tiistai 9. joulukuuta 2014

Joachim Lange: Hundred and thirty questions of the new mechanical philosophy and Philosophical questions from the new mechanical morality; Hoffman: Thoughts of the current state of scholarship (1734)

The reader might well think that by dedicating one post to three different works I am insinuating that the works are not of particular importance or even bad. The suspicion is at least partially right, at least when it comes to two works by Joachim Lange. One might remember that Lange was almost a leading figure in the attacks of pietists against Wolffian philosophy, which finally led to the end of Wolff's career in Halle and his forced move to the University of Marburg. The two works of Lange, Hundert und dreyßig Fragen aus der neuen mechanischen Philosophie and Philosophische Fragen Aus der neuen Mechanischen Morale ,were occasioned by the attempt of king Friedrich Wilhem of Prussia to call Wolff back from his exile in 1733 – the king had come to regret his earlier decision, because Wolff's case had raised objections all over the Europe. Lange's attempt was to speak against Wolff's return by reminding everyone of the evil consequences of his philosophy – somewhat in vain, because Wolff simply rejected king's offer.

Lange's doubts concerning Wolff's philosophy were old, but so were his arguments against it. With similar strategy as before, Lange picks up Wolff's statements out of their context and draws some insinuating consequences out of them. His particular target in the first writing is the Leibnizian pre-established harmony between body and soul, which combines, according to Lange. Spinozan materialism with idealistic solipsism and makes both body and soul into mere deterministic clockworks. This is all quite familiar from Lange's earlier writings, and the only new feature appears to be his answer to Wolff's suggestion that pre-established harmony might be a mere reasonable hypothesis – science and philosophy should not consider mere hypothesis, but truths, Lange proclaims proudly.

While Lange's new works are then a bit of a disappointment. Hoffman's Gedancken von dem gegenwärtigen Zustande der Gelehrsamkeit is somewhat interesting, despite the rather simple nature of the text. Hoffman's work is a sort of advertisement for his own lectures – it was a common habit among scholars of the period that such ads were prefaced by short essays showing the expertise of the lecturer. Hoffman's essay is a work on the state of modern philosophy and especially describes what is wrong with it.

Hoffman begins with a short analogy: philosophers have been like people constructing everyone their own buildings with their own taste and fancy and without any general plan what the whole city should look like. The result is obviously a mismatch of different and even incompatible styles built side by side and even on top of one another – when one has constructed an edifice, another comes and tears it up to make room for his own plans.

Hoffman specifies three particular problems in modern philosophy, first two of which concern the relation of philosophical and scientific theories to practice. Firstly, philosophical and scientific theories have been utterly useless in actual practice. This is a sign, Hoffmann says, that these theories are considerably bad, since general theories should be of immense worth when deciding what to do in particular cases (Hoffman has especially medicine and jurisdiction in mind). One might think that actual practicioners might be able to make – if not complete theories, then at least – generalisations out of the particular cases they've witnessed. But this brings us to the second problem that practicioners are usually so bad that they muddle things more than they help them – doctors make people even sicker and jurists just raise legal quibbles.

The third problem that Hoffman points out is the most interesting: lack of controversy. True, he has just criticised the way that scholars tear down what the other has built, but even this tearing down has happened without any scholarly interaction. Instead of saying what is problematic what is wrong with other person's writing, they just officially praise the works of co-scholars and in actual practice ignore them, when making their own contribution. Actual criticism, Hoffman thinks, is in fact a sign that scholars care for what the others say and good criticism is meant to improve their work.

Due to these faults, it is no wonder that some people have renounced philosophy altogether. In Hoffman's eyes this is a wrong answer to a real problem – it is like closing your eyes instead of fixing things. Hoffman enumerates four types of such unphilosophical scholars. The bottom rang of this hierarchy is formed by critics, who learn much of externalities of scholarly book printing: when was this and that book published etc. Not so much better are stylists, who pay much more regard to the style than the content of books. The two higher type of unphilosophical scholars are interested of the content, but they study it unphilosophically and unsystematically. First of therse are memorisers, who learn sentences that are arbitrarily pulled out of books. The highest type of unphilosophical scholars are the experientialists, who learn only the essential, but unexplained data provided by experiences – these scholars are often practicing doctors or lawyers who fail to appreciate the usefulness of systematic theory.

Even scholars who do appreciate philosophy might apply it unsuccesfully, Hoffman continues. First sort of such philosophers are titularists, who fail in a manner opposite to experientialists: they merely repeat some general and even vulgar tautologies, which they cannot connect with actual practice.

By far the most interesting class of Hoffman's classification failed scholars is the last, paralogists, who, as the name belies, use faulty reasoning. It is this group in which Hoffman things Wolff and his 
followers belong. Hoffman even provides an example of Wolff's faulty reasoning. Wolff had suggested that bodies have forces and all features of complex bodies must be grounded on their simple constituents, then even these constituents or elements must have forces. Hoffman points out that the features of bodies are not actually determined just by their parts, but also by their manner of combining with one another – for instance, unextended elements are combined in such a manner that an extended body is generated out of them. Similarly to extension, force might be something that is only generated through combination of elements.

This is what Wolff's opponents had been up to. Next I am coming back to Gottsched's philosophy.

perjantai 21. marraskuuta 2014

Christian Wolff: Rational psychology - Animal souls and human spirits

The final task of Wolff's Latin rational psychology is to show the place of human souls in a hierarchy of what could be called mental entities – a hierarchy in which humans form neither the highest nor the lowest rang. Completely outside this hierarchy are material entities, but apparently also mere elements of material entities, which have no mental capacities and which do not represent the world in any proper sense of the word. Wolff is thus clearly distancing himself from the monadology of Leibniz, in which all monads actually perceived.

