lauantai 16. marraskuuta 2013

Mr. Christian Wolff's opinion on the essence of soul and spirit in general; and Dr. Andreas Rüdiger's opposing opinion (1727)

We could say that Neoplatonists like Proclus and Simplicius with their studies of Plato and Aristotle were the latest possible point at which the use of commentary as a philosophical tool was introduced. During the Middle Ages the success of commentaries was obvious and one could even say that the modern indiscriminate use of references in articles resembles a form of commentary.

We have already seen a philosophical commentary, in which Lange presented a number of passages ripped out of their context from Wolff's writings and then criticized what he thought was meant in those passages. A more faithful reading of Wolff is presented by Andreas Rüdiger, a follower of Christian Thomasius we have met a few times before, in his work Herrn Christian Wolffens Meinung von dem Wesen der Seele und eines Geistes überhaupt: und D. Andreas Rüdigers Gegen-Meinung. Rüdiger gives his reader not just isolated passages, but a whole text of Wolff's rational psychology from the German metaphysics, and leaves his own opinions to a preface and footnotes.

As the name of the work belies, Rüdiger belongs to Wolff's critics, not to his followers. Some of what Rüdiger has to say is clearly based on confusions already dealt by Wolff. For instance, when Rüdiger complains that regarding soul as consisting of a mere force of representing the world would deprive it of all the complexity of its characteristics, such as freedom of its will, we could just point out to Wolff's answer that the force of representation is not meant to be all of what soul is, but only a convenient point from which to deduce all the characteristics of soul.

This does not mean that Rüdiger's criticism is wholly based on confusion. For instance, Rüdiger asks how Wolff can suppose there's an essential difference between souls of humans and of animals, when the difference is based on nothing more than the degree of clarity in their representations. Indeed, he continues, we cannot even say in earnest that animals have less clear experience of things, when their sensory apparatus is sometimes far subtler than ours.

What is probably the most crucial point is the already discussed uneasy synthesis of the notions of the pre-established harmony and the freedom of will. The pre-established harmony is explained by pointing out that even two clocks can show same time without any causal interference, but the problem is how a free agent and a deterministic mechanism could follow the exactly same course of actions. Yes, neither of these series is necessary, but still in one series the later events are determined by the previous events. The problem is exaggerated by Wolff's suggestion that in soul all events are grounded on previous events, just like in the material world: how could one not think of Wolffian soul as a sort of automaton after this?

The problem lies, as Rüdiger points out, in Wolff's notion of ground that combines quite distinct types of relations. Material causes are grounds, but so are human motives (Rüdiger adds animal movements as a group distinct from these two). True, causes and motives do share some characteristics, but they appear to have also crucial differences: cause produces always certain effect necessarily, while motive requires still the will of a person to become reality, that is, while there is not motiveless action, motive does not necessarily lead to action. This distinction is one that Wolff himself noted and he has made it quite clear that he believes in human freedom in choosing what motive to follow. Furthermore, his willingness to distance himself from the pre-established harmony might show a certain skepticism of this theory.

What is remarkable in Rüdiger's book is his willingness to actually suggest an alternative solution to the problem of soul/body-interaction, while earlier critics had just expressed their faith on the possibility of said interaction. Rüdiger notes, firstly, that the matter/soul-distinction can be understood in two separate ways. Firstly, there is the Aristotelian distinction between matter and form, where soul is stated to be one type of form. Aristotelian matter, Rüdiger says, means just substrate (that which is) of a form, which then is the force or activity of the matter (what it does) – thus, form or soul of a living thing consists just of living and its other essential activities. Clearly, such a soul cannot exist without corresponding matter or substrate, and the distinction is more conceptual than ontological.

Still, this does not mean that we could not separate an independent spiritual substance from an independent material substance, and this is what e.g. Descartes did – there is an entity, Descartes said, that is conscious of itself and its own body and various other things, but is still separable from the spatial body. What Rüdiger finds troubling is the identification of spatiality as the distinct characteristic of material substances. Instead, he claims that all created substances must occupy space – and this he thinks is the key to the problem of soul/body-interaction. Soul is not antispatial, but occupies space and even has extension, even if it doesn't act like material substance and exclude other entities from a certain place: thus, a body and a soul can share the same space and also interact with one another, even if this interaction is not like interaction of material substances. What Rüdiger has in mind is then a sort of astral body floating around the crass physical body, and soul is then identified either with this more spiritual body, or in the Aristotelian manner, with its activities.

This seems like a good place to turn to consider Rüdiger's philosophy in general, as the book here will be his last seen in this blog. Of all the philosophers considered thus far, I think I have done least justice to Rüdiger. Partially this has been caused by difficulties in tracking down his works, but most of the blame must be put on my original inability to recognize his independence of the more pietist side of Thomasian legacy, embodied in Lange.

Sure, Rüdiger does have his antiscientist streak, evident best in his vitalistic physics, which cannot but feel quaint nowadays – just look at his theory of soul. Then again, even here Rüdiger is just part of general progression, following Paracelcian influences inherent in German thought and anticipating ideas of Schellingian philosophy of nature. Furthermore, Rüdiger is not speaking from the standpoint of a mystic, but of a practicing doctor, with considerable empirical information.

Still, the most lasting legacy of Rüdiger lies in his methodological considerations on the differences of mathematical and philosophical thinking and on his criticism of Wolffian notion of ground. Both topics were later on picked up by Kant, and the connection is probably not just accidental. Kant has in both cases been influenced by Crucius who had been taught by a person called Hoffman, who was a follower of Rüdiger. I shall see in a couple of years whether Hoffman considered these topics, but for now, I shall leave this school of philosophy and start to consider eloquence.

tiistai 13. elokuuta 2013

Thoughts over philosophical bigotry, whereby at the same time is sufficiently answered what the so-called J. F. Müller from Württemberg or more likely Mr. Court Counsillor Wolff in the published writing True medium etc. etc. has argued against author's Eleatic graves, and against his system new and incontrovertible doubts are made (1727)

I have literally no idea who the current author, Johann Gottfried Walther, is supposed to be: the only person with that name from the 18th century I have managed to discover was a musician. Of course, it could be possible that an organist might want to dabble with philosophy in his spare time, but it still feels rather peculiar.

As far as I know, Walther published only two philosophical texts, first one in 1724, titled Eleatische Gräber, oder Gründliche Untersuchung der Leibnitsischen und Wolffischen Gründe der Welt-Weißheit, which was meant to, as the title indicates, criticize Wolffian philosophy. This work had the pleasure of awakening the interest of J. F. Müller, a minor Wolffian, who wrote a defense of Wolff against it. Finally, Walther answered Müller with Gedancken über die philosophische Bigotterie, wobey zugleich auf dasjenige, was der so genante J. F. Müller aus Würtemberg, oder vielmerh der Herr Hof-Rath Wolff in der herausgegebenen Schrift Wahres Mittel etc. etc. wider dessen Eleatische Gräber eingewandt, zureichend geantwortet wird, und wider dessen Systema neue und umstößige Zweiffel gemachet werden.

The reason why I chose to write about this rather obscure work is that it shows much better style and philosophical acumen than other critiques of Wolffian philosophy I have met thus far. The nominal topic of the essay is bigotry: Walther portrays Wolffians as philosophical zealots, mindlessly following their leader who has contaminated their head with mumbo-jumbo.

In a truly original manner Walther compares Wolff's philosophy with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. A superficial reason for this comparison lies in the supposition that both works combine factual statements with pure fiction. Yet, Walther has a more substantial analogue in his mind. Walther thinks that Crusoe's deserted island where the castaway manages to live by his own is as convincing as the solitary state of a human soul supposedly cut away from any real connection with other souls. And just like the interaction of Crusoe and Friday is at first made impossible by a language barrier, so is the interaction of soul and body denied apparently by Wolff.

Walther did understand that Wolff later downplayed the idea of pre-established harmony, but this just made him more convinced that Wolff was a devious fraud wanting to deceive his followers. It is remarkable that Walther found only this single issue not to his tastes and would have admitted the whole of Wolffian philosophy otherwise. He was also singularly aware of the reason why Wolffians adopted the pre-established harmony, namely, because laws of mechanics appeared to deny change of motion coming out of thin air. Walther understood the reason, but couldn't care less: if the interaction between soul and body contradict with laws of mechanics, so much worse for the laws.

