single human being or whether they involve also interpersonal relations. In the former case, the natural law determines the obligation for an individual to perfect one's intellect, volition, body and external state, while in the second case natural law commands members of a community to make other members as happy as possible and the community in general as prosperous and tranquil as possible. The former aspect of natural law is then the foundation of moral philosophy or ethics, which is then nothing but a system of rules for making oneself perfect. The latter aspect, on the other hand, is the foundation of civil philosophy or politics, which is divided into two parts. The first part or economics deals with the prosperity of simple communities or households, while the second or politics proper, which is also based on economics, deals with the prosperity of communities consisting of households, that is, republics.

Thümmig has thus made two additions to the Wolffian practical philosophy: firstly, he has introduced the idea of a general practical philosophy, and secondly, he has divided the ethics and the politics into two parts, first of which investigates the primary goal of these disciplines and the second of which determined the practical measures for obtaining those goals. When it comes to details, Thümmig fails to make any substantial additions to what Wolff himself had said in his works on ethics and politics. This leads us naturally to the question of the role Thümmig played in the development of German philosophy. I shall endeavor to make similar concluding remarks on every philosopher, once I get to the last text I read from them.

The texts of Thümmig considered thus far have had little of lasting interest. In addition to Institutions, he has edited one collection of Wolffian articles and authored a book on scientific curiosities and an article defending Wolff's German metaphysics. Even the Institutions, which has been clearly the main publication of Thümmig, has been mostly a mere summarized translation of Wolff's works. Of course, Institutions still was important for the Wolffian school, because it presented the doctrine of the school for the very first time in the international language of the time.

Furthermore, it is clear that Wolff and at least other Wolffians took Thümmig seriously and referred to his writings various times. Indeed, it is just to be expected that a promising young philosopher follows for a time the writings of his mentor closely, before breaking into some truly new territory. Thümmig never really had the chance to break away from the shadow of Wolff, because he died rather young in 1728.

Still, in light of Thümmig's writings it is difficult to say whether he could have really changed the tone of Wolffian philosophy. He does introduce novelties, but these novelties are not so much reformations of Wolff's doctrines, but merely additions concerning issues Wolff had not discussed – think, for instance, of Thümmig's fascination with animal psychology. In contrast with later Wolffians, like Baumgarten, Thümmig is more like a person who applies a theory to new fields of investigation, while the later Wolffians sometimes even disputed the theory and the axioms on which it was based – not to mention Kant, who replaced even the methods and aims of philosophy.

So much for Thümmig, next time we shall find out the purpose of the world.

maanantai 15. lokakuuta 2012

Ludwig Philipp Thümmig: Institutions of the Wolffian philosophy provided for the use of academics - Do animals have souls?

Thümmig's psychology or theory of soul remains familiarly Wolffian in its main characteristics. Human soul certainly exists, Thümmig says, because we are conscious of many things and being conscious presupposes something that is conscious. Furthermore, this conscious being or soul cannot be material, because material or in general complex objects could not form a continuous unity out of its experiences. Thus, souls must be simple entities defined by their unique force or striving towards perfection.

Then again, Thümmig does not wish to dminish the role of body. On the contrary, he supports Leibnizian idea of a harmony between soul and body – changes in the soul are reflected in body and vice versa, because God has set the two to work in harmony, although neither has any true effect on the other. Thümmig's consideration of the doctrine bears an obvious resemblance to Bilfinger's discussion. As both works appeared in the same year, the reason for the similarity is probably to be found in discussions between the Wolffians. Particularly noteworthy is that both locate the bodily element corresponding to soul in brain.

Thümmig notes now that human brain is similar to brains of many animals. As the human brains are in a sense the physical manifestation of human soul, Thümmig suggests that animal brain is also a manifestation of a soul. In effect, Thümmig is advocating the idea that animals are also souled and therefore aware of their environment. This is important as the first opinion on the question of animal psychology in the Wolffian school.

Animals then have soul, but what sort of capacities are their soul is supposed to have? Animals do have sense organs, just like men – eyes, ears and noses. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that they are capable of having perceptual experiences – they can, for instance, have an experience of redness, when their eyes come in contact with red light.

The question of conceptual capacities of animals is more difficult. Thümmig states that concepts as such cannot be directly manifested in the brain. He apparently thinks that even perceptions occur in brain as some sort of physical images – picture of a rose is somehow imprinted on the mind. Now, instead of concepts, words referring to concepts might well be imprinted in this manner, which would explain what corresponds to thinking in human brains.

Thümmig takes it granted that animals do not usually have any language skills – even parrots do not really talk. Thus, no words as such are imprinted in the animal brains and therefore they cannot at least have abstract thoughts without any clear perceptual content. Thümmig is thus saying that animals do have sensations, but not concepts. As we have seen, in Wolffian philosophy the difference between sensations and concepts is one of degree: sensations are at best clear, while concepts might be more or less distinct cognitions. In other words, animals can distinguish e.g. apples from pears, but they cannot define what is it in apples that differentiates them from pears.

In Wolffian philosophy, reasoning was seen as an essentially conceptual process. Thus, Thümmig couldn't admit that animals had any capacity for reasoning. This appears strange, because animals appear to make inferences. For instance, if a dog smells a piece of food coming from under two boxes and it cannot find any food from one box, it appears to know that the smell originates from the other box – in this case the dog has apparently deduced from statements of the form ”p or q” and ”not p” the third statement ”q”. Thümmig solves the dilemma by introducing the idea of a reasonlike behaviour – a non-concpetual capacity analogous to reason is operating in the dog's mind. In other words, dog has instincts that simulate the conscious use of reason.

So much for animal psychology. Next time I'll be moving to the second part of the book.

sunnuntai 7. lokakuuta 2012

Ludwig Philipp Thümmig: Institutions of the Wolffian philosophy provided for the use of academics - Fully determinate individuals

The difference of individuals and universal properties has been recognized at least since the time of Aristotle. Indeed, it is obvious that the universal genus of horse is not an individual horse, although on some reading Plato had treated the genus just as one individual among others. Despite the familiarity of the distinction, it is quite hard to say what exactly differentiates universals from individuals.