Even if Wolff does not accept elements as souls, he dos affirm that animals have mental capacities: animals have sensations and thus consciousness, they are guided by sensuous appetites and aversions and they can even imagine things that they are not perceiving. Thus, Wolff concludes, they must have souls. It it not clear how substantially Wolff wanted to understand this ascription of souls to animals, because the capacities Wolff has described as belonging to animals are all such that have bodily counterparts in Wolff's scheme. Is saying that animals have souls only another way to point out that animal bodies exhibit similar processes as bodies of truly ensouled humans or should animals truly have a simple substance that senses, imagines etc.?

Whatever the case about the supposed animal souls, Wolff says that they clearly lack some capacities inherent to humans. Animals particularly do not have the capacity for language, and because of that, they cannot think or have distinct perceptions or concepts. Thus, they also lack proper self-consciousness and cannot therefore even have free will. Wolff takes this distinction between unself-conscious animals and self-conscious humans as important enough to warrant a new concept: spirits, Wolff says, are entities capable of self-conscious intelligence and will. While it was unclear whether animal souls are simple entities, spirits undoubtedly must be.

It comes as no surprise that Wolff does not want to restrict the concept of spirit to mere humans. He notes that human spirits or souls have essentially limited intelligence and will: they do not understand world or the essence of goodness completely. This suggests then a possibility of a perfect or infinite spirit that succeeds where humans must fail. Another important concept is the notion of a necessary spirit or a spirit that cannot be created nor destroyed, but has always existed and will always exist. Although Wolff does not yet identify the two, it is clear that the roles of an infinite and a necessary spirit will be combined in the person of God.

Human spirits are then not necessary, but can be created and destroyed, although as they are simple substances, their creation does not involve combination of parts and their destruction does not involve taking them apart. Now, since it is only such material creation and destruction that we understand, creation and destruction of human spirit lies beyond our understanding. Still, we can see at least that human spirit cannot have been formed from the spirits of its parents, because two simple entities cannot be turned into a third simple entity.

Wolff goes on to speculate that even a fetus must have a soul, since it evidently can have sensations. Still, all the perceptions of the fetus must still be obscure and therefore it cannot have any consciousness nor any memory. This raises the question whether the human soul is meant to be generated along with the body or whether it might have pre-existed, say, as the soul of some animal. Whatever the case, the perceptions of the soul become more clear and more distinct, when the fetus develops into a full-grown human being. Wolff concludes that this level of distinctness and the memories gathered by the soul cannot suddenly disappear when the body dies, but human spirit must go on living in another shape.

This is as much of Wolff's rational psychology I am going to examine. Next time, it shall be a good time to return to some of the opponents of Wolffian school.

perjantai 14. marraskuuta 2014

Christian Wolff: Rational psychology - Lack of harmony

If one would have to pick out a single most central topic in the formation of Wolff's philosophy, it might well be the notion of a pre-established harmony. It is this theory, borrowed from Leibniz, that was one of the main reasons why pietists attacked Wolffian philosophy and it was also a place that Wolff had to most carefully reconsider when answering the criticism. The problematic of this theory led Wolff to a careful demarcation between empirical and rational psychology. Empirical psychology is based on incontrovertible facts, like correspondence between sensations and certain movements of physical world and human freedom.

Rational psychology, on other hand tries to explain, among other things, why changes in world and consciousness correspond with one another and how human freedom is related to this correspondence. As Wolff has for a number of times explained, this explanation has only the status of a hypothesis that might be replaced by a better theory. The hypothetical nature of the explanation is still not detrimental, because this explanation serves only our interest to understand ourselves, but is of no concern in other fields of philosophy.

Wolff is also now more careful in explicating his reasons for abandoning the two other competing explanations of the correspondence, namely, the traditional influx theory and the occasionalist theory of many Cartesians. It is clearly the influx theory, with which Wolff engages more, probably because his main opponents, the pietists, endorsed it. In comparison, occasionalism Wolff dismisses quickly with the familiar remark that it breaks the principle of sufficient reason and replaces natural law with mere whims of God.

The main defense against influx theory is also familiar: true interaction between soul and body would contradict physical laws. Still, Wolff also has few other points of interest. He notes that influx theory actually explains nothing: the correspondence between motions of body and soul is just an appearance of an inexplicable interaction between soul and body and the influx theory just says that there really is an inexplicable interaction between the two entities. Influx theory is then no true theory, but just a denial of our capacity to explain anything, hence, of no use in rational psychology. On the other hand, since it is only the fact of correspondence that is of need in morality and theology and not any explanation (or lack of explanation) of that fact, the influx theory is of no use in philosophy.

Pre-established harmony is then left as the only viable option, that is, as the best hypothesis available. But even this is not enough, because Wolff is willing to emend this theory even more to make it a better fit with human freedom. Wolff's emendations are of such importance that they make some of my own comments on the pre-established harmony suspect. I proposed that pre-established harmony ties soul and body so tightly together that Wolffian philosophy becomes too close to materialistic theories of soul, which Wolff wants to avoid. Wolff's explanations serve to loosen the bonds of soul and body and so make my suspicions unfounded.

The essence of Wolff's emendations is that the pre-established harmony is only partial. We have seen that Wolff accepts correspondence of soul and body in case of sensations, imaginations and affects. Yet, when it comes to self-conscious states of thinking and volition, he has explicitly stated that nothing in a material body can correspond to such states – at most there can be correspondence between linguistic utterances expressing such self-conscious thoughts and images of such utterances. This means that soul and body are not exactly like two clocks showing the same time, or at least one clock has further features not present in the other clock.