Furthermore, Walther was not just satisfied with showing his disgust, but also had a good argument against Wolffian position. It is a reasonable assumption that the incapacity of human soul to control its body lies in the essence of the soul: spiritual beings just cannot have causal interactions with material beings. Then again, Wolff's system relies on God as the creator of everything there is, including the material world. Yet, God is obviously spiritual being also and thus essentially incapable of doing anything for the material objects, let alone creating them.

Walther's argument appeared already in the Eleatische Gräber, and it was answered in turn by Müller. The answer relies clearly on Christian assumptions. Müller suggests that there is nothing essential in spiritual substances that would prevent them from controlling material substances. Then again, in this particular world human souls appear to have no effect on bodies, so this must be just an accidental thing: current world is just built in such a manner that souls cannot interfere with it.

Müller's answer feels unconvincing, if you don't buy in the idea of creation or don't believe in afterlife. Yet, it has its own difficulties, even if you do. Walther points out that Müller's suggestion would make human souls in their current condition unfree, because they would be prevented of doing something that they would naturally be capable of. Thus, God would have made human unfree, when he created the world – a rather peculiar result in a Christian setting.

Next time we shall see another critic of Wolffian philosophy.

tiistai 6. elokuuta 2013

Speech about Chinese practical philosophy, recited in solemn panegyric (1726) and New anatomy or analytical idea of Wolffian metaphysical system (1726)

I have already mentioned the lecture ofChinese philosophy held by Christian Wolff and explained the rather drastic consequences of this lecture, namely, the accusations of atheism and the expulsion from hisposition. What is still left is to actually describe the lecture itself. While it was held in 1721, written versions of it appeared only few years afterwards. I am especially interested of a version that was published in 1726, called simply Oratio de sinarum philosophia practica, in solemni panegyri recitata, because in this version Wolff had annotated his original speech and thus explained his ideas further.

The lecture itself holds no surprises after reading Bilfinger's more detailed presentation of the topic. Wolff notes that while form of the Confucianism differs from modern moral philosophy – Confucius uses examples, where Europeans would have preferred deductions, and rituals form a large part of moral education – but essentially emphasizes the commonalities. For instance, Confucius divided human being into two parts – sensuousness and reason – and advised one to subjugate senses to guidance of reason, because this is what made human beings perfect and led to tranquility, just like states were happier if governed by wise men. Furthermore, Confucius suggested we should use external glory as an incentive for moral progression: one had more motive to be e.g. kind to other people, if kindness was something that the community thought worthwhile and commendable.

What especially the annotations show is Wolff's wish to downplay the possible atheist leanings in Chinese philosophy. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, it is rather difficult to say whether Confucianism endorsed the idea of a personal god or merely just the existence of an impersonal force. Wolff appears to speak for the more theist interpretation of Confucius or at least he attempts to argue for its plausibility.

A completely opposite view of Confucianism is suggested in Lange's Nova anatome, seu idea analytica systematis metaphysici Wolfiani. The work is actually a collection of Lange's texts, and a large part of it contains a more summarized version of Lange's earlier works attacking Wolffianism. Thus, we see Lange again criticizing Wolff for combining ridiculous idealism with at least equally ridiculous materialism through the Leibnizian notion of pre-established harmony. Lange has clearly just ignored Wolff's many explanations of these questions, so the result is a somewhat skewed view of them. Lange has still read at least Bilfinger's summary of Wolffian metaphysics: for instance, he dismisses Bilfinger's notion of hypothetical necessity, as far too deterministic to form any getaway road.

While these parts of the work feel hence fairly repetitive, Lange also takes some time to attack Wolff's lecture with its annotations. Some of the criticism is rather amusing, for instance, Lange attacks the legends meant to justify the longevity of Chinese wisdom by noting that some of the people involved apparently lived, when the world and China with it was covered by deluge according to the biblical story.

Lange's main complaint about Confucianism is rather predictable. He is convinced that Chinese have no divinity and at times appears to identify Confucianism even with the dreaded Spinozism. No wonder he is outraged when Wolff casually compares Confucius and Mohammed with Moses and even Jesus – a known atheist and a heretic put on the same level with a holy prophet, and even worse, with the son of God.

All in all, there's only one serious piece of criticism against the ethical theories of Confucius and Wolff, namely, that both use glory and ambition as an incentive for moral behaviour. Even here, Lange's argument misses the point. True, it is not truly ethical to do good deeds only because you desire the fame and reputation of a benevolent person – after all, this would leave the possibility that you acted mischievously in cases where no one could ever know. Still, glory and ambition might well be used as tools for educating moral behaviour, and indeed, this is what we do when we thank and praise children for their good behaviour.

So much for Confucius, next time we shall see how Wolff's metaphysics resembles the tale of Robinson Crusoe.

sunnuntai 4. elokuuta 2013

Philosophical commentary on the origin and acceptance of evil, especially moral evil (1724)

A considerable problem for most theistic systems is presented by the question of theodicy. God is usually portrayed as infinitely benevolent person who wishes good for everyone. Furthermore, he is also thought to be omnipotent or capable of anything possible. Given these premises, it would seem a necessity that God would eradicate world of all evil. Yet, the world is clearly full of evil things, and not just minor evils, like the pain that I got when my toe hit a stone, but also evil of major proportions, such as earthquakes and wars. These considerations thus present a challenge for anyone accepting the existence of omnipotent and benevolent deity.

Bilfinger considers the problem in the section of Dilucidationes concerning natural theology, but he had also dedicated for it earlier a whole treatise, De origine et permissione mali, praecipue moralis, commentatio philosophica. While apparently only about this particular question, Bilfinger takes considerable time defining and explicating all concepts involved in the problem and thus goes through a significant portion of other metaphysical issues. Thus, it is no wonder that central concepts for solving this problem are actually physical or psychological: causation and letting things happen.

Of the two concepts, causation appears easier to understand: if A does something that makes B happen, then A has caused B, that is, if my pressing the trigger leads to the death of the person, the pressing was the cause of the death and I am thus to be blamed. Being a cause of something then requires a) that the cause was active in causing something and b) that without this activity that which was caused wouldn't have happened.

Letting or allowing things to happen is then, in a sense, a concept contrasting with the concept of causation. The crucial difference lies in the clause a), which in this case would say that the allowing factor was in a sense passive or did not act in some manner. Furthermore, the clause b) would be otherwise identical, but instead of activity, the lack of activity is the crucial element required for the event. Thus, if I don't push a person away when she is about to be hit by a rock, I could be said to have allowed the rock to hit the person.

Now, it is clear that the notion of allowing something to happen is meaningful only from the perspective of conscious agents, who can be said to have considered whether to act or not. Thus, we wouldn't say that an immovable stone allowed a robbery to happen by not dropping onto the head of the robber, because stones usually don't have any say in how they happen to be moved.

An intriguing question, especially from the viewpoint of ethics and justice, is whether allowing something to happen should have the same status as causation. In one sense, causation is something more: I am punished by law, if I actively make bad things happen, but not if I allow them to happen with my own passivity. Thus, it is no wonder that Bilfinger adopts this distinction as a partial explanation of the problem of evil. That is, he argues that we couldn't blame God for all the evil in the world, because he hasn't really caused it, but merely admitted it within the world.

Bilfinger's justification might still not completely satisfy us. After all, we do sometimes reproach people also for not doing things, especially if they are very powerful and would have had the capacity to prevent some extreme evil to happen: politicians who do nothing for things such as pollution and poverty fall to this category. It appears preposterous to suppose that God Almighty could get away from all guilt merely by saying that he had nothing to do with the evil in the world, he just watched it unfold.

Bilfinger thus must also have recourse to the Leibnizian idea that God has chosen the optimally good of all possible worlds. Whatever evil there is, it should be just a necessary ingredient of and condition for ultimate goodness – and if we could see things from God's viewpoint, we could immediately see how all the seeming evil falls into a greater pattern of goodness.

What then is the real cause of evil, if not God? Ultimately, Bilfinger says, it all comes down to the finiteness or imperfection of the world and its denizens: only God can be perfect, so all things outside him might possibly lead to some evil consequences. God cannot be faulted for their imperfections, because imperfection is in their nature. Instead, God merely gave these finite substances actuality, which is positive in itself.