Now, Thümmig suggests the rather curious definition that individuals are fully determinate in every way, while universals are still further determinable. The idea behind the strange definition is actually rather simple. Take some general class of things, such as vertebrates. Now, if we know that an animal is a vertebrate, we know something of it – at least that it has a vertebra. Still, many other characteristics of the said animal are completely undetermined by its being a vertebrate, for instance, whether it flies or not. Universal vertebrate is thus determined through this collection of properties shared by all vertebrates. This collection does still not determine any concrete individual, because a particular vertebrate has still some characteristics not included in the collection.

Similarly, all concrete individuals must be completely determined in respect of all possible characteristics (presumably there's an infinity of such possible characteristics). In other words, we cannot have an individual thing that would neither have a certain characteristic nor not have it: the individual must be determinately one or the other. Furthermore, nothing but a completed determination of possible characteristics could individuate a particular thing. One might object that it could still be possible that an individual is identifiable through some incomplete list of characteristics – for instance, George Washington can be plucked out from the rest of the humanity by him being the first president of United States, even if we didn't knew what he was called. But the objection forgets that in Wolffian philosophy we are allowed to look at other possible worlds. Thus, there could be another possible world where the first president of United States was a man called Thomas Jefferson, and the given description would not distinguish the two possible first presidents. Note that while an individual is determinate in all aspects, we might not be able to determine all its aspects.

Some universals and no individuals are then clearly indeterminate in some respect, but Thümmig's definition suggests also that all completely determinate things are individuals, but never universals. This is a far more uncertain proposition. Suppose for instance that we would know a particular rock and all its characteristics completely. Now, if we could then copy the rock and its exact characteristics, we would have two different individuals with the exactly same characteristics. In fact, the list of these characteristics would be completely determined - this was the presupposition - but it would also define a universal class containing several individuals (the two rocks).

Thümmig's definition thus clearly presupposes the idea that no two individuals could have a matching set of characteristics. This principle of the identity of indiscernibles originates actually from Leibniz, who according to a story once challenged courtiers to look for two exactly similar leaves just to prove the principle. Indeed, the principle might well be empirically sound, but as the thought experiment shows, it shouldn't be really accepted as an incontestable axiom of pure reason – and certainly it should not be hidden within a definition. Still, Thümmig's mistake is small when compared to what Baumgarten later did with the same notions – more on this later.

Next time we shall look on animal psychology.

perjantai 5. lokakuuta 2012

Ludwig Philipp Thümmig: Institutions of the Wolffian philosophy provided for the use of academics (1723)

In the development of a theory there becomes a time, when the ambiguities of academic research become distilled in the succinct form of a text book. In the development of Wolffian philosophy this distillation occurred with Thümmig's Institutiones philosophiae Wolfianae in usus academicos adornatae. The book appeared in two parts, firs of which dealt with the theoretical part of Wolff's philosophy – it covers issues dealt in Wolff's logical, metaphysical and physical works.

Summarising an intricate philosophical work is undoubtedly an achievement in itself, but one might wonder how original it can be. Then again, Thümmig's work was not completely without its novelties. While Wolff himself had written his main works thus far in German, Thümmig wrote in Latin, making Wolffian philosophy so available for an international audience. Indeed, many of the Latin terms used for concepts of Wolffian philosophy – e.g. ontologia – are fixed for the first time in Thümmig's work.

An interesting example of a terminological novelty is the notion of infinite judgements. In Wolff's logic judgements are divided into affirmative and negative judgements (respectively, ”A is B” and ”A isn't B”). Now, Thümmig mentions also a third possibility, where the form of the judgement is affirmative, but the predicate is negative (i.e. ”A is not-B”). The notion of infinite judgement was to be important later on, because it allowed Kant to classify judgements in triplets according to their quality (more of this when we reach Critique of pure reason.)

Now, it is undoubtedly questionable whether these terminological novelties were truly Thümmig's own inventions: the notion of ontology had appeared even before Wolffians used it and I suspect that same is true with the idea of an infinite judgement. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether Thümmig was really the first Wolffian to use these terms. A year later Wolff noted in a preface to a work on teleology that Thümmig's works were essentially faithful representations of Wolff's own doctrine. This makes one suspect that Wolff himself had already used the terminology in his lectures and private correspondences and Thümmig had merely wrote down what Wolff had said.

Whomever the real innovator is, Thümmig's book does contain in addition to terminological novelties also some substantial additions to and reworkings of Wolff's original writings. I shall discuss few of them in later blog texts, but for now I shall concentrate on the question of what was the ideal of science in Wolffian school.

Ever since Leibniz the field of truths had been divided into truths based on the laws of logic and truths based on empirical facts. Following this division, Thümmig speaks of a priori and a posteriori cognitions. The terminology is interesting. At least since Kant, philosophers have been accustomed to speak of a posterior cognition, based on experience, and a priori cognition, not based on experience. Now, this hasn't been the case always. Originally, a priori referred to reasoning that derived effects from their causes, while a posteriori reasoning referred to the opposite method of deriving causes from effects. I am sure that someone has already investigated the topic, but it would be interesting to know when exactly the two terms changed their meaning – certainly it happened then before Kant.

For Thümmig, a posteriori cognition was based in experience, while a priori cognition was based something called pure reasoning. Experience was the epitome of intuitive cognition that required a direct intuition of things. Judgements based immediately on intuitions concerned always individual things, and experience was a sort of generalization from intuitive judgements. The transition was possible, because at least the predicates of intuitive judgments were general and therefore even they had something to do with generalities. Thus, by knowing properties shared by many individuals we could discover empirical laws connecting certain general properties.

Pure reasoning, on the other hand, was the high point of symbolic cognition, which used words or other symbols to stand for things themselves. Reasoning in general had to do with making discursive judgements, that is, judgements deduced from other judgements by means of syllogisms. Reasoning was pure, when among the starting points of deduction there was no intuitive judgement, but everything was based on mere definitions and self-evident axioms.