What Wolff's emendation especially allows is the possibility of freedom – self-conscious actions can well be free and even not causally related to sensations corresponding to bodily events (remember that Wolff has explicitly also said that grounding in case of souls takes the shape of motivations, instead of causes: actions require motivations, but motivations do not necessitate actions). Indeed, the more free a soul is, the more independent its actions are of its body. It is then more that the God has looked upon the free actions of human souls and fashioned the material world to fit in with the actions, instead of God having made several mechanical machines that work in harmony. True, one might even now ask whether God's foreknowledge is detrimental to human freedom, but this is a question common to almost all philosophies of the time.

So much for pre-established harmony, next time I shall look at Wolff's general theory on spirits.

keskiviikko 12. marraskuuta 2014

Christian Wolff: Rational psychology - Seeing is wanting

I tried to argue last time that Wolff's attempt to reduce faculties of soul to a single force of representation is acceptable, when it comes to cognitive faculties, which truly are nothing but modifications of representation. The attempt seems more difficult in case of appetetive faculties, like desire of will. In effect, Wolff appears to be saying that representing something as both good and somehow absent makes us motivated to reach for it. Yet, firstly, the causal link between this representation and motivation seems sometimes quite faint. Take, for instance, Kantian example of a person acquainted with some beautiful object: the observer of such an object would be disinterested and thus would not desire to possess it.

True, one could argue that perhaps beauty just is completely distinct from goodness – or perhaps one might suggest that we do desire to gaze upon beautiful objects. Still, a more pressing question would still be left unanswered: even if representing good and wanting it are inevitably connected in human mind, wouldn't they still be different acts of human consciousness, one mere passive cognition, other a beginning of activity?

Now, one must carefully note that Wolff wants to reduce all faculties of human soul to force of representation. Force means, for Wolff, already some activity – forces are in constant state of activity, or they have a conatus for changing their state. Thus, if soul is a force of representation, it does not mean just that soul is constantly looking at the world from some perspective, but it is also constantly seeking to change that perspective. In other words, when soul senses or perceives something, it also has an impulse for changing what it senses or perceives. This impulse occurs with e.g. an imagined phantasm of what the object sensed or perceived should be like. This combination of perception of current state of affairs, a phantasm of a different state of affairs and an impulse for replacing one with the other constitutes the general structure of appetite in Wolffian philosophy. Hence, even such appetites can be regarded as modifications of a force of representation.

As we now have solved the apparent problem of reducing appetite to representation, we can just quickly note that like Wolff distinguished between two levels of cognition (indistinct and distinct), he also distinguishes between two levels of appetite, depending on the level of distinctness of the corresponding representation of the desired goal: indistinct representations are connected with sensuous appetites and their stronger modifications of affects, while distinct representations are connected with volitions.

Just like indistinct representations (sensations and phantasms) were connected with some bodily activities, Wolff also connects sensuous appetites and affects e.g. with certain activities of heart (the heart of an excited person beats faster etc.). Then again, distinct representations of concepts and their combinations were only mediately connected with brain through the aid of linguistic symbols. This means, Wolff suggests, that volitions are not that tightly connected with human body. True, volitions usually end with some bodily movement and they are also conditioned by the state of body, but this still leaves a possibility that human soul could freely choose its actions. This is a topic I shall look into more carefully next time, when I try to unravel Wolff's opinions about the interaction between soul and body.

lauantai 8. marraskuuta 2014

Christian Wolff: Rational psychology (1734)

I have a feeling that the meaning of the epithet ”rational” in Wolff's Psychologia rationalis has not been generally understood. Wolff does not want to express his dedication to some rationalist school of thought, but merely points out that he wants to give ratio, reason or explanation to empirical data presented in his empirical psychology: we know what our soul does, now we will see why it does that.

Due to suspicions that the central ideas of the rational psychology lead somehow to atheism and mechanistic philosophy, Wolff is quick to point out that nothing in his later philosophy – especially in theology and ethics – hinges on the explanations of rational psychology, but only on the data given in empirical psychology (I have a hunch that he might have actually transferred some of the statements in the former to the latter, in order to make this explanation more convincing). Rational psychology is then rather unexpectedly a field of philosophy that has no use in other fields of philosophy, but serves only as a path to greater understanding of oneself by showing things that we could not directly observe of ourselves.

The primary fact that rational psychology should explain is self-consciousness. Self-consciousness, Wolff begins, is not just some murky feeling of oneself, but instead, distinct perception of oneself. That is, when one is conscious of oneself, one is able to distinguish oneself from other things. This requires that in self-consciousness one must be able to concentrate attention on oneself, but at the same time remember what other things one had perceived in addition to oneself.

Yet, as I have noted earlier, Wolff wants to go even further and not remain in the level of empirical details. He crosses the line of what Kant would approve and purports to prove that soul cannot be material, because material complexes cannot represent anything as a unity, which would immediately disprove the existence of self-consciousness. I have already discussed the weaknesses of this argument, thus, I can move to Wolff's discussion of what the soul should then be like.

If soul cannot be material complex, it must be one of the simple entities, which in Wolff's ontology were argued to be forces. Question is then what sort of force should be on base of all the phenomena occurring in soul. Wolff notes the obvious fact that whatever soul does, it always views of represents the world. Of course, it does not represent the whole world perfectly, but only from a certain vantage point: during dreamless sleep, soul has only obscure representations, and even while awake, its representations are conditioned by the place of its body in the world and the condition of this body. Still, Wolff insists, we could say that the basic force of soul is one of representation.