A particular source of evil Bilfinger emphasizes is free will: because humans and other conscious beings are imperfect, but free to choose their own fates, they might e.g. make their egoistic desires into maxims guiding their action. Evil following from perverted use of free will Bilfinger calls moral, distinguishing it from general metaphysical evil associated with finity and from physical evil.

The most problematic is Bilfinger's account of physical evil: if a stone falls on my head and kills me, I cannot blame the stone, because it had no choice in the matter. Some responsibility obviously lies with free agents: if I get angry to a person and drop a stone on him, it is my fault and not stone's. In these cases physical evil is just a consequence of moral evil, but it appears that a fair portion of physical evil is not of this kind: witness, for instance, earth quakes. True, we could suppose that there is an evil supernatural entity behind all such phenomena, but this seems overly complicated. Bilfinger himself adopts a different defense: physical evil that has not been caused by actions of a morally evil person is probably God's punishment for immoral life. Although this notion is consistent, I find it rather barbaric that a God would have to unleash earthquakes and volcanoes for punishing criminals.

So much for Bilfinger, next time I shall return to the beginning of the atheism controversy, that is, Wolff's lectures on Chinese philosophy.

perjantai 2. elokuuta 2013

Intuitive and symbolic cognition

Both Leibniz and Wolff divided cognition into two kinds: intuitive and symbolic. I've had some difficulties clarifying to myself how these two relate to the progression from sensations through imagination and memory to intellectual faculties of understanding and reason, so it feels a bit helpful to see what Bilfinger has to say about the issue.

The basic definitions deriving from Leibniz are pretty straightforward: intuitive cognition is caused by attending the nature of things directly, while symbolic cognition is connected to things only via mediation of signs. Leibniz then had supposed that composite concepts are usually cognized symbolically: after all, analysis of concepts into its constituents happens usually through signs, e.g. if I define square as a rectangle with all sides equal, the definition would be expressed verbally. Primitive concepts, on the other hand, might be cognized either intuitively or symbolically: e.g. point could be defined either by looking at points or by saying what one means when speaking of a point.

Furthermore, all distinct concepts – that is, concepts that can be analysed into clear concepts or into concepts through which we can distinguish objects – must be based on intuitive concepts. In other words, if we had an analysed concept, in which we would know all the constituent concepts only through further linguistic explications, somewhere along the line we would have to use a circular explication, which clearly wouldn't help to distinguish any objects. Thus, an analysis or explication that is successful should at some point meet some cognitions which are directly connected to things. Intuitive cognition is therefore a necessary ingredient of good cognition: if our cognition is not grounded on things, it might well deteriorate into a shamble of contradictions and meaningless expressions.

From the perspective on what Leibniz has to say, intuitive cognition is essential to well-founded science. What good is symbolic cognition then? Bilfinger answers by turning into Wolff's account. While symbolic cognition cannot by itself be a source of true cognition, it can be used in inferring truths from known truths. In particular, symbolic cognition is required whenever we want to move to general truths about classes of objects: we cannot literally be effected by any class of objects, because classes are not real entities. Thus, symbolic cognition makes it also possible that the Leibnizian ideal of an algebraic art of thinking could be one day found. In addition, symbolic cognition is also useful in transmitting cognition from one person to another: we cannot share intuitions, but we can share signs and symbols.

Interesting here is how the division of cognition into intuitive and symbolic kinds corresponds better with Kantian division of sensibility/intuition vs. spontaneity/understanding than Wolff's own division of sensations and concepts. Indeed, Kant's famous statement that intuition without understanding is blind, while understanding without intuition is empty, could be easily translated into the Leibnizian-Wolffian statement that intuitive understanding by itself is blind, because it cannot be generalized, while symbolic understanding by itself is empty, because it fails to connect cognition with actual things. Of course, Kant doesn't call his intuitions and concepts alone cognitions, but reserves this name only for the result of the interplay of the two.

So much for Bilfinger's take on Wolffian psychology, next time I'll discuss his notes on Wolffian natural theology and especially the problem of evil.

keskiviikko 31. heinäkuuta 2013

Reduction of physics

At least since Aristotle's Posterior analytics, mathematics has been the model of science, in which everything should be deduced from self-evident axioms and definitions. Indeed, mathematics was quite long considerably more advanced and certain than any other field of research. It is then no wonder that Descartes tried to fit physics and especially mechanics into this model. Even more, he suggested that basic laws of mechanics could be derived from mere geometrical considerations: after all, matter was defined by extension, so the characteristics of the motion of matter should be reducible to the extensional characteristics of matter, such as size and velocity.

What Descartes had failed to take into consideration was that the nature of matter is not exhausted by its extension and that it cannot be identified with mere space. Thus, one had to take into account also the mass of bodies, when considering e.g. how two bodies behaved in a collision. Recognizing this made it a necessity to empirically observe the actual movement of bodies and to look for regularities that could be generalized from these observations. Inconsistently, such studies were still often called mathematical and even a semblance of mathematical deduction was upheld.

Followers of Leibniz in Germany were more aware of the inability to reduce physics to mathematics. Hence, we see Christian Wolff admitting that his cosmological considerations had an empirical basis and that reliable experiences in general must supplement the inabilities of human understanding. In light of the empiricist tendencies of Wolff, it is interesting to see that Bilfinger supposed that it might be possible to derive basic laws of physics apriorically. I do not think Bilfinger is necessarily going against Wolff, but merely explicating the Wolffian position from a different angle: true, in practice we must use empirical method, but in principle we should be able to use deduction.

Bilfinger still doesn't advocate a return to supposedly geometrical demonstrations of Descartes. Instead, he supposes laws of physics should be derived from metaphysics. In other words, Bilfinger doesn't want to state that physical laws would be necessary like laws of logic and mathematics. Instead, they are based ultimately on the decision of God. According to the Wolffian position, God has created the best out of all the possible worlds. Hence, all the laws that the world follows must also be as perfect as they could be – and if we knew what is objectively best, we could know the laws chosen by God.

What Bilfinger's position makes clear is the contingency of physical laws. Specifically, the creator of the laws still holds the power to suspend these laws for a limited period and place. In common parlance such local suspensions of laws are called miracles. In effect, Bilfinger is saying that miracles are possible and that God has power to make them – another defense of Wolff against suggestions of atheism.

So much for physical laws, next time I shall deal with the difference between intuitive and symbolic cognition.

tiistai 30. heinäkuuta 2013

Philosophical dilucitations on God, human soul, world and general affects of things (1725)

Georg Bilfinger hasn't really struck me thus far as an original thinker, and indeed, many of his writings have been mere summaries of theories belonging to other philosophers. Hence, I did not have high expectations of Bilfinger's metaphysical work, Dilucidationes philosophicae de Deo, anima humana, mundo, et generalibus rerum affectionibus. In fact, the very first pages felt very familiar: the division of metaphysics into ontology, cosmology, psychology and natural theology has been used already by Wolff, and even many of the doctrines readily reveal the philosophical allegiances of Bilfinger. Because Wolff's other student, Thümmig, had already latinized Wolff's philosophy, Bilfinger's motives for publishing his own work appeared confusing.

Even so, Bilfinger's work feels somewhat more substantial presentation of Wolffian philosophy than Thümmig's summaries, and surprisingly, often manages to round even the discussions of Wolff himself. One clear reason is Bilfinger's habit of expounding opinions of previous thinkers, which was something sorely lacking in Wolff's texts. This does not make Bilfinger's work a mere redundant repetition of familiar ideas, but allows him to engage in a fruitful philosophical discussion. Bilfinger was a man of compromises, and Kant later adopted in his early work Bilfinger's suggestion that one should always try to reconcile opposing views by finding out what is good in both of them.

Good example of Bilfinger's abilities is his theorizing on modalities, that is, notions of possibility, impossibility, necessity and contingency. While Wolff was content with just one definition of e.g. possibility, Bilfinger starts with several definitions and notices interesting relations between them. In addition to Wolffian definition that possibility means lack of self-contradiction, Bilfinger considers the explication that possibilities are something inherently potential in other things. This second notion of possibility is clearly dependent on actuality in the sense that nothing could be possible in this sense, if there were nothing actual: there couldn't be any potential, if we had no source for such a potential.