As it was common at the time, Thümmig characterized mathematics as the primary example of a priori cognition – both Hume and Leibniz would have agreed that mathematics was based on self-evident axioms. We have seen that Rüdiger had criticized such an idea, because at least geometry appeared to have an intuitive aspect. Kant in a sense struck a compromise between the two positions, because on his opinion mathematics is both a priori and intuitive – here Kant had obviously changed the meaning of a priori and intuitive.

A primary example of a posteriori science is for Thümmig physics. Although Wolff and Wolffians were mistakenly thought to disparage empirical matters, we can immediately see that over half of Thümmig's book is dedicated to physical and hence empirical questions.

A more intriguing problem is where in the classification metaphysics should be situated. We have seen that Wolff at least apparently tried to axiomatize at least a major portion of metaphysics: everything begins from the self-evident principle of non-contradiction, while even the crucial principle of sufficient reason is supposedly deduced from it.

Thümmig, on the other hand, does not even mention this deduction. Instead, he emphasizes the justification that Wolff had barely mentioned – the principle of sufficient reason is required so that we can distinguish between a dream and reality. Thümmig thus apparently bases the main principle of metaphysics on an empirical proposition.

Does that make Thümmig's version of Wolffian metaphysics then a posteriori? Not necessarily. The possibility to distinguish dreams and reality is in a sense a necessary presupposition of even having experiences. We might hence interpret the justification as transcendental – metaphysics would then be synthetic a priori in the Kantian sense.

Next time I'll be looking at Thümmig's metaphysics in a more detail.

maanantai 24. syyskuuta 2012

Georg Bernhard Bilfinger: The harmony between human soul and body, altogether pre-established, out of the mind of illustrious Leibniz, hypothetically studied (1723)

It is no wonder if you don't remember Bilfinger, because the first work I read from him was short, immemorable and not very original. Although Bilfinger won't get any points for originality this time either, at least the topic is of a more general interest. Like the name says, De harmonia animi et corporis humani, maxime praestabilita, ex mente illustris Leibnitii, commentatio hypothetica aims to examine the theory of the pre-established harmony. Leibniz himself had spoke of harmony between all substances whatsoever, but Bilfinger here concentrates on the particular case of souls and bodies. Bilfinger follows here the example of Wolff, who had already had some reservations on the full Leibnizian theory of monads.

Bilfinger starts from ths established fact that bodies and souls do work in harmony. When an object is brought in front of my eyes, I experience usually a visual sensation corresponding to the object. Similarly, when I have a volition of moving my hand, the hand in fact moves. Thus, the causal series governing bodies and causal series governing souls reflect themselves partially.

Bilfinger considers quickly the possibility that at least one of the series would consist of necessary processes. For instance, Spinoza thought that the series of both bodily and mental events followed necessarily from the eternal essence of God. Bilfinger disregards this option, because the two series do not seem necessary – I could have walked somewhere else etc.

Bilfinger suggests there are only three possible ways to explain the harmony between the two contingent series. Firstly, there could be true causal influx between the two series – this is the common sense explanation. As Bilfinger notes, the influx theory goes against certain assumption of modern science. Observations appear to show that material objects retain the quantity of their motion, unless they interact with other material objects – they either share some of their quantity of motion with others or receive some quantity from others. Because soul doesn't move, it cannot impart motion to material objects, not even to its own body, and cannot thus make the body do anything.

Descartes' stance on the issue was ambiguous. He did accept the physical fact of the stable quantity of motion, but suggested that the soul might still change the direction of movement of the body or some part of it. By the time of Leibniz, it had become evident that this solution would not do – material objects retained also the direction of their motion, unless the direction was changed by the force of other material objects.

The Cartesian school had then slowly turned towards a new explanation. They suggested that whenever body appeared to do something to soul or vice versa, God on this occasion decided to interfere in the causal chain and connect the movement of the body with the respective change in the soul and the change in soul with the respective movement of body. This occasionalism had the setback that it appeared to break the ideas of modern science even more than causal influx. If occasionalism were right, there would be no true causal regularities, but everything would depend on the will of God, who would be constantly making miracles to sustain his creation.

Leibnizian solution is then that God has preordained souls and bodies to work in harmony, like two clocks that a perfect watchmaker has winded up show always the same time. Bilfinger notes that the thesis of pre-established harmony has justification enough in the fact that all other options fail to meet the standards of modern science. Still, he also notes that the harmony becomes an immediate corollary if we just accept other aspects of Leibnizian metaphysics – if souls are monads representing everything and especially the group of monads that constitutes its body, then the representing soul and represented body necessarily work in harmony.

All the previous is pretty straightforward summarising of Leibniz's thoughts. More original are Bilfinger's attempts to answer objections presented against the theory. A good representative of those objections come from Pierre Bayle, the skeptical encyclopedist. Bayle had accused Leibniz that his theory leads to materialism, because he must assume that bodies can run their own course, without any guidance of souls – my body could be writing these apparently reasonable words without me being aware of it. Bilfinger notes that even such complex phenomena like the movement of the planets can happen without any governing soul. Furthermore, he emphasizes that the world still isn't necessary substance of Spinoza, because it has been created by God. Finally, the independence of material world still wouldn't lead to a denial of souls, because mere material things couldn't represent anything – here Bilfinger is following Wolff.

Bayle had also ridiculed the notion of a causal series of the changes of soul. Bayle compared monads with atoms and assumed that monads would also be governed by similar iron laws. Furthermore, he wondered how sudden changes in the experiences of soul could arise, for instance, how could such complex phenomenon like music suddenly appear in our minds. Bilfinger emphasizes the importance of obscure representations in the life of a soul. These obscure sensations make our experiences so varied and thus differentiate monads from simple, featureless atoms. They also help us to understand sudden changes in our mental life. These changes have built up gradually, but only through unaware representations. Only when a certain threshold had been passed will the symphony start to play in our minds.