I have criticized Wolff's answer of circularity and this was one point the pietists attacked also: how can one pick out representation as the essential ingredient of what it means to be a soul with no other justification, but the obvious fact that soul happens to represent? Wolff's answer appears to have been that representation was not meant as the only feature of the essence of soul, but merely as one central ingredient, out of which all the other central ingredients could be found. If we accept this explanation, Wolff still has to show how all the other faculties of human soul can be derived from this central force – that is, he has to show that they can be interpreted as mere modifications of the force of representation.
In case of cognitive faculties this derivation appears simple. Sensations clearly represent objects in the world or at least the modifications these objects cause in the sense organs of the body. This does not mean that sensations should present a perfect picture of the world. Indeed, only those features of sensations could be said to represent things, which happen to resemble the things, that is, Wolff insists that only traditional primary characteristics like number, motion and figure represent anything. Furthermore, not even all primary characteristics are faithful representations, according to Wolff, for instance, we sense a continuous space around us, although everything in the physical world must consist of a distinct and non-continuous, individual points of force. And of course, if some harm happens to sense organs, the corresponding sensations become more obscure or even completely vanish.

While sensations are clearly representations of objects actually present, phantasms of imagination are representations of objects that we have sensed, that is, they are representations of past, or at least they are recombinations of past sensations. Similarly, intellectual faculties are representations of features shared by several objects.

Cognitive faculties are then quite naturally just representational for Wolff. Furthermore, they all have a close relationship with body. This is obvious in case of sensations, because we cannot have any sensations without sense organs. Still, Wolff goes a step forward and suggests that there is something resembling the sensations in our brains: material ideas Wolff calls them. The point is understandable in case of vision, because contact of eyes with light produces an image, which might then be transferred to brain. Clearly Wolff wants then something analogical to hold with other senses.

Wolff suggests that material ideas of perceived objects remain in the brain, but after a while they start to lose their vividness, unless reinvigorated by new sensations. These afterimages of sensations are then the physical counterpart for the phantasms of imagination. But at the level of intellectual faculties the correspondence of soul and brains ends: concepts are distinct perceptions and thus involve also self-consciousness, which Wolff just had declared to be impossible to represent materially. Despite this, Wolff admits that the brain at least has material ideas of words necessary for articulating the thoughts.

The correspondence between body and soul raises then a natural question whether it refutes the 
supposed liberty of human actions – a common complaint against Wolff's philosophy. Indeed, human body follows the laws of physical universe. Changes in human soul and especially its sensations correspond with some changes in human body. Thus, it appears that sensations particularly follow their own laws, and because other cognitive faculties, like imagination, are based on sensations, they too must have their own laws. Wolff goes even so far as to suggest that one can define what is natural for human soul on basis of these supposed laws – and just like in case of physical universe, one might define supernatural or miraculous in terms of what is against such laws.

Wolff still supposes that these laws of sensation and imagination leave room for human liberty. Thus, although I cannot just by wishing make an object send to me different sensations, I can, for instance, change my spatial setting and look at a different object. Clearly this is not enough to guarantee human liberty, but I shall return to the topic in a later text, when speaking of the different ways to explain the correspondence of body and soul.
In any case, the important result Wolff thinks he has established is the reduction of all cognitive faculties to representational force. This still leaves open the question whether appetetive faculties can also be so reduced – this shall be the topic of my next post.

lauantai 1. marraskuuta 2014

Gottsched: First grounds of whole worldly wisdom (1733)

I've already described Gottsched's original take on poetry and I am now about to embark on the first part of his work on the whole of philosophy, Erste Gründe der gesammten Weltweisheit, and especially its first part that deals with theoretical philosophy. Since, the number of such philosophical compendiums is about to grow and I assume they mostly follow the same formula, I am not about to make a thorough series of posts about each individual book on metaphysics. Instead, I shall merely make some general remarks and comment on the novel features of each work.

Before starting the work itself, Gottsched begins with a short presentation of the history of philosophy, and just like the pietist Joachim Lange, begins with the account of Genesis. Whereas Lange's vision of philosophy was one of depressing downhill, in which humans had lost the original wisdom that consisted of a connection to God, Gottsched has a more positive view, no doubt tied to a very different idea of what philosophy is all about: for Gottsched, just like for Wolff, philosophy is worldly wisdom, which then is a science for discovering happiness in this world, which can clearly become more perfect as we discover more things about the world around us. Curiously, Gottsched's take on history is rather unhistorical: he goes through nations and asks what philosophical or scientific discoveries they had made. This feeling of ahistoricity is heightened by Gottsched's decision to end the history of philosophy quickly after Socrates.

After this pseudohistorical introduction begins the work itself. Gottsched's take on what belongs to theoretical philosophy is pretty traditional: the book considers much the same topics as Wolff had done in his logical, metaphysical and physical writings. Still, Gottsched's arrangement of these topics is rather peculiar. After logic comes metaphysics, but this contains only ontology and cosmology. Metaphysics is followed by physics, which is then followed by a section on pneumatology, study of spirits. I shall briefly go through all novel and surprising features in Gottsched's treatment of these topics.

Gottsched's logic does not at first sight hold much surprises and seems rather Woffian in tone. True, Gottsched does mention other philosophers as inspirations of the study of logic, but it is clearly Wolffian logic, which Gottsched thinks is nearest to the truth: he explicitly mentions Wolff's German logic, while the organisation of the logic reveals clear influences of Latin logic. Still, Gottschedian logic has tendencies not existing in Wolff's logic. While Wolff accepted experience as one source of cognition among many others, Gottsched instead tries to reduce empirical judgements to reasoning. His justification is rather original: empirical judgements depend on the reliability of our sensory apparatus, but this is something that might be proved (for instance, Descartes tried to justify it by relying of the goodness of God). One could protest that such a reliability guarantees still only a probability of empirical judgements, but not necessarily their truth. Yet, this still would not be fatal to Gottsched's position, because in the Wolffian tradition probabilities were also something that could be reasoned with.