Now, Bilfinger notes rather ingeniously that if some preconditions hold, the two notions of possibility coincide. Clearly, potentialities must also be non-contradictory. Furthermore, if we have an entity with infinite powers, it will obviously have the capacity to produce anything that is not inherently contradictory: thus, the extension of the two concepts of possibilities coincide. Bilfinger can so explain reasonably why e.g. Wolff did not notice or at least ignored the crucial distinction: he accepted the existence of God and did not therefore need to consider the second form of possibility.

Just like possibility is not a single concept for Bilfinger, similarly impossibility isn't either. Of course, there is the absolute impossibility of contradictions like round square, but there's also contextual impossibility, where a certain thing or person is incapable of doing something. Furthermore, this incapacity might be proper or due to a lack of power, but there are also important cases of improper incapacities. Firstly, Bilfinger thinks that the general incapacity to change past is an improper incapacity: it's just the nature of past to be completely determined. Secondly, an even more important type of incapacity concerns moral issues. Thus, God could well have created quite a horrible world, full of torture and grief, in the sense that he has the necessary power for doing this, but because of his infinite goodness, he doesn't have the moral possibility for doing this – a distinction clearly influenced by the need to defend Wolff against the suspicion of determinism.

It is in making these clarifications and in pointing interesting problems where Bilfinger's worth really lies. Some of these are familiar already from Wolff, like Bilfinger's notion that a sufficient reason does not need to necessitate an action, because of the freedom of agents, or his idea that imperfection might be just contextual. I shall thus proceed by picking up one important point in all of the four major divisions in Bilfinger's work. As I've already noted an important ontological statement of the plurality of the concepts of possibility, I shall next time plunge in cosmology and ask what sort of validity physical laws are supposed to have.

lauantai 27. heinäkuuta 2013

Reasonable thoughts on the use of parts in humans, animals and plants (1725) and Singular phenomenon of fruit-bearing apple recalled all the way from blossoming to physical reasons (1727)

Wolff's physical writings continue: a book on general physical processes and another book on the purposes of physical processes are followed by a book concentrating specifically on biological questions, Vernünfftige Gedancken von dem Gebrauche der Theile in Menschen, Thieren und Pflanzen.

As we have seen earlier, biology and especially botanic was a topic Wolff himself had empirically investigated. It is then no wonder that the book feels quite professional and up-to-date, even if Wolff cannot yet know e.g. how leaves actually nourish plant in their interaction with carbon dioxide: it is enough that he can describe leaves and their parts and understands that they have something to with the nourishment of plants. Wolff goes carefully through all parts of human body, beginning from different types of fibers – the smallest elements of living matter known at that time – and all organs made out of these elements, and if necessary, he compares parts of human body with parts of other animals. After humans and animals, similar treatment waits plants.

What is somewhat striking is Wolff's open attitude towards even the most taboo questions of human bodies, particularly sexuality. Description of sexual organs was frowned upon, because reading about genitalia was thought to incite people to perversities. Wolff, on the other hand, thinks that information about sexuality will help a person to fulfill sexual needs in a moral manner: you cannot do something properly, if you don't know the reasons for it. Interestingly, Wolff is aware of the role of clitoris in female sexuality and thinks it has been created for awakening in women the want of intercourse - a necessary precondition of having children. Wolff also suggests that sexual pleasure is especially meant to encourage women to want sexual intercourse: otherwise they might refrain from it, because they feared the burden of child birth.

As it should be evident, Wolff is not satisfied with mere description of living beings, but is also concerned to find the reason why God created them in the first place. The answer is actually familiar already from Wolff's teleology: humans and other rational entities exist in order to witness the glory of creation, and other things, including living entities, are meant to serve rational beings and their needs.

Wolff adds to this general description of the purpose of animals and plants two interesting details. Firstly, while Wolff's official teleological account of the world is an example of what later was called external teleology (things have a purpose beyond themselves), he also notes that animal and plant species could also be regarded as having an internal purpose that does not require reference to things beyond that species. Wolff suggests that this internal purpose would be propagation of species: animals and plants exist to produce other plants and animals of the same type. Thus, from the viewpoint of a certain plant, it is contingent that we use its flowers for medicinal purposes, but on the other hand, it is relevant that the flower produces seeds.

Secondly, Wolff also adds an aesthetic layer to his teleology. That is, he suggests that God does not just create purposive animals and plants, but that God's creations are also beautiful or pleasing to senses. Wolff especially emphasizes the symmetricity of animals as an evidence of their beauty: it just looks better if I have two ears equidistant from the center of the face and not, for instance, one on left hand and other on stomach.

Philosophically most interesting part of Wolff's biology are the little details that shed some more light on the question of the interaction of soul and body. Wolff refrains from the central question, whether and how soul and body interact, on the pretext that this is more of a metaphysical than biological problem. Yet, he points out that the problem concerns actually the interaction between the soul and the brain, which then controls the rest of the body. The exact details of this control are still not known to Wolff. Wolff is aware of nerves, but he doesn't really know how they work, so he must rely on Cartesian idea that there are some mysterious animal spirits that help nerves turn volitional movements of brain into movements of muscles, although instead of spirits, Wolff prefers the more material concept of nerve juice.

Before ending this post, I shall just quickly note that Wolff was actually more involved with biological studies at this time, because in a few years he published an inaugural dissertation celebrating his new post at the university of Marburg, Phaenomenon singulare de malo pomifera absque floribus ad rationes physicas revocatum, which is based on the botanical research of Wolff and his follower Thümmig.

So much for Wolff's biology. In next post, I shall investigate a Wolffian we have already met a number of times, tackling now metaphysics.

tiistai 12. maaliskuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Remarks on Reasonable thoughts on God, the world and the human soul, also on all things in general - Fragments of cosmology, rational psychology and natural theology

It has become evident that Wolff clearly wants to distance himself from the image of a radical atheist and Spinozist. This is even more evident, if we take into consideration his comments on cosmology, which he straightforwardly defines as a discipline required especially for the proof of God's existence. Indeed, it is the contingency of the world and its dependence on God that Wolff especially wants to emphasize in his comments – thus, he once again uses considerable efforts to state the difference between absolute and hypothetical necessity, which his opponents had muddled.

Wolff also clarifies the notion that things are infinitely dependent on other things, which I also noted to be somewhat confusing statement and which the pietists read as a commitment to the eternity of the world. Wolff notes that he is merely stating what the worldly things would have to be like, if only natural explanations or causation according to natural laws would be allowed. In other words, there couldn't have been a natural beginning of the world, because every natural law requires a previous state from which the current state arose.

Such an impossibility does not of course rule out a supernatural beginning or a beginning that did not happen according to natural laws. Indeed, Wolff is convinced that the principle of sufficient ground must then lead us to accept such a supernatural beginning – infinite series of causes just isn't a possibility. Wolff is here underlining the contingency of natural laws: they are necessary only within the world, but not from a more extensive perspective.

Furthermore, Wolff even makes it clear that in a sense natural laws are not necessary even within the world, that is, if God is taken into account. Wolff states that God need not follow laws of nature, but if he so desires, he can make worldly things behave in a manner they usually wouldn't. Of course, Wolff is quick to point out that God doesn't do such miracles, unless there is a good reason, but it is evident that he wants to make God's freedom stand more out.

Interestingly, Wolff appears to take the principle of the identity of indiscernibles as a mere natural law. Indeed, he does consider it a real possibility that God could have created two completely equal things, although he just has had no reason to do it. We can see Wolff distancing himself here from Leibniz, who apparently suggested that the identity of indiscernibles might somehow be based on the principle of sufficient reason.

Even clearer is Wolff's struggle against becoming identified a a mere Leibnizian in his behaviour towards monadology. Wolff does want to present the theory of monads in as plausible manner as possible, but he emphasizes forcefully that he himself does not believe in it. Main reasons for his disbelief are physical. Wolff is unconvinced that all the richness of phenomena could be reduced to elements that all share the same force of representation. True, one could on basis of this power understand why elements or monads can form larger totalities, such a material objects, but the further characteristic of material objects that resist the intrusion of other material objects into the same place is something Wolff cannot understand as derived from force of representation.