Even more interesting are Bilfinger's attempt to answer objections he has heard from his own acquaintances. For instance, Bilfinger has to explain why sickness of the body limits also the capacities of soul. Bilfinger notes that this is just natural – because soul is in harmony with the body, the soul sure must follow what the body does and act confused, when the body is ailing. Furthermore, Bilfinger explains that the sequence of ideas in soul must correspond to some movements in brain, which are capable of producing movements of body that appear rational. In effect, theory of pre-established harmony could be reconciled with the idea of human actions being dependent on brain.

So much for pre-established harmony. Next time we'll begin a summary of Wolffian philosophy.

sunnuntai 23. syyskuuta 2012

Daniel Strähler: Test of the reasonable thoughts of Mr. Court-Councillor Wolff concerning God, world and soul of men, also all things in general, in which the deductions of Mr. Author are examined, their incorrectness shown, their errors brought to daylight, and both the metaphysical and the connected moral truths set in better light (1722) and Ludwig Philipp Thümmig: An impartial sentiment of a lover of worldy wisdom concerning D. Strähler's Test of the reasonable thoughts of Mr. Court-Councillor Wolff concerning God, world and soul of men (1723)

Philosophical disputes tend to be dirty. You are allowed to misunderstand your opponent and in ambiguous cases always choose the most ridiculous way to read the text. In fact, you can just make a simple straw man as your punching bag and pretend it is your opponent. Because your opponent is allowed to act in an identical manner, philosophical disputes rarely have any winners – or more precisely, they have two winners, at least if we listen to the disputants.

These unwritten rules of philosophical dispute are well exemplified by Daniel Strähler's criticism of Wolff's German metaphysics, Prüfung der vernünftigen Gedancken des Herrn Hoff-Rath Wolffes von Gott, der Welt, und der Seele des Menschen, auch allen Dingen überhaupt, des Herrn Autoris Schlüsse examiniret, die Unrichtigkeiten derselben gezeiget, dessen Irrthümer an den Tag geleget und die Metaphysische ingleichen die damit verknüpfte moralischen Wahrheiten in grösseres Licht gesezet werden and Ludwig Thümmig's criticism of Strähler's criticism, Eines Liebhabers der Weltweissheit unpartheyisches Sentiment von M. Daniel Strählers Prüfung der Gedancken des Herrn Hoff-Rath Wolffens von Gott, der welt und der Seeles des Menschen. As you can see, the gentlemen hardly required any abstracts, when even their titles were a mouthful.

Work of Thümmig we have already met, but Strähler is a new acquaintance. Actually this will probably be the last time when we'll hear of him, as he was more of a mathematician than a philosopher, although he did comment on the fashionable topic of Wolffian philosophy also after this text. In fact, the text in hand deals only with the ontological parts of German metaphysics, while the further parts of Wolff's book were covered in a later publication.

As if sometimes the case in philosophy, none of the disputants disagree about the correct results – Wolff, Strähler and Thümmig all appear to hold e.g. that God exists and has created the souls and the material world, with which the soul is in some sort of contact. Instead, it is the justification of these positions on which the disputes arise.

Many issues that Strähler points out in his criticism concern the definitions used by Wolff. For instance, Strähler notices that Wolff's definition of space as the order of simultaneously existing things is far from satisfactory. For instance, Strähler notes, if I have a shelf full of disordered books, the books will still take space, and in fact, even more space than if they were well ordered.

Strähler's criticism hinges, of course, on the question of what do we mean by order, as Thümmig also notes – it is not the common sense meaning used in sentences like ”he kept the house in good order” that is meant, but a more abstract idea whereby e.g. numbers are ordered according to their size. Investigators of physics, such as Leibniz and Huygens, had defined order in a precise mathematical manner, which enabled them to discuss space in terms of relations between material objects. Thümmig even suggests that Strähler is not much of a mathematician, when he cannot follow such methodology.

If Strähler's criticism is often just nitpicking, Thümmig's countercriticism is usually no better. Thus, Thümmig recurrently notes that Strähler's own preferred definitions are nothing but definitions, because they merely repeat what should be defined in synonymous terms – for instance, changeable is something that can changed but this does not really define anything.

Sometimes such nitpicking does point out crucial errors. For instance, when Strähler criticises Wolff for justifying the principle of sufficient reason by deriving an erroneous proposition from its negation, because one could as well derive true proposions from the same negation, Thümmig is quite right to point out that Strähler has confused a valid and an invalid argument form – that is, while from ”not-p → q” and ”not-q” it is valid to derive ”p”, we cannot use ”not-p → r” and ”r” to derive ”not-p”.

On the other hand, when Strähler notes that Wolff fails to distinguish between real and ideal division of things, he appears to note the very fault I have already commented in the Wolffian theory of substances – i.e. that things might well be potentially divisible into an infinite number of potential parts and still actually undivided and simple, just like in Aristotelian physics. Thümmig fails to comprehend Strähler's point here, because he confuses Strähler's distinction with the related distinction of merely thought and concrete division. Thus, Thümmig identifies Strähler's ideal division with the case of an actually indivisible thing that could be divided in thought – a classic physical atom that still takes up space.

At other times, the disputes seem like mere quibbles of words, for instance, when Strähler accuses Wolff of not distinguishing between ideal or mathematical and real or physical space and Thümmig retorts by noting that Wolff is doing ontology and thus naturally is interested only of the real space. A similar dispute over words occurs when Strähler remarks how the Wolffian definition of substance covers only finite substances and thus assumes either the non-existence or finity of God, and Thümmig answers by insisting that this is only a question of presentation – at this point of Wolff's discourse we are aware only of finite substances, so we might as well leave them out of the definition of substance – and furthermore, emphasises the complete disparity between finite and infinite things – Thümmig even thinks that Strähler himself finitises God by placing him in the same class with finite entities.

In such questions it seems obvious that both Strähler and Thümmig have begun from a presupposition that the target of their criticism is wrong – and then they have just tried to find any evidence for this presupposition. Strähler has assumed that Wolff must be an atheist or at least a bungler, while Thümmig has been convinced of Wolff's ingenuity and thus of Strähler's idiocy, and these preconceptions have coloured their reading.