Although Gottsched mentions no names, it is clear even from the chapter divisions that he is closely following Wolff's Latin Ontology. The only clear deviation is the lack of a direct proof of the principle of sufficient reason. Instead, Gottsched favours the transcendental argument that this principle is required to distinguish dreams from reality. As this had been done by previous Wolffians, it still means no great leap forward. The other part of Gottschedian metaphysics, cosmology, seems at first sight also rather Wolffian. But while the details truly are lifted almost verbatim from Wolff's works, there is something novel in Gottsched's separation of cosmology as a part of metaphysics from the pneumatology that does not belong to metaphysics. Gottsched explains this division by noting that world must be a topic of metaphysics, because souls also are part of the world. Now, this is something that was at least unclear in Wolffian account of philosophy, and in fact, it is much easier to see Wolffian souls as not belonging to the world, which is causally closed whole, which souls most likely cannot directly interact with.

Gottsched's account of physics is, as is to be expected, full of references to sources beyond Wolff – Gottsched is drawing on developments that were still unknown in time of Wolff's physical writings. Most of what Gottsched recounts feels nowadays very trite – like the account of Ptolemaic and Copernican systems and Kepler's discoveries – or then quite dated – like a theory that first chapter of Genesis describes a time when Earth was still not rotating and each day took one year, while the dust covering Earth's surface slowly flew away, first to reveal light and only couple of ”days” or years later the Sun and the Moon.

What is truly revolutionary in Wolffian setting is Gottsched's pneumatology, which contains, in addition to empirical and rational psychology, also natural theology (God is also, after all, a spirit). We might firstly note that by the time Gottsched was writing this work, Wolff had not yet published Latin versions of these themes. What is truly novel is not Gottsched's new arrangement of topics, but Gottsched's rejection of the pre-established harmony as the explanation of soul/body – interaction.

This development seems remarkable at first, but in some sense is quite natural. We've seen that Wolff moved to a position, in which the pre-established harmony had only a status of a likely hypothesis. Gottsched now suggests that if it at this stage all theories are mere hypothesis and none of them is truly certain, we should choose the option that is most familiar – that is, the theory of a true interaction between soul and body. The problem how souls as substances beyond world can have any effect on world as a closed series of causes and effects Gottsched solves easily through his earlier admission that souls are part of the world and thus the soul/body -interaction belongs to the natural course of events.

Gottsched's pneumatology thus shows a new tendency in Wolffian school. Furthermore, Gottsched wasn't even the only figure to do this. He explicitly refers to a study of one Martin Knutsen - best known as the teacher of Kant - in which the interaction was defended. But what did Wolff himself had to say about the topic? We shall see soon, as I am now about to embark on Wolff's rational psychology.

maanantai 6. lokakuuta 2014

Free to act

In previous post, I spoke of Wolff's general idea of the appetetive side of human mind and particularly of appetites based on unanalyzed information from perception, apperception and phantasms. Just like the move from lower to higher faculties of cognition happens through analysis of perceptions and phantasma, so does the move from lower to higher faculties of appetite, that is, from sensuous appetite to will. What distinguishes will from mere sensuous appetite or volitions from affects is that in case of volitions we can in general tell why we want or avoid something. In other words, volitions are based on conscious motives.

Although the existence of motives does characterize volitions, this doesn't mean that motives of our volitions would be completely transparent to us. Just like in case of concepts, the analysis of our motives could well be only partial and lead only to some gut feeling we couldn't really base on anything. Indeed, lack of reliable information could well lead us to volitions that we would discard at once, if we just knew better – for instance, we might follow a diet that we thought to make us healthy, even if more complete studies would reveal its inefficiency.

Furthermore, even if we knew well enough what was good for us, we might receive contradictory information from our senses that might be difficult to ignore due to its vividness, which might result in a mental conflict. Thus, we might well know that eating certain foods is bad for our condition, but the rich odours coming from grill might still seduce us to savour the taste of such detrimental nutrients.

Indeed, in actual decision making out motives are usually far from complete, and only in hindsight can we rationalize our actions and explain why we did them. This does not make us completely passive, because many impulses besides willing guide our activities. These other impulses also help Wolff solve the problem of Buridan's ass, that is, what to choose, when none of the options has a stronger motive than others. Wolff is of the opinion that we could choose in such cases, even if it would come about with great difficult. This choice could then be helped by other factors beyond motive. One of these is habit, which often takes the place of a motivated, reasoned choice. Thus, Buridan's ass might just prefer to pick out always a left hay stack, even if it had no reason to do this.

Wolff's account of Buridan's ass reveals that he doesn't think motives work in the same way as causes do – if two forces equal in quantity, but working in opposite directions would affect same object, no movement would occur, but two opposed motives do not prevent actions. Indeed, Wolff admits that motives do not so much determine actions, but give us a chance to choose some activity. Thus, humans cannot act without any motive at all, but they can still decide which motive to ignore and which not. This does not mean that we could choose what volitions and motives we do have, although Wolff admits that we could gradually teach ourselves to gain or lose some volitions. True liberty, Wolff concludes, lies actually in our ability to choose from given options the one pleasing us most. Because volitions are then not determined by the essence of the soul, this is enough to avoid Spinozistic conclusions, Wolff says.

Freedom to act is not restricted to choices within our own mind, Wolff argues further, because our actions do appear to have some effect on our bodies – if I decide to raise my hand, my hand is instantly raised. The power of mind over body is still not absolute, because we cannot just will our body to do physical impossibilities like flying. In addition, changes in body are instantly followed by changes in our mind, for instance, when light touches our eye. This is as much as we can empirically determine from their relation, that is, that they are dependent on one another. Real explanations of this interdependence will be offered in Wolff's Rational psychology, but now we are going to take a second look on Gottsched' philosophy.

torstai 2. lokakuuta 2014

Enduring pain

I have tried to criticize the common prejudice about Wolffian philosophy that he, in Kant's words, intellectualized appearances. As I have tried to show, this is a rather exaggerated and even misleading opinion. If anything, Wolff was Lockean, when it comes to the source of cognition, and even highly abstract concepts were for Wolff either phantasms dependent on perceptions or words symbolizing such phantasms. Instead of intellectualizing appearances, Wolff picked out a certain subgroup of them as an ideal of cognition, that is, distinct or analysed perceptions, which could be used as a basis for demonstrations.

