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.