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!

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