Even if Wolff would not intellectualize appearances, he appears to fall into a second failing of many pre-Kantians, namely, he reduces appetetive side of human mind into its cognitive side. This seems evident from Wolff's suggestion that all cravings, desires, hopes, volitions etc. presuppose some cognition. In other words, we could not want anything to happen, Wolff says, if we could not see what the situation is like and compare it with some ideal how the situation should be. On top of this, Wolff defines all forms of enjoyment simply as intuitive cognition of something as perfect, making even bodily pleasure appear rather intellectual, like an aesthetic consideration of a statue.

The last problem is actually easy to solve, when one remembers that Wolffian cognition need not be highly conceptual. We need not be able make sophisticated explanations why a taste of sweetness or an orgasm is pleasurable, but we could just cry out ”Oh my God, yes, this is what I want” or even utter no comprehensible sounds. Indeed, the word ”intuitive” tells that this enjoyment does not need any linguistic expression at all, but is instigated by mere perception. What is important is that we human beings are, as it were, hardwired to seek for such feelings of perfection and to avoid respective feelings of imperfection.

Furthermore, we already know from the study of Wolff's theory of cognition that he acknowledges a difference in vividness and strength between sensations and higher intellectual representations. Indeed, a capacity to at least partially avoid the influence of distracting sensations was an essential precondition of more intellectual cognition. Similarly, Wolff can accept that bodily pleasures captivate us so strongly that it will cloud our reason – and similarly pain can make us unable to think clearly. Then again, we also can exercise an ability to become indifferent even to quite strong bodily pleasures and pains. Thus, although being tortured is painful, there have been people able to suppress these extreme feelings, and even if such extreme self-control is rare, all of us can in some degree endure at least some type of bodily discomfort.

A good question is whether Wolff is making an artificial restriction by declaring the appetites for pleasures and aversions of discomfort and pleasure to be essentially connected to cognitions. After all, appetites and aversions we are aware of might be just expression of some unconscious urges. Yet, Wolff is here purposefully restricting himself on what we can immediately observe of ourselves, while the explanations for these observations are left for rational psychology. Thus, Wolff can in empirical psychology point out only that conscious appetites and aversions are clearly dependent of cognitions. This still does not preclude the possibility of unconscious activities causing this whole play of appetites and cognitions.

In Wolffian system, why we feel positive and negative feelings is ultimately work of God and meant to be useful. For instance, bodily pleasure should reward us for benefiting the condition of our body, while bodily pain should warn us of harming our body. Yet, Wolff points out, enjoyment is defined only as cognizing something AS perfect, that is, there remains the possibility that what we enjoy is in truth really not perfect or even good for us. Taste of sugar sends a pleasurable feeling, because we require energy that is easily obtainable from sugar, but eating too much sweets will still be detrimental to our health. Similarly, pressure on nerves in our teeth will cause considerable pain as a warning for a possible dental injury, but similar pain felt in a dentist's chair occurs just as a side effect of fixing our teeth.

The possibility of deceptive enjoyments is essentially connected with the confusion of mere unanalysed sensations. Thus, pleasure or pain is just a murky feeling of ”Yes!” or ”No!” without any proper indication what actually is good and bad in the events causing these feelings. A good question is how we can then recognize enjoyment caused by true perfection and distinguish it from deceptive positive feelings – especially as working it out from Wolff's ontological definition of perfection seems rather difficult. Wolff's suggestion appears to be that constancy can be used as a relevant criterion – truly perfect things cause enjoyment that cannot be contradicted by future knowledge, while deceptive enjoyment could well be just momentary and fleeting.

Affects, like love and hope, fall usually to the more confused side of appetites and aversions – we have tender feelings toward a person and often just cannot explain why. Wolff presents an intricately detailed account of affects and defines them twice – first nominally, by explaining what e.g. love means, and then through its real definition which tells us how to generate love. As I said earlier when dealing with Wolffian theory of affects, the whole system of affects has too much material for a good blog text, thus, I will skip the topic now also. Hence, next time I shall move to consider the question of interaction between mind and body.

torstai 25. syyskuuta 2014

The height of cognition

When I look at the massive collection of Wolff's combined works, I get the impression he might have been a keen business man: after all, it requires a good sales pitch to get one's writings sold numerous times after the first print. Furthermore, it is not just the huge amount of reprints, which makes me consider the possibility, but also the fact that Wolff essentially made duplicated copies of his works in German and Latin. The most astonishing example is still Wolff's logic. The German version of logic was one of Wolff's first publications, but so fond of the topic Wolff was that he essentially summarised the main ideas of the book in his German metaphysics and especially in psychological chapters (after all, cognition is part and parcel of human mental life) and then years later in his book on morals (naturally, a moral person has a duty to find out as reliable information as possible). It is once again the point coinciding with logic I have now hit on Wolff's Latin psychology. Since I have so recently went through Wolff's Latin logic in quite a detail, I shall just do a quick summary of Wolff's ideas of intellect and cognition, especially from a psychological point of view.