From a more neutral viewpoint one clearly sees that such preconceptions are often obstacles for true dialogue. Strähler could have admitted that at least Wolff's intensions were not atheistic, and if Wolff's arguments appear not to support such conclusions, then perhaps Strähler had misunderstood Wolff's definitions. Similarly, Thümmig could have noted that Strähler had been right at least in noting a possible way to misunderstand Wolff – that is, in noting insufficiencies and ambiguities in Wolff's theory.

Next time we'll continue with philosophical disputes, and this time we are particularly interested of the question of pre-established harmony.

tiistai 14. elokuuta 2012

Johann Joachim Lange: Reasons for God and natural religion against atheism, and, all those who produce, or promote, ancient or recent pseudophilosophy, especially Stoicism and Spinozism, and principles of genuine true philosophy entwined with demonstrative method (1723)

1723 was a turning point in Christian Wolff's career. Until then, he had spent relatively uneventful life as a professor in the university of Halle, writing immensely popular text books on nearly everything. In the conservative atmosphere of German philosophy, Wolff's philosophy was not universally appreciated, and accusations of atheist tendencies were made by his pietist competitors – rather unexpected of a philosopher who had dedicated a significant portion of his major work to God.

Slander is one thing, but the rumours were starting to worry Friedrich Wilhelm I, the king of Prussia. King was a collector, not of stamps or coins, but of big men, which were conscripted by king's officers, by hook or by crook. Story goes that king Friedrich Wilhem was rather worried about the supposed fatalism of Wolff's philosophy. If all events followed strict necessity, the men in king's collection would not be accountable for what they did – especially if they happened to desert the army. Fearing of the fate of his personal toys, if such terrible ideas would spread, king promptly decided to dismantle Wolff's professorship. Fortunately Wolff quickly landed on a new position at the university of Marburg.

The controversy around Wolff's philosophy continued for a while, and it is on this context that we have to evaluate Johann Joachim Lange's breathtakingly titled Caussa Dei et religionis naturalis adversus atheismum, et, quae eum gignit, aut promovet, pseudophilosophiam veterum et recentiorum, praesertim Stoicam et Spinozianam, e genuinis verae philosophia principiis methodo demonstrativa adserta. We have already met Lange's pietistically oriented philosophy and his attitudes towards atheism should come as no surprise – atheism is wrong, contradictory and against morality.

The dislike of Spinoza and his geometrical method was a common theme for more religious thinkers. Indeed, Lange begins by explicitly noting that the use of mathematical method without any guidance might lead one to atheism – if one did not listen to the warnings of common sense, one could stubbornly follow a train of thought leading to absurd conclusions. One can detect a clear sarcasm in Lange's choice of presenting the book in the very same geometrical style of definitions, axioms and propositions to be proved – particularly as some of the axioms and postulates he chooses are later proven as propositions. This is not a foundationalist attempt of building the whole edifice on an unshakable basis, but a coherentist attempt to show how all the jigsaw pieces fit in to form a larger picture.

The structure of the book is thus twofold. First, Lange moves from certain common sense assumptions to the existence of God. Here the mediating link is provided by the notorious cosmological proof. But Lange is not satisfied to use it once, but repeats the same form over and over again with different topics. A soul of the human being cannot be material, thus, it must have been fashioned by God, but the same goes for human body and the whole human race, and indeed, the whole material universe, which just cannot be grounded in nothing.

The pivotal point in the deductions is human liberty. Lange's cosmological proofs that apply to material universe hinge on the results of empirical science and the supposed finite age of the Earth, but the proofs concerning human soul are based on the inshakeable conviction that human soul is free and able to control matter and therefore is irreducible to mere matter. Furthermore, the assumption of human liberty is also behind Lange's improved Cartesian proof. While Descartes used the presence of the idea of God in human mind as a justification of God's existence, Lange tries to deintellectualise this argument – human mind is primarily will and not cognition, but because in our will we have an impulse to know God, this impulse must come from a higher source.

Secondly, Lange then uses the supposedly established existence of God as a justification of further propositions, which include also the fact of human liberty – one of the supposed axioms of Lange. Lange's proof of human liberty hinges on God's role as a judge that will evaluate the worth of every human being. Lange points out that such evaluation would be meaningless, unless the evaluated persons have a liberty to choose their own actions – thus, God must have created human beings as free agents.

It is obvious that human liberty is then crucial to Lange. Without it most of the proofs for God's existence would fall down – or at least they wouldn't lead to a sort of God that Lange is looking for, but to a fatalistic world soul. Indeed, it appears that when Lange is attacking atheism, his true target is the deterministic and mechanistic worldview of new philosophy. Human liberty is the highest ground of human existence and those who dare to deny it are miserable people, because they contradict the natural certainty of their own freedom. The topic of human liberty is also where Lange's grudge against Wolffian philosophy becomes clear. Wolff's endorsement of Leibnizian pre-established harmony breaks the required connection between the soul and the body: soul only appears to control body, which is actually moving according to its own laws.

One could even say that the battle against atheism has always been a battle for human liberty. Nowadays hardcore atheists feel great pleasure in pointing out faults in creation science. Yet, the kernel of a religion is not constituted by any dogmas, but by rituals and cults. Denial of God appears to leave no room for an objective meaning of life and hence deprives world of all magic. Even pantheism is suspected, because it reeks of closet atheism.

So much for Lange, next time I'll take a look at a philosophical dispute for the first time in this blog.

maanantai 30. heinäkuuta 2012

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on the effects of nature (1723) and Ludwig Philipp Thümmig: Attempt to most thoroughly clarify the most remarkable incidents in nature, whereby one will be lead to the deepest understanding of them (1723)

Baroque Cycle of Neal Stephenson contains a lovely scene portraying a typical meeting of the Royal Society. A number of curios and weird phenomena are presented to the audience without any regulated order – one members tells a story of fying fishes living in some oceans, another describes a neat trick with a vacuum pump, while third has just developed differential calculus.