Still further clue of Wolff's growing disenchanment of Leibniz is provided by Wolff's clarification of the status of pre-established harmony as a mere hypothesis, but this is something we have already dealt with. In addition, Wolff seems keen to downplay the importance of whole rational psychology: if one just knows e.g. that movements of soul and body somehow correspond with one another, nothing more is required, if one does not have a scientific bent for discovering grounds for everything.

The urge to distinguish himself from Leibnizian thought is probably a symptom of Wolff's need to answer the accusations of atheism and fatalism, which becomes even more evident in the rest of Wolff's book. Thus, Wolff spends considerable number of pages in explaining that while one can derive all properties of souls from its representative capacities and all properties of God from his capacity to view all possible worlds at once, this does not mean that the nature of soul and God would be mere theoretical or passive regard of actual and possible worlds, but that both soul and God are active. And just like Wolff decided to defend the freedom of the soul, equally certain is his tendency to defend the divine liberty – even if the act of creating this world is the most reasonable and God as eminently good and wise will then inevitably choose to create it, this still doesn't mean that God couldn't have chosen completely different world to create.

Thus end Wolff's remarks on his metaphysics, which set his scheduled publication back a year – it was only the next year that Wolff could finally publish his account of biology, to which I shall turn next time.

keskiviikko 20. helmikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Remarks on Reasonable thoughts on God, the world and the human soul, also on all things in general - Fragments of empirical psychology

It is especially in Wolff's comments on empirical psychology where his wish to show the usefulness of his theories becomes evident. Wolff emphasizes that he has especially found two different types of faculties in human mind: cognitive and volitional. The study of cognitive capacities should generally help to improve our mental capacities and particularly help us to find a proper methodology for science. Wolff makes here some barbed strikes against Lange's Mental medicine, which he dismisses as a useless piece of charlatanry that wouldn't help anyone know anything.

Wolff's strategy for improving cognitive capacities is based on his attempt to quantify all mental capacities: capacity of memory can be quantifies by the number of new things a person can hold in his mind at the same time etc. On this quantitative basis Wolff can then make such useful recommendations as that capacities of concentration are improved in the morning, when there are still less distractive stimuli. Wolff's quantification goes in some cases further than with some previous philosophers. For instance, while Descartes thought that all people have an equal light of reason, Wolff states that this light varies according to natural capacities.

The aim of the education of cognitive capacities is to make one's ideas more distinct, that is, analysed. Although Wolff does define sensations in terms of distinctness, this does not mean that he would want to base science in some non-empiricist manner, which has become increasingly clear. Indeed, Wolff merely suggests that we should continue to analyse or conceptualize our individual sensations and so transform them into experience. Wolff thus wants to say that experience is something more than mere sensation: in a somewhat rasist comment Wolff even says that Hottentots, Lapponians and Samoyeds don't really have reliable experiences, although they undoubtedly sense things. The conceptual analysis of sensations turns them into experiences, which then can act as basis of scientific axioms.

Wolff appears to admit that the cognitive capacities of human mind are in some sense unfree. This is clear with sensations: we cannot choose that we'll see green, when we focus our gaze on a certain piece of grass. Furthermore, in case of conceptual reasoning there are also certain restrictions: if we are following a line of reasoning, the conclusion isn't haphazard, but follows from the premisses, perhaps true some psychological necessitation.

In contrast, Wolff emphasizes that human will is definitely free and capable of undetermined choice – an answer to the accusation of Wolff being a determinist. As we saw earlier, Wolff suggests that a person cannot will to do something he is not motivated to do, but that he can emphasize some motivation over the others. True, even the volitional part of human mind can become unfree, if mind is slave to its own affections. Still, this state of slavery does not prevent the possibility of a truly free action. Indeed, it is just such a task of becoming as free as possible that makes the study of volitional part of the mind important for morality and ethics.

Next time I'll turn to Wolff's comments on cosmology.

maanantai 11. helmikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Remarks on Reasonable thoughts on God, the world and the human soul, also on all things in general - Fragments of ontology

It's hard to do commentary on another commentary – you are twice removed from the real meat of the problematic, and because the commentary itself has no clear organisation, there usually is no guiding thread to connect the various points. Thus, after reading the chapter on ontology I was left with mere crumbs that by themselves would not have the required length of a blog post. Still, I didn't want to make the time spend with Wolff's commentary go to waste, so I present some of these crumbs in a fragmentary fashion.


One key point in the atheism dispute has been the notion of modalities: if Wolff says that events in the world are hypothetically necessary, doesn't this make his theory Spinozistic? Wolff's consideration of modalities here reveals his own belief – Wolff has to define modalities in this manner to avoid Spinoza's fatalism. That is, Spinoza could say only that possibility means something that has existed, will exist or does exist, which would make all possibilities become actual someday. Wolff's definition of possibility as non-contradictoriness allows the extension of possibility to be larger than the extension of past, present and future actuality. Thus, the only truly necessary thing for Wolff is God, who has no external cause, while other things require some previous cause for their actualisation. Interestingly, the tide of philosophy was to go backwards. What is true sense of possibility and necessity for Wolff, will be disparaged by Kant as a mere formal notion of modalities, while the mere hypothetical necessity and possibility in a world of Wolff are raised to the status of real or ontologically substantial modalities by Kant.


Connected with the Wolffian theory of modalities is his notion of essences, which he clarifies in his commentary through a helpful simile: if I want to determine what a triangle is like, I need to only determine its essence, that is, two of its sides and the angle between them, because the rest of the triangle is determined through these measures. Unexpectedly, this very same example occurs in Hegel, when he explains how the sensuous side of a thing (say, a triangle) contains lot of surplus material that could be summarized through a lot simpler structure (in this case, through the three quantities). I suspect that Hegel didn't bother to read that much Wolff, so the coincidence is even more surprising.


Wolff's nominalism is a feature I did not emphasize the first time around: he explicitly says that universals or genera and species are mere summaries for similarities between things (A and B are both ostriches  because they resemble one another and all the other ostriches . An interesting question is then how the similarity is to be defined, and in general, how things are distinguished from one another. Now, in some places Wolff appears to admit at least the possibility or conceivability that two spatially separated individuals of the same species might be identical in every other respect, thus going against Leibnizian principle of the identity of indiscernibles. Then again, Wolff also subscribes to the definition of individuals as fully determinate in comparison to incompletely determined universals – we noted in case of Thümmig that this definition appears to naturally lead to the Leibnizian principle, because two distinct individuals couldn't on account of this definition be completely similar, because they would then belong to a genus defined by all their characteristics – contradiction, because this genus would then be a completely determinate universal. One possible solution might be that the complete determination of individuals would not consist of mere qualities, but also of quantitative and spatial determinations. Indeed, Wolff says ambiguously that individuals are determined by what we can perceive in them, which might include also their position in space.


Next time it's on to psychology!

tiistai 5. helmikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Remarks on Reasonable thoughts on God, the world and the human soul, also on all things in general - Causality vs. indeterminism?

One of the most outrageous bits of Wolff's metaphysics was his apparent attempt to deduce principle of sufficient reason from the principle of non-contradiction. Some readers have even declared that Wolff has thus Leibnizian distinction between logical and empirical truths: Leibniz said that logical truths were based on the principle of non-contradiction and empirical truths on the principle of sufficient reason, so Wolff's deduction apparently showed empirical truths to be logical. This is clearly a mistaken reading, because Wolff still accepts the Leibnizian distinction and use of the two principles as criteria. Indeed, Leibniz had merely said that logical truths were necessarily true, because their opposites were contradictory, while the empirical truths require some previous explanation and were thus not necessary. Wolff just added that the latter criterion was itself necessarily true and in need of no further explanation.

Although Wolff's proof of the principle of sufficient reason does not reduce all truths into logical truths, the proof itself was rather unconvincing and based on a very ontological reading of the principle of non-contradiction. Now, Wolff apparently felt the need to justify the principle once again.