Last time I described Wolff's notion of intellect as a faculty of distinct ideas. Although one can have distinct ideas of individual objects, it is especially universalities Wolff is interested here, because universalities are an essential ingredient in the more complex forms of intellectual cognition, that is, making judgements and reasoning on basis of judgements. I also noted Wolff's distinction between intuitive cognition based on direct observation of ideas and symbolic cognition based on language and generally signs and their manipulation. Wolff notes that this duality continues throughout all levels of cognition. Thus, we can have direct awareness of a universal feature shared by a number of entities or we can just refer to this feature with a general word, we can note a connection between certain ideas of universal features of we can express this connection with a string of words and we can use the connections we have observed to deduce more connections or we can use formal rules of syllogism and mechanically calculate consequences of certain linguistic expressions.

The capacity to draw inferences Wolff calls reasoning, and it is closely related to the faculty of reason, which is just the capacity to view a whole system of universal truths and their interconnections. The more pure a reason is, the less external material it has to use, and pure reason would observe a system based only on definitions and self-evident axioms – note that Wolff does not indicate what sciences actually belong to pure reason, but one would assume that at least mathematics is a part of it.

Pure reasoning is then expectedly a form of a priori cognition. In Latin logic Wolff made it clear that actually all cognition uses reasoning a priori, that is, also deductions based on experiences. Here Wolff also explains that all cognition based on experiences is a posteriori, thus making it possible that cognition is both a priori and a posteriori – this is what Wolff calls mixed cognition. Wolff is thus beginning to approach a position in which a priori and a posteriori refer to components and not types of cognition. We might also note that Wolff divides experiences and says that a posteriori cognition can be based on active experiments and passive observations, which includes in addition to sensuous perceptions also apperceptions, thus making psychology explicitly not part of pure reason.

We might finally point out that Wolff introduces the notion of an analogy of reason, which was especially important to Wolff's followers, such as Baumgarten. Wolff's idea appears to be that as the ideal of reason is a system of interconnected truths, we might expect that world conforms to this system in the sense that it is also a system of interconnected entities. Thus, if some part of nature is known to be structurised in a certain manner, we have a justification to assume that some similar part of nature is also structurised in the same manner.

So much for theoretical part of the soul, next time we'll start to tackle the practical side of our nature.

sunnuntai 14. syyskuuta 2014

Reflecting on intellect

I have pointed out a number of times that although sensation as such belongs in Wolff's psychology to the less clear side of faculties, even sensations can be more or less clear. Just consider a common enough experience, such as perceiving a bicycle. When we notice a lone bicycle, the actual sensory data received by human mind contains a lot more than just the bicycle, for instance, balcony above the bicycle and bricks on the wall that the bicycle is leaning against. Then again, what we are clearly aware of includes only a fraction of this data, namely, just the bicycle, while the wall, the balcony and others recede into a murky background. This effect can be very pointed, as shown by the famous example of people counting how many scores a player makes in a basketball match not noticing a guy in a monkey suit dancing on the field. This difference in the levels of clarity Wolff considers under the concept of attention. We might say that if human consciousness is like a light, only some objects can be in its focus.

The effects of the faculty of attention seem not completely positive, because the necessity of focusing one's attention on a part of sensory data prevents the possibility of considering more than one thing at a time. This is especially lamentable in case of sensations, which are easily disturbed by other sensations. Thus, it is not easy to concentrate one's attention on some particular sensation for a long period of time, because other sensations constantly demand our attention too.

Yet, although attention itself has a limited range and might thus not show all facets of a thing, we can also systematically move our attention from one facet of a thing to another and thus ultimately go through it all – this method Wolff calls reflection. We can also imagine the various parts of the thing as separate from the whole – this is what is called abstraction. When we then reflect how the various abstracted parts combine into a totality, the result is a more detailed view of the structure of a thing, which is not just clearer, but also more distinct, due to us having discerned the various parts of the thing and their interrelations and retaining all of this in memory.

Now, this stage of representing things distinctly is already intellect, Wolff defines, thus further confusing the lines between sensational and intellectual faculties – looking at a particular bicycle and seeing how all its parts combine to form a complex machinery that will move the one riding forward is already work of intellect. In fact, this is also an instance of intuitive cognition, by which Wolff means cognition generated immediately by examining our ideas – such cognition can be confused, if we don't know anything about the structure of what we examine, but through reflection it becomes more distinct. Thus, Wolffian psychology allows for the possibility of intuitive intellect, although this notion has a completely different meaning than with Kant (I assume the awareness of the mechanics of a bicycle wouldn't be something Kant would call intuitive intellect).

Note that the use of intellect is not restricted to mere universalities, but intellect could be applied individual things, like bicycles. Still universals are a topic studied by intellect – we can not just reflect on parts of a thing, but also on similarities and differences between different things, thus becoming aware of universals or features shared by many things. Moving to universalities usually requires the use of words that can be used to symbolise individual things and especially universalities – the use of words is then properly called symbolic cognition. Although symbolic cognition thus makes it easier to reflect on universal features of things and might help us to invent new things (especially through some Leibnizian ars characteristica) and is especially useful in communication of ideas, we can always refrain from using it and remain on the level intuitive cognition, Wolff assures us.

While the level of intellect as such is already achieved, once we have distinct ideas, it is of course possible to have more distinct ideas (e.g. to know what the parts of the bicycle are made of). This possibility implies a final level of highest intelligence that has nothing but distinct ideas of everything (note that this would essentially require an infinity of ideas, because the things that we perceive are infinitely divisible). A notion distinct from the idea of a highest intelligence is that of a pure intelligence. Pure intelligence does not so much know everything perfectly, but is undisturbed by various sensations and uncontrolled imaginations that distract human attention so easily.

So much for a general look on reflection and intellect, next time I shall look more closely at the use of intellect.

maanantai 8. syyskuuta 2014

Phantastic faculties

I have studied Wolff's idea of imagination in an earlier post quite extensively, but I still feel there's some possibility for clarifying the role of this faculty in more detail. Especially I shall have to emphasise its role as still officially one of the lower faculties, but even so, on a higher level than mere sensation as such.