Although such a motley of topics seems chaotic, it reveals what has truly captivated the hearts of men for science – it is the extraordinary that interests us. Consideration of curiosities has for long been a part of science – there is even a pseudo-Aristotelian book Problems, which is nothing more than a collection of what the author considered weird and proposed explanations for these dilemmas. Nowadays weird has been used for good measure in popularisation of science – for instance, in the show Mythbusters dealing with such age-old problems as whether cars truly explode when driven off cliffs.

Versuch einer gründlichen Erläuterung der merckwürdigsten Begebenheiten in der Natur, wodurch man zur innersten Erkenntnis derselben geführet wird is a similar collection of curios, written by Ludvig Philip Thümmig, whom we have already met as an editor of a book of Wolffian essays. Here we finally see some of Thümmig's own work, as he ponders such scientific problems as why a boy sees everything double, why animals with two bodies combined are sometimes born, why some trees grow from their leaves and why does gravity work in different grades across the globe – Thümmig's solution to this question convinced at least his mentor Wolff, who mentions it in his own book on natural science, Vernünfftige Gedancken von den Würckungen der Natur, which is also the second book I am considering this time.

While Thümmig's book is a haphazard motley, Wolff does not fail to give us a work with systematically arranged topics. Here Wolff is once again just following a far older tradition. The nameless collector of the works of Aristotle arranged his books on nature in the following order: first came books on the general principles of natural world, then followed books on the cosmos in general and the heavens in particular, after which came books on atmospheric phenomena and earthly objects, while the story finished with books on living nature. This formal scheme was so well thought out that even Hegel essentially followed it in his own philosophy of nature. Thus, it is no wonder that Wolff himself applied this often used model of natural science.

In his natural science or physics Wolff is quite reliant on empirical information and rarely wonders from presenting the conclusions of the science of his time. One exception where Wolff's physics comes in contact with his metaphysics is the description of animal sensation, where Wolff reminds us of the Leibnizian idea of pre-established harmony: while human bodies go through certain changes in their sensory organs, their souls have corresponding sensations, although bodies and souls do not interact with one another.

A more detailed crossing of physics and metaphysics occurs in the very beginning of the work, in the description of the physical objects as complex substances. An important conclusion of this definition is according to Wolff that all the properties of the complex should be derived from the properties of its constituents and the spatiotemporal structure according to which these constituents have been combined - I have called this the lego-block view of the world. Although seemingly innocent, endorsing this view leads Wolff to some substantial consequences.

Observations suggest that there are some peculiar properties that are difficult to explain through mere spatiotemporal structure of things – for instance, the characteristic of objects gravitating toward the nearest big collection of matter or the property of warmth. Now, if these characteristics are not explainable through the spatiotemporal form of the bodies, it must be explained through the constituents of them – that is, there must be types of matter that cause gravitation or warmth.

The assumption of special matters was not a peculiarity of Wolff, but a common occurence at the time, and even Hegel commented on this habit of scientists. One just saw a peculiar phenomenon – certain kinds of metal attract or repel one another – which was explained by assuming a new type of matter, in this case magnetic matter. While the notion of caloric or heat matter and similar properties as matters sound rather quaint, we should not assume that such reification of properties is non-existent nowadays. One just has to open a book on particle physics to learn about photons or particles of electro-magnetism, glueons or the particles holding the nucleus of atoms together and perhaps even gravitons causing gravitation.

Physicists may well have good reasons for such reification in these cases, but taken to its extremes it will lead to the philosophical theory of tropes – all general properties are actually individual things, like this redness, this sweetness, this roundness. The individual things are then just mere conglomerate of these tropes – for instance, the three tropes of particular sweetness, redness and roundness combine to form a particular strawberry.

The setback of trope theories is that it is difficult to see how all properties could be reified. For instance, do not the tropes themselves have properties, such as being a trope? Is this then supposed to be yet another trope? Furthermore, a trope theorist has difficulties explaining how to account of our thinking about universals. Redness of this particular strawberry should in trope theory be completely different from redness of this particular flag – how can then we describe both of them as red? If we suppose that the two tropes are connected by being similar in some manner, we face yet another dilemma – isn't the similarity yet another property?

So much for the physics of Wolffians. Next time I shall discuss the first of many atheism controversies to come.

keskiviikko 11. heinäkuuta 2012

Andreas Rüdiger: True and false sense - Sensational mathematics

I have often wondered where Kant got the idea of dividing judgments into analytic and synthetic, analytic referring to judgments where the content of the predicate was included in the content of the subject and synthetic referring then obviously to judgements where this inclusion did not hold. It's not any difficulty in the definitions I am speaking of, but of the nomenclature that would have in Kant's days reminded the reader of two different methods of reasoning, analysis and synthesis.

Originally analysis and synthesis were used by Greek geometers as referring to processes that mirrored one another. In analysis, one assumed that the required conclusion – proposition to be proved or a figure to be constructed – was already known or in existence. One then had to go through the conditions of this conclusion in order to find self-evident principles on which the conclusion could be based.

If analysis moved from conclusions to premisses, the synthesis moved the other way. One began from some principles already assumed or demonstrated to be true and from methods that one already knew how to use, and from these principles and methods set out to prove some new theorem or to draw a new sort of figure.

A certain step in the evolution of the mathematical methods into Kantian judgement types is symbolised by Rüdiger's notion of analysis and synthesis. Just like in the tradition, Rüdiger uses analysis for a method moving from consequences to principles behind them. Yet, he also calls such method judicial and separates it from synthetic method, which he describes as invention. That is, analysis does not produce any new information, just like in Kant's analytic judgement predicate does not reveal anything that wouldn't already be in the subject. Instead, analysis merely determines whether a given proposition is clearly true or at least probable.