First of all, Wolff notes that actually the principle as such requires no proof, because no philosopher and indeed no human being would truly doubt it – or at least if someone says he doubts, he is still bound to use the principle unconsciously, when asking causes of events and motives of actions. I already noted that Wolff had used in the original book a strategy where the principle of sufficient reason was justified as a necessary presupposition of us having coherent experience. Here Wolff is then suggesting that the principle is somehow natural to human mind. Both strategies have a Kantian feel, especially if one combined them: we couldn't have experience without using the principle of sufficient reason, thus, the principle must be ingrained in us.

Still, there is a difference. While Kant apparently speaks determinedly of causality as a necessary presupposition of experience, Wolffian ground is something in thing A that explains something else in thing B, where A and B might be also the same thing. Examples Wolff uses clearly show that in addition to causal influences he is also thinking of motives as possible grounds. Wolff is thus not saying that ”every event has a cause” would be true of all experience, but instead the more general statement ”every event either has a cause or is a motivated action”.

Wolff also explains his original proof of the principle through the simile of scales: if two sides of the scales are evenly balanced, the scales does not tip to either direction, and if the scales do tip, something must have been added or taken away to change the balance. In effect, this simile confirms my interpretation of the proof: the different possibilities, as it were, compete with one another for the chance of actualisation and because of their opposition, they would remain eternally in a state of null actuality, unless something came and changed the scales in favour of one possibility. What appears different in Wolff's new account is the admission that in case of human actions grounds or motivations might not completely determine the action: human being has still the opportunity to choose what motive he is going to emphasize – we shall later see what effects this admission has on Wolff's psychology.

Wolff also presents a completely new line of defense for the principle. In essence, he outlines three possibilities: firstly, the principle of sufficient reason might hold always, it might hold never, or it might hold sometimes, but not always. Somewhat hastily, Wolff concludes that the second option cannot be true, because experience tells us that at least some events have had a preceding ground (remember that Hume's criticism of causality was still to come). How about then the third possibility? Wolff suggests that if there were no possibility to actually say when something has a ground and when not, then we would actually land back to the second possibility. Thus, there must always be ground telling whether there is a ground or not – and then we are actually in the first option that the principle holds in all cases.

Wolff's argument is based on his fault of not underlining yet another form of ”ground”. This ground is more of an explanation based on ”form” or structure of events: just like we can justify the proposition that a figure has angles adding up to 180 degrees by its being triangle, similarly events might have some structural features that either make the principle to apply them or not. Indeed, Wolff has not managed to justify the principle, but he has noted the possibility of a third ontological position between full determinism and full indeterminism, which we might call restricted or controlled indeterminism. That is, if we do not want to admit that all events are deterministically caused, we do not have to take everything to be indeterministic, if we suppose that indeterminism applies only within some restricted area of events, which does not hinder the determinism outside this area. This possibility seems interesting, firstly, because it appears to fit in with current state of physics (the area would have to be defined in terms of e.g. size of entities involved). Secondly, it might even be compatible with Kantian notion of deterministic causality as a presupposition of experience, that is, indeterministic causality might not hinder the possibility of experience, if it was restricted to some area that was a) rarely seen in experience and b) controlled in the sense that effects in that area would have no real effect outside that area.

So much for the principle of sufficient reason, next time I'll wrap up with Wolff's comments on the rest of ontology.

keskiviikko 30. tammikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Remarks on Reasonable thoughts on God, the world and the human soul, also on all things in general (1724)

There are two ways to deal with additions, remarks and clarifications meant for explaining one's own philosophical text. Firstly, it is possible to incorporate such additional material to the old text and sell it as a new edition – this is what philosophers such as Kant and Hegel will do. Then again, one can also create a completely new book meant to elucidate the first. This second strategy was used by Schopenhauer and before him Wolff in the commentary of his Magnum opus on metaphysics: Anmerckungen über Die vernünfftige Gedancken von Gott, der Welt und der Seele des Menschen, auch allen Dingen überhaupt. When Wolff dealt with other sciences or branches of philosophy, he often made references to his earlier works and especially to German metaphysics. Wolff thus had a reason for choosing this manner of publication – incorporating additions to the original would have meant changes in the paragraph numbers used for reference purposes. This seems different from Schopenhauer, who probably was just too lazy to edit the first part of his masterpiece.

The motivation behind Wolff's commentary is naturally the need to clarify some points that had not been understood properly. As we have seen, Wolff was especially criticized in the pietist circles of German academic life, who regarded Wolff as a atheist in disguise continuing the work of Spinoza. It is then no wonder that the longest comments Wolff makes are aimed at Lange and his compatriots.

At the very beginning of the commentary Wolff notes that his criticizers had mistakenly thought that he had denied some doctrine, because he had not wanted at that stage to commit himself to any position concerning that doctrine: for instance, he had not at first wanted to say anything about the possible independence of the world, because he was not yet in a position to disprove it, and some reader (clearly Lange) had concluded that Wolff actually believed in the eternity of the world. Wolff is clearly dedicated to the way of presenting theorems that occurred in the mathematical works and especially in Euclid's Elements: one should not use premises one has not yet proven to be correct.

One aim of the commentary is then to emphasize the various interconnections between the different parts of German metaphysics and even different parts of Wolff's whole philosophy. The strict Euclidean method of presentation often prevents such discussion: you cannot say that proposition proven here will help to prove another proposition there, because we are not yet in a position to do the actual proving. The more relaxed form of commentary allows this, and thus Wolff can justifiably note in it that e.g. proposotions of psychology will be used as premises of morality.

Despite the task of showing interconnections, Wolff's commentary is still rather fragmentary: only some paragraphs require comments and of these only few require a lengthier discussion. Thus, it is no wonder that my texts about the commentary will also be fragmentary in the sense that they are rather short and form no coherent whole.

I shall begin unraveling this confusing mishmash by studying the notion of ground or reason. Until next time, then!

perjantai 18. tammikuuta 2013

Johann Joachim Lange: Metaphysical-mechanical disputation, on necessity and contingency and freedom, inquiry for determining necessary errors of Spinozism and others (1724)

We have seen Lange criticizing Wolffian philosophy, but his own opinions have remained mostly hidden. Now, the veil of mystery is to be opened a bit, when I study Lange's Disputatio metaphysica mechanica, de necessario et contingenti ac libero, notiones ad dijudicationem Spinosismi aliorumque errorum necessarias.

The topic of Lange's treatise is apparently rather dry and academic: modalities, that is, concepts of possibility, necessity, impossibility and contingency. Yet, behind these abstractions lies the problem of determinism and freedom that the dispute between Wolff and Lange circled. Lange had criticized Wolff for not separating geometric and physical necessity – Wolff could say that the deterministic world was not necessary, because for him only God was a truly necessary entity, while the concrete world was necessary only if one already assumed the fact of creation.

We can at once note that Lange was perhaps a bit unfair in his condemnation of Wolffian notion of necessity as a mere geometric necessity of Spinoza. As I have argued, for Wolff, necessity of God is not just logical necessity or logical contradiction of the non-existence of God. Instead, God cannot fail to exist, because he has in himself sufficient power to exist – nothing can stop God from existing. In other words, God is absolutely necessary, because he does not require any external boost for becoming actual, while all the other things are at most just hypothetically necessary, because they do require such a boost.

For Lange, on the contrary, absolute necessity is twofold. God is absolutely necessary in the same manner as with Wolff: he requires nothing for becoming actual and exists therefore eternally. Absolute necessity of God is internal, but there is also external absolute necessity – namely, with things that depend only of God and not of any other free agents. External absolute necessity is then the immutability of certain deterministic things that lie beyond control of humans, such as the motions of planets.

Concept of hypothetical necessity in then restricted by Lange to things that lie in human control. This notion of hypothetical necessity clearly requires at least partial freedom of human beings – free choices are the only real source of contingency in the world. The existence of hypothetical necessity requires also that these free choices can have real effects on the world – otherwise, the contingency would be restricted to mental processes, which would be causally closed in relation to the physical world.

What Lange then does in comparison with Wolff is to emphasize the special role of finite free entities. God has, in a sense, just created the general features of the world, while the filling of the world with particular content has been left for the free choice of his creations – God has given the human being the tools, but it is human being himself who can choose how to use these tools.

