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.