Rüdiger's account of synthesis or invention of new and informative truths includes even more aberrations from the traditional account. For Rüdiger, synthesis might involve also mere probable conclusions that are based on the correspondence of various sensations – for instance, by seeing that a certain effect follows always from certain conditions, we may conclude that a new occurence of similar conditions would probably lead to similar effects. Here we see Rüdiger's empiricist leanings, but he does not restrict synthesis to mere empirical generalisations – in addition he also accepts necessary demonstrations.

Rüdiger divides demonstrations into three classes, according to three components required for thinking. One type is based on the verbal form of thinking and grammar: for instance, we deduce from the statement that Jane hit Mary the related statement that Mary was hit by Jane. The second type contains various forms of reasoning, such as traditional syllogisms, but the common element Rüdiger suggests is that all of them are based on the relations of ideas – we might name these forms logical.

By far the most interesting is the third type of reasoning, the mathematical. Leibniz and Wolff had thought that mathematics was based on inevitable axioms and even empiricists like Hume grouped mathematics with logical reasoning. Rüdiger, on the other hand, clearly separates logic and mathematics. Logical reasoning is based on the relations of ideas, while mathematics is based on the sensuous element of thinking.

Rüdiger's position shares some interesting similarities with Kant's ideas on mathematics. Both Kant and Rüdiger are convinced that mathematics are not mere logic, but synthetic or inventive. True, Kant speaks of mathematics as based on intuitions, while Rüdiger speaks of sensations, but this might not be as great a difference as it first seems. Rüdigerian concept of sensation is clearly more extensive than Kant's and would probably include also what Kant called pure intuitions. Indeed, Rüdiger also separates mathematical reasoning from mere empirical generalisations – mathematical truths are not mere probabilities.

The reason behind Rüdiger's desire to separate mathematics from logic is also of interest. Once again Spinoza is the devil that one wants to excommunicate. Spinoza's Ethics is supposedly philosophy in a mathematical form, but Rüdiger notes that this is intrinsically impossible. Mathematics can rely on certain sensations, when it constructs its definitions and divisions – it can tell that triangle is a meaningful concept, because it can draw triangles. Philosophy, on other hand, does not have a similar possibility for infallibly finding sensations for its concepts – a very Kantian thought.

So much for Rüdiger this time. Next time we are back with Wolffian philosophy.

lauantai 30. kesäkuuta 2012

Andreas Rüdiger: True and false sense (1722)

Books on methodology appear to have been a popular choice for philosophers wanting to make their fortune. We have already seen Wolff's Leibnizian take on the topic and also Lange's more Cartesian version. My previous encounter with Andreas Rüdiger and his rather outdated book on physics, with a quaint notion of air, aether and spirit as the fundamental elements, didn't make me expect much. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rudiger had some intruiging novelties in store with his approach to methodology.

Although Rüdiger's two books have markedly different topics, they both share common enemies. Rudiger's philosophy is clearly anti-Aristotelian, which wasn't strange at the beginning of 18th century. What is more, it is also anti-Cartesian. The best indication of this in methodology is Rüdiger's denial of any inherent or inborn ideas. Rüdiger is clearly inspired by Lockean criticism in this respect – different cultures have different ideas, and thus we can expect none of those ideas to be inborn. Hence, all ideas – and ultimately, all forms of cognition – should be such that they can be reduced to sensations: they should be combinations of sensory ideas, abstractions from them etc.

Rüdiger's Lockean leanings form an interesting contrast with the work of Lange, the other thus far met Thomasian. As we have seen, Lange attempted to base a pietist philosophy on the Cartesian fundament of a clear cogito. Rüdiger shies away from all things Cartesian, because Descartes' mechanistic tendencies point almost inevitably towards Spinozan pantheism and perhaps also because it is hard to reconcile Cartesian scientism with a devout religious outlook. English empiricists, on the other hand, were not so clearly scientists, and like Hume would do later for Jacobi, Locke offered Rüdiger a good basis for religious statements.

Rüdiger's Christian tendencies modify Lockean philosophy in an interesting manner. On basis of his physical writings Rüdiger notes that animals in general appear to have inborn ideas – at least they manage to do things instinctually or without any training. Rüdiger concludes then that humans should also by nature have inborn ideas, although experience tells us that they do not. This discrepancy is conveniently explained by the biblical tale of fall: humans were supposed to have inborn ideas, but due to their corrupted state, their connection with these ideas has been sundered.

Another modification of empiricism concerns the clarity of ideas, which in general should on Rüdiger's opinion be based on the connection of the ideas with sensations – the more sensuous content we can give to an idea, the clearer it will be. Such empiricist criterion of clearness is obviously meant to weed out confusing philosophical ideas – if it is not clear, discard it. The only exception is provided by Christian mysteries, such as trinity, because they apparently point out the inevitable finity and imperfection of human cognition – they show boundaries humans at least in the present life cannot break.

The idea of boundaries of human cognition shares some affinities with later Kantian philosophy, and even more similarities with Kant we can see in Rüdiger's ideas on mathematics, which I shall investigate next time.

maanantai 18. kesäkuuta 2012

Barthold Heinrich Brockes: Earthly delight in God, consisting of various poems taken from nature and ethics, together with an addendum containing some relevant translations of French fables of Mr. de la Motte (1721)

At the very beginning of my blog I expressly noted that I should avoid works of fiction and poetry, because I felt I would have little to say about such manners. Yet, I also admitted that in some case I surely had to do it, if the thinker in question had written mainly fictional works – no matter how inconsequential the thinker might seem.

Barthold Heinrich Brockes is probably not the most important German thinker of his time. He was educated in the Thomasian school of philosophy, but unlike the other Thomasians we have met so far, he wasn't an ardent enemy of Wolffians. Instead, Brockes could be best described as a thinker of Aufklärung, or German enlightenment, and hence, his inclusion in the blog broadens our view of German philosophical culture in early 18th century.

When one hears of enlightenment, one is bound to think of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and others rather radical thinkers, who at least influenced the later revolutionists in France. But the German enlightenment was never so radical and most of the times it was never as critical of church as French enlighteners were. Instead, German enlightenment was all about the education of mankind – and in this case, education was meant to include also moral instruction. We have already seen such tendencies in Wolff, particularly in his insistence that all art must serve the use of upholding morality in state.