Lange runs into some obvious problems, when he tries to reconcile his notion of human freedom with the idea of divine omniscience. In order that human freedom be real, God should not have decided what human beings should do, still, he must also know what they will do. There might be no problem, if God just knew on instinct what the future is like – if I know beforehand that Peter will go to work tomorrow, I am still not the cause of Peter's future actions, which could well be freely chosen by him. Problem is that God has also created human beings – if he chose to create Peter, he should have known what Peter would do in future – thus, he should be at least partially responsible for his actions: he could have chosen not to create Peter, if he knew Peter would become criminal. Problem is that Lange never faces the problem adequately, hence, the very same lack of moral responsibility of which he blames Wolff and other deterministic philosophies falls on his own theological notion of freedom.

Next time I'll take another look at Wolffian metaphysics.

keskiviikko 16. tammikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: A required addition to Remarks on Dr. Budde's Concern over Wolffian philosophy, given by instigation of Buddian answer (1724)

There are couple of early German philosophers I have decided to ignore, mainly because their main works were published long before even Wolff had become a household name of German philosophy. First of these, Christian Thomasius, I have mentioned earlier, because we have seen a number of his followers. The other is Johann Budde, whose main philosophical works appeared already at the beginning of the 18th century. By the time I am currently discussing, Budde had begun to turn his attention mainly to theological issues.

Budde had apparent affinities with the Thomasian school and especially its more pietist proponents, like Lange, and indeed, like Lange, he had written an article meant against the supposedly atheist influence of Spinoza. Furthermore, Budde had wrote against Wolff a twenty-page-article, Bedenken von der Wolffischen Philosopie, which contains essentially the same line of criticism that Lange's book I have recently studied expounded in more detail – Wolff's philosophy resembled Spinozism. Wolff answered with his own writing, Anmerkungen über Herrn D. Buddens Bedenken von der Wolffischen Philosophie. At that moment appeared Lange's thorough work on Wolffian philosophy, which included also a review of Wolff's article against Budde – it wasn't a surprise that Lange sided with Budde and blamed Wolff for not answering Budde's points at all. Finally, Wolff published an even more thorough answer, Nöthige Zugabe zu den Anmerkungen über Herrn D. Buddens Bedenken von der Wolffischen Philosophie, auf Veranlassung der Buddischen Antwort heraus gegeben, which I shall look in more detail this time.

The apparent opponent of Wolff is once again Budde, but actually he is more interested of his defender Lange, whom he avoids calling by name – Lange is usually described as an advocate of Budde. Wolff is apparently quite irate by Lange's text and ironically comments how strange it is that someone could study texts so thoroughly and so long without comprehending at all what is said in them. Indeed, Wolff notes how Lange has misunderstood e.g. Wolff's remarks on the possible temporal beginning of the world – Wolff has just said that proving this beginning would be difficult and that no one has done it so far. Wolff even points out that Budde, who was defended by Lange, accepted even more, namely, the Thomistic doctrine that such a proof would be impossible for human reasoning – if Wolff's standpoint leads to atheism, certainly Budde's will do so even more.

Wolff is not satisfied with mere irony, but tries to make the reader comprehend what his philosophy is all about. To this effect, Wolff summarizes the essentials of his philosophy in easily understandable statements. The core of Wolff's philosophy is rather simple: 1) the events and things of the world are connected by influencing and interacting with one another and by being means and ends to one another, 2) the totality of these events and things and laws connecting them or the world is itself contingent, 3) soul has understanding and will, but these two capacities are based on one unitary force, 4) processes in sensory organs correspond to certain sensory experiences, while volitional experiences correspond to certain movements of body, 5) God exists and 6) we can know this with certainty, because the world is contingent and requires God's support.

Wolff's list is rather surprising. Especially unexpected is the complete lack of any ontological propositions: there is no mention, for instance, of Wolff's notion of modalities, of his attempt to base the principle of sufficient reason/ground on the principle of non-contradiction or of the idea of simple substances. In fact, compared to the common idea of Wolff as a speculative rationalist, the list seems rather mundane – even such empiricist as Locke might accept it.

Indeed, Wolff himself notes in the particular case of the pre-established harmony that his philosophy does not at all hinge on this point. What Wolff is committed to is the incontrovertible experience of the statement 4), and pre-established harmony is only a hypothesis explaining that experience – and one which seems most reliable, given the current state of knowledge, where physical laws appear to contradict causal influences between soul and body. If further research disproved the hypothesis, this would be of no concern to Wolff.

One might even suspect that the same reasoning could be applied to the rest of the Wolffian philosophy. Although Wolff presents his philosophy in the manner of a deductive system based on indubitable axioms, the true source of justification lies in experiential information, such as general laws based on findings of science and common sense observations – the ontological system is chosen, because these experiences can be deduced in it as theorems.

So much for Wolff's apology. Next time we shall see another bit of Lange's genius.

lauantai 5. tammikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Example of the doctrines of true Chinese moral and politics; and also example of gentile philosophy applied to public matters: excerpted writings of Chinese classical person, Confucius, both told and written (1724)

I left out a crucial detail in the story of Wolff being fired due to his supposedatheism – the accusation was not made in a vacuum, but it had an incentive. Wolff had promised to lecture on Chinese philosophy. Apparently Wolff thought that Chinese moral philosophy was commendable, and even more remarkable was that Chinese managed to live morally without any explicit devotion of God – this opinion was the primary reason for suspecting Wolff of atheism.

Interest in oriental thought began already with Leibniz, who was especially intrigued by I Ching, a book on divination. What interested Leibniz was not so much the supposed window into future events, but the manner in which complex concepts were represented as combinations of two signs, a broken and an unbroken line. In this I Ching resembles binary arithmetic, which expresses all numbers as combinations of zero and one.

Wolff's lecture, on the other hand, concentrated on Confucian philosophy, which we have already seen mentioned by Bilfinger in his dissertation. It appears reasonable to suppose that Bilfinger actually introduced Wolff to Chinese philosophy, because he published soon after Wolff's lecture a book on the topic, Specimen doctrinae veterum Sinarum moralis et politicae; tanquam exemplum philosophiae gentius ad rempublicam applicatae; exceptum libellis Sinicae genti classicis, Confucii,sive dicta, sive facta complexis.

What I am interested here is not so much Confucian philosophy or whether Bilfinger interpreted it faithfully, but the question what intrigued Wolffians in it. We may begin from what he clearly was not interested of. There is very little mention of any metaphysical theories of Confucians, and indeed, Bilfinger explicitly suggests that it is ethics and politics in which Confucius excelled. This lack of metaphysics had actually grave consequences.

As Wolff's fate shows, Confucianism was supposed to be an atheist philosophy. Indeed, it is rather unclear what Confucius and his followers actually thought of gods. The closest they come to religious issues are references to Heavens, which in a sense take the place of God. Yet, because Confucians are very quiet of such metaphysical questions, it remains unclear whether Heavens is meant to be a conscious person or an impersonal force. Thus, even if Confucianism were not atheistic in the usual sense of the word, it still managed to create morals without any relation to God.

A more important difference in Bilfinger's eyes concerned the styles of Confucianism and western philosophy. Teachings of Confucius are full of rich illustrations and parables whereby the moral teachers can make the basic ideas instantly concrete and easy to grasp. This liveliness in preaching is amplified by attempts to truly live the life by the tenets of Confucianism and thus exemplify its principles in one's own life. Indeed, even the emperor of China was meant to be a moral inspiration for all his subjects.

Compared with Confucianism, western and especially Wolffian philosophy seems rather dry and academic, and one might suspect that Bilfinger wanted to uphold the idea of philosophizing in concrete life through morally educational tales. Still, Bilfinger is not completely against the peculiar dryness of Wolffian philosophy. Indeed, he notes that Confucianism cannot surpass western philosophy when it comes to precision and care for arguments.

Next time, we shall see once again how Wolff fares against a ferocious attack.

perjantai 4. tammikuuta 2013

Christian Wolff: Of different interconnections between things, wisdom and fatalistic necessity, system of pre-established harmony and Spinozan hypothesis splendidly commented, while at the same time weighing justifications for demonstrating existence of genuine God and illustrating many chapters of rational theology (1724)

We have just seen Lange's thorough criticism of Wolffian philosophy leading to the surprising conclusion that Wolff was no better than a common atheist like Spinoza was thought to be. By coincidence, Wolff had the very same year written a treatise – De differentia nexus rerum sapientis, nec non systematis harmoniae praestabilitae et hypothesium Spinosae luculenta commentatio, in qua simul genuina Dei existantiam demonstrandi ratio expenditur et multa religionis naturalis capita illustrantur – where he explicitly tried to show how the Leibnizian tradition differed from Spinozism.

