sunnuntai 29. tammikuuta 2012

Christian Wolff: Reasonable thoughts on God, world, and human soul, furthermore, of all things in general - Soul as a force of representation

Last time we saw how Wolff denied the materiality and complexity of human soul. When we remember Wolff's twofold division of all things, we understand why he must assume soul to be a simple thing. Thus, all the characterisations of simple things fit also with souls: souls are essentially units of force and all the processes they undergo are based on this single force. The question is what sort of force a soul is.

Wolff's answer is that soul is a force for representing the world. Wolff's proof of his statement is rather circular. He can quite justifiably conclude that the soul has a capacity for representing the world, because it can sense the world and things in it. Yet, when Wolff then concludes that this force of representation is the essence of soul, because soul must have one force on which all the other characteristics are based, he ignores the possibility that the force of representation would be a mere modification of a more essential force of soul.

I suggested in a previous text that Wolff might be a precursor of German idealists, because he explicitly took activity to be the ontologically important characteristic of simple things and especially souls. But whereas German idealists like Fichte were willing to uphold concrete acting and the will behind it as the primary essence of human consciousness, Wolff decides to concentrate on the more dependent activity of representing.

True, Wolff does not consider representation to be a mere passive waiting for impressions of external things. Instead, representing is also an activity, somewhat like a painter who has to actively paint a likeness of her model. Yet, unlike action in the usual sense of the word, representation has to take its cue from the external things: it is not we who decide how the things should be shaped, but we shape ourselves to fit the things.

If Wolff’s suggestion is to be convincing, he will have to show how willing and desire can be explained through the activity of representation. Wolff’s simple solution is to state that representation of goodness equals willing or desire, that is, if we represent something as good, we at once are committed to making it happen: this commitment is will, if the representation is clear and distinct (i.e. well-defined), and sensuos desire, if the representation is obscure or even dark.

At first sight, Wolff’s suggestion appears rather farfetched. Suppose we have a lovesick boy who thinks that the object of his affection is the most desirable person in the whole wide world. Despite his devotion towards this person, the boy may still lack the initiative for suggesting a date, hence, the representation appears to still lack something contained by true active will. Still, we might consider the inactivity to be caused by an opposing fear of being ashamed: the activity that would in itself be instigated by the representation of the person as desirable would be nullified by a contrary representation. Thus, Wolff’s suggestion of representation as the essence of human consciousness has so far appeared reasonable: we shall see in the future, whether Fichte and others have more arguments against it.

One last thing that I shall discuss now is the question whether the soul really represents the world around it or whether it might fail to do so. Wolff seems to beg a question, when he bluntly says that because the force of representing world is the essence of the soul, it cannot fail to do this. Yet, Wolff appears to have a subtle point. If soul represents anything, then what we should call world is just that what is represented by the soul.

One should note that the soul might represent only a part of the world. Furthermore, the representation might still fail to be completely correct, or it might be a confused representation. The Wolffian world has only characteristics definable through the concepts of space and time. Yet, when the soul has a confused representation of such characteristics, it might sense colours, sounds etc., and if the confusion is strong, it might even have faulty sensations.

Still, the question remains whether the sensations and other states of soul might not be representations, but mere phantasma – then there would simply be no world to represent. The final nail against the idealist coffin is probably hit when Wolff discussed God and his relation to both the soul and the world. For now, he is satisfied to point out that idealism or the denial of the material world fails to follow the paradigm of finding a sufficient reason for everything. In Wolffian system change of sensations and perceptions is explained by corresponding changes in the world, but idealists cannot really explain satisfactorily why one perception is superseded by another.

So much for the soul and the world. Next time I shall discuss the relationship between the soul and the body.

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