Now, the work of Brockes is almost a paradigmatic example of Wolff's suggestion. Brockes was known as a translator, and even the book Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott bestehend in verschiedenen aus der natur und Sitten-Lehre hergenommenen Gedichten, nebst einem Anhange etlicher hieher gehörigen Uebersetzungen von Hrn. de la Motte Französisch. Fabeln contains, as the title says, translations of few French fables. Furthermore, Brockes himself was a poet, and the book I have been reading now is also a book of poetry.

Brockes' place in the history of German literature is far from glorious, which one wouldn't believe from reading the preface that praises the talents of Brockes both as a translator and as a poet. What is interesting is the explanation what makes Brockes a poet among poets. Apparently the author has not only the imagination required for creating dazzling images, but also the understanding required for making his poems well ordered and something more than just incomprehensible mess. This interplay of imagination and understanding was more generally held to be a precondition of good poetry and art. Something similar can be seen even seen in Kant's notion of beauty as caused by the free play of faculties, although there it is more about experiencing than creating beauty.

I shall briefly describe one exemplary piece of this poet-to-be. The poem with the ominous title ”the world” begins with the image of people watching the world, as it were, through the wrong end of the telescope: everything looks much smaller than it really is. For instance, a businessman sees nothing but profits and losses, while a doctor sees nothing else but illness and cures. Even philosopher fairs badly, because he sees nothing else but planets circling around the sun – Brockes is probably thinking of works like Newton's natural philosophy. Among these failed attempts to understand the world, there is one who does it right – the dreamer who sees God in all phenomena of nature.

This exemplary poem shows already Brockes' fascination with nature. Most of his poems simply describe some natural event, like the awakening of animals in spring, thunderstorm or sun. But nature is not described in these poems as an entity deserving an independent account. Instead, the worth of all these events is that they reveal the power of God – the nature is a piece of art and behind this art there must be some artist.

In a sense, Brockes' poetry is nothing more than constant use of teleological argumentation deducing from the perfection of natural objects the existence of their creator. Yet, it is not any arguments, but the sentiment behind this statement that is important. To find perfection in the colour of grass and in rain falling from the sky, and not just any perfection, but a feeling of divine serenity and splendour – this is what Brockes is trying to convey. The enjoyment of nature was even an international phenomenon during 18th century, and in Germany it finally culminated with the pantheistic tendencies of romantic school, in which God and nature were often regarded as opposed, but still related poles.

One may feel that such a pantheistic appreciation of nature is far from theistic delight with nature, yet, at least this underlying feeling of the divinity of natur is shared by both alike. For a pantheist the splendour of nature is a part of the nature, while for a theist the perfection must originate somewhere beyond nature. The official credo at the time was theistic, both in Wolffian and Thomasian schools, latter of which will be my topic next time.

keskiviikko 30. toukokuuta 2012

Ludwig Philipp Th'ummig: Varied essays and rare arguments, collected in one volume (1727)

When we speak of a Wolffian school, it is not just Christian Wolff himself we are thinking of, but a whole parade of more minor figures who in some sense continued the work of their masters. The 1720s appear to be the earliest point at which we can speak of Wolffians as a recognizable philosophical movement. I have already discussed a dissertation of one Wolffian, Bilfinger, that appeared 1722, and the topic of the current post, Meletemata varii et rarioris argumenti in unum volumen collecta, contains dissertations and essays published during 1720s.

Although the name does not reveal it, the continuous references to the works of the illustrious Wolff suggest that the writers are hard core Wolffians. Most of the contributors are quite minor names in the school and apparently did not even publish anything after their dissertation, so I'll skip introducing them. The only exception is the editor of the collection, Ludvig Philip Thümmig, a faithful follower of Wolff.

What I am mostly interested in this collection is the range of different topics discussed, which reflects well the multifarious nature of Wolff's philosophy. A considerable number of the essays concern natural or mathematical sciences, which was the original research field of Wolff and which he still continued to study even when he had already started his famous series on reasonable thoughts on nearly everything – even at this time Wolff published a series called Allerhand nützliche Versuche (All sorts of useful studies), which dealt with such important problems as how we can weigh objects or use a thermometer. The pupils of Wolff appear to have been interested at least of biology (there's an essay on how to study leaves), but especially of astronomy and ”things happening up in the sky”, like propagation of light.

It is not just physics that interested pupils of Wolff, but there are also more philosophical essays that concern all the four Rational thoughts we have encountered thus far. There's a logical discourse on the necessary and contingent concepts, which also has ontological consequences – the writer argues how Wolffian distinction between absolute and conditional necessity discredits Spinoza's idea that the world is necessary, because the existence of the world is not impossible, but depends on the free choice of God. This writing is the first sign thus far of the looming threat of Spinozan pantheism – we have more to say on the matter in a couple of decades.

Furthermore, the collection contains a metaphysical study of the immortality of soul – or more likely, it is an advertisement of the Wolffian proof, which is based on the simplicity of the soul and the supposed impossibility of a material basis of thinking. The only novelty in the essay appears to be the author's idea that the life of soul consists of a clarification of its ideas: the newborn child has only confused ideas, but the soul of a dead person sees everything distinctly. Despite its unoriginality, the essay shows well the appreciation of Wolff's rational psychology in contemporary Germany. Indeed, I think that Kant's theory of paralogisms is primarily targeted towards Wolffian ideas.

Morality is also topic of an essay, which analyses the notion of sincerity. A considerable portion of the essay is dedicated to defending Wolff's ideas of China as an atheist and still a moral nation – an issue that will surface often in the writings of 1720s.

Wolffian politics is not forgotten, although this essasy covers also architectural ideas. The author follows Wolff's suggestion that the needs of a comunnity determine what is good art. The outcome of the argument is that the Wolffian writings on architecture fulfill this criterion of good art perfectly.

It is this final tendency of subjugating art to the moral upbringing of people that will be the topic of my next post, where I'll discuss my first piece of fiction.