As the title so clearly says, Wolff tried to establish two points of difference: one concerned the supposed necessity of the world, while the issue of second was the interaction of souls and bodies. Of these two points, the second is easier to decide. True, it appears that Wolff and Spinoza have identical views of the topic: both deny any true interaction of souls and bodies and maintain that the series of bodily changes and the series of mental states should somehow reflect one another. Yet, there is a crucial difference. Leibniz and Wolff envisioned the body and the soul as two different substances, while Spinoza thought them to be mere aspects of one human being. With Spinoza then, as Wolff's student Bilfinger had already pointed out, bodies and souls were necessarily intertwined. Wolff and Leibniz, on the contrary, accept that the union of the two substances is contingent and therefore separable. This is important especially as a justification of the Christian notion of life after death – soul or consciousness might exist also without any body to sustain it.

A more interesting questions concern the difference between a fatalistic world of Spinoza and a world created by a wise God. At first sight it appears quite incomprehensible how one could even confuse the two. After all, Spinoza's world is necessary and only that is possible what happens within that world – there is then nothing truly contingent, because all things follow necessarily from the very necessity of God and therefore only a person with inadequate information could call things contingent. Wolffian God, on the other hand, can think of true alternative possibilities and chooses one of them as the world to be created. Hence, even if the laws of Wolff's actual world are just as unbreakable as in Spinoza's necessary world, these laws are still contingent according to a more extensive perspective – God could have chosen other laws.

But as we saw from Lange's criticism, the true problem lies in Wolff's notion of God. Wolff emphasizes the understanding of God, when he describes God as a wise and intelligent creator. But understanding is a passive capacity – when God sees that a certain possible world is the most optimal, he cannot decide himself what to describe as the best possible world. Thus, because God is also good and he must automatically choose to create the best possible world, it appears that we could replace God with a very powerful computer that would just have enough capacity for viewing even the smallest details of all possible worlds.

Wolff's answer is to suggest that his opponents fall into equally ridiculous consequences and are even closer to outright Spinozism. Wolff's point is that if his opponents wish to de-emphasize the omniscience of God's understanding, they must at the same time emphasize the omnipotence of his will, that is, they must hold that divine will has a power to do things that the divine understanding has not decreed to be good. Now creation becomes a blind act of will – God becomes like an unstoppable and irrational manufacturing plant that just spurts out things without any rhyme or reason. Sure, what is produced is in a sense contingent, but because of the omnipotency of creator, the world feels like it is governed by a rigid necessity – and this time there's not even the justification that this is all for the best.

The struggle between Wolff and his supposed opponents circles then around the question whether the freedom of God, and indeed, any conscious being, falls more to his will or to his understanding. In a sense, it is quite obvious that it is our capacity to choose that makes us free – if we could just watch what happens, without having the ability to affect anything, we would not be truly free. Yet, as Wolff among other philosophers has pointed out, mere blind will without understanding is equally not free – after all, we wouldn't call a machine that works on randomly generated numbers a free person. It appears then that both understanding and will are required for the possibility of truly free decisions; I shall not pursue the question how to unify the two faculties into a coherent whole.

So much for the question of necessity. Next, we'll have a short detour on Chinese philosophy.

torstai 3. tammikuuta 2013

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 - Law without a lawgiver

Just as Lange criticized Wolffian metaphysics for reducing the role of God in creation, similarly he criticizes Wolffian ethics for reducing the role of God in upholding morality. True, Wolff does admit that knowledge of God does make a moral person blessed – if we are convinced of God's existence, we can be serene in our belief that God will in course of time reward moral people with peaceful and happy life, while the opposite fate waits immoral people. Yet, just like Wolffian God tends to avoid miracles and has preferred to use natural mechanisms to further his goals, similarly the rewards and retributions are mostly just natural results of the very state of mind caused by belief and non-belief in God – God did not need to even exist, because only the belief in him is required for its beneficial results.

Furthermore, Lange refrains Wolff for accepting the possibility of truly moral atheists and even moral societies of atheists. In Lange's eyes, Wolff's worst mistake is to assume that moral laws could be natural in the sense that they required no reference to an obligation towards a lawgiver. In effect, Lange thinks that Wolff can manage this feat only by confusing self-interest with morality – what is good according to Wolff can be found out by reasoning what is the best outcome for me. Indeed, Lange has no difficulties in pointing out how Wolff considers becoming reasonably wealthy a moral responsibility – he might as well have mentioned the duties of eating well and wearing warm clothes that I ridiculed in my consideration of Wolffian ethics. We see here how Lange's criticism parallels the more general criticism of consequential ethics by Kant – moral worth of an action should not be based on how well it serves my wellbeing.

Lange is also not satisfied with Wolff's primary principle of morality: make yourself and others more perfect. In semblance this command might even feel Christian. But when Christianity commands humans to be perfect, it does this to emphasize their imperfect and sinful state. Wolff, on the other hand, appears to believe that humans can by themselves become truly perfect and self-sufficient: a true blasphemy to a pietist like Lange.

Lange also doubts that Wolffian morality could truly fulfill the second requirement of its primary principle. Indeed, I have also noted that Wolff does not properly justify how the command to perfect others follows from a need to perfect oneself – this might be justified through the harmony of all substances, that is, by stating that when I perfect another person, I am also perfecting myself, but Wolff leaves this completely implicit. Furthermore, as we also saw, Wolff mostly advocated leaving other people to fend for their perfection themselves, because every person should try to be a self-sufficient totality – a final proof of an egotist morality.

In addition, Lange also doubts whether Wolff's ethics is really in line with his metaphysics. He is especially skeptic of the possibility of reconciling independence of body and soul with Wolff's commands to take care of bodily matters. Of course, Wolff can explain these commands as simplified commands to take care of your soul and let body follow through the pre-established harmony, but this does make his ethics somewhat complex.

So much for Lange's criticism, next it is appropriate to see how Wolff answers some of Lange's points.

tiistai 1. tammikuuta 2013

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 - Infinite computer

We might state Lange's main criticism of Wolffian theology quite simply: God has very little to do in Wolff's system. True, Wolff does admit that God exists and even proves his existence, but Lange cannot even commend Wolff's proof, which he deems to be faulty. Indeed, Lange hits on a crucial defect. Wolff's principle of sufficient reason or ground states that all things should have some ground, that is, all physical things should derive from a previous cause and all conscious actions should be somehow motivated. From this principle Wolff suddenly moves to a stronger principle that all things should have a full ground, that is, they should be based on an ultimate ground that requires no further ground for its existence. Lange notes that Wolff's original principle of sufficient ground is consistent with an infinite causal series bringing about the current event, thus, making the leap to the stronger principle unjustified.

Even if Wolff does accept God, Lange continues, Wolff's deterministic world system leaves almost no room for divine push on events. Wolff does make a halfhearted attempt to explain the possibility of miracles: God can supernaturally affect world, if he then makes another miracle that corrects the world so that it will once again return to its deterministic course. In effect, miracles of Wolffian God can make nothing new happen, because their results are erased by the second miracle of restitution.

Lange is especially opposed to Wolff's notion of what God is like. Wolff defines God as an entity that can think of all infinitely multiple possible worlds. God is then meant to choose one of these possible worlds for actualization – thus, he does not truly create the world, Lange says, meaning perhaps that God does not design the world from scratch, but accepts the world from a ready-made brochure of possible worlds. Even this choice is less of an achievement than it seems, because God is essentially a passively cognizing entity without any spontaneous volitions. God is like a computer that has been programmed to choose the best possible world – God as perfectly good cannot really choose any other option. Hence, the supposed choice becomes a mere justification of the goodness of the actual world – creation is as deterministic as the world created.

An atheist would then have no difficulties in accepting Wolffian philosophy, Lange concludes, for the assumption of God is mere play of words. Indeed, Lange thinks, Wolff even defends atheists by saying that atheism is compatible with morality. We shall see next time in more detail what Lange has to say about Wolffian ethics.