Imagination, then, is supposed to be the faculty that reproduces ideas of certain individuals, even if they are absent. The reproduced ideas created by imagination Wolff calls phantasms. They are thus to be distinguished from sensuous ideas, which could not be produced without the presence of some concrete thing corresponding to these ideas. Still, there could be no phantasms without any sensations. That is, Wolff ascribes to Lockean principle that mind without experience would be like a blank slate without anything written on it.

I have already noted about the similarity of Wolffian distinction between sensations and phantasms and Humean distinction between impressions and ideas. Like Hume, Wolff also notes that phantasms or products of imagination are less vivid and have fewer details. Then again, this is actually positive according to Wolff and speaks in favour of phantasms. The vividness of sensations makes it difficult to concentrate on them: if we try to look at a beautiful painting, a sudden honk from car horns outside the window can ruin our aesthetic experience. The lack of unnecessary details in phantasms, on the other hand, helps to make them clearer, which is a requirement e.g. for mathematical thinking. True, phantasms can also be confused by sensations, and a honking car horn will make it difficult to follow mathematical constructions imagined in your head. Yet, even this obstacle can be circumvented, as soon as one finds a dark room isolated from all external stimuli.

The lack of sensations thus helps us to concentrate on our phantasms. Indeed, when all sensations have been cut out, phantasms become more vivid, which explains, according to Wolff, the seeming substantiality of our dreams. Like all experiences, dreams come with different levels of clarity, starting from a completely dreamless sleep and ending with lucid dreams, in which we are aware that we are dreaming.

Imagination as a faculty of producing phantasms is thus important for its own sake, but it also provides materials for other faculties, Wolff continues. Firstly, phantasms are more in our control than sensations are. In fact, a given phantasm can be, as it were, divided into its constituent phantasms – we can imagine a human head, independently of its body. Furthermore, we can also combine different phantasms, attaching a human head onto a body of a horse, thus creating the phantasm of a centaur. This is the work of what Wolff calls inventive faculty, which is responsible, among other things, all the works of fiction.

Secondly, we can use phantasms as indicators for something we have sensed or in general experienced at some past point of time. This is the task of memory, which Wolff clearly says not to be any container of images or memories. Instead, memory is actually a name common to various interacting faculties, which, for instance, recognise a sensation or phantasm as resembling something that we have witnessed, or produce phantasms of things we have witnessed.

Imagination, together with its related faculties, forms then a second level in the hierarchy of faculties in Wolffian psychology of cognition. Together with sensation, they form the lower level of cognition, in which imagination appears clearer than the multifarious and uncontrollable sensations. This does not mean that sensations could not be basis of clear and even distinct experiences, as becomes clear in the next post, where I will move to consider the higher levels of cognition.

keskiviikko 3. syyskuuta 2014

Sensational cognition

After proving that soul or consciousness exists and that we can in some measure study it, Wolff begins to discuss the theoretical or cognitive part of soul. I might notice, by the way, that this is a rather common ordering, and indeed, I have never seen a philosophical study of consciousness begin with volition. The custom goes all the way back to Aristotle's De Anima, and presumably every philosopher has just copied his predecessors in this matter.

Before actually beginning to study any cognitive faculties, Wolff defines certain notions common to all of them, starting from the concept of faculty itself. Scholars of German philosophy are often so ingrained in the language of faculties that they fail to ask even what is meant by a faculty. Wolff actually defined the term already in his ontology, where it was explicated as any active potentiality, that is, any possibility to do something that was actually engaged with actualising this possibility. In other words, faculties of soul or mind are just capacities of mind to do something, but also not passive. Instead, they are active or actually use what they can do.

After faculty, Wolff continues by describing what is meant by clarity and distinctness of perceptions or representations. The notions themselves I have explicated quite sufficiently for a number of times: clarity means for Wolff ability to distinguish a perception, while distinctness means ability to recognise partial perceptions that help to distinguish the whole perception. I could still note one more time that these concepts should not be read as forming a strict division to e.g. clear and unclear perceptions. Instead, they work more as defining a scale of clarity and distinctness: we can distinguish an object with various accuracy in different situations, and analysis required for distinctness might reveal further characteristic marks. This notion is further backed up by the fact that Wolff calls clarity of perception light of soul – light does not form a clear division with darkness, but between light and total darkness there are many shadows and gray areas.

These very same perceptions can also be called ideas, although Wolff prefers defining idea as a representation, in which we are especially interested of the object represented: that is, when we talk of perceptions, we talk of an act of subject, but when we talk of ideas, we talk of individual objects. Concepts, on the other hand, are representations of general characteristics of things, of genera and species. Cognition, then, means acquiring ideas and concepts of various things, that is, conceiving what things and their characteristics are. Cognition can then have various levels of clarity, but Wolff places the most important distinction on whether the ideas and concepts involved are distinct, that is, analysed into further ideas and concepts. Cognition with distinct ideas and concepts is in Wolffian psychology on a level higher than cognition with obscure and confused ideas and concepts, that is, one should aim at analysing one's ideas and concepts.

Wolff begins the study of cognition from faculties of lower level. Wolff's choice reflects a natural development – we begin with confused and even obscure ideas, which little by little become clearer and more distinct. Thus, it is no wonder that Wolff begins with sensations, which presumably are the beginning of all cognition. Sensations are also the link of human cognition to the external physical world. An important element of this world is our own body that appears constantly attached to us and seems to be in continuous correspondence with certain perceptions (note how Wolff avoids the question whether this correspondence is explained by actual interaction between body and human mind or whether there is no interaction between them – such questions will be tackled in rational psychology). Sensation, then, is defined by the special correspondence between human mind and sensory organs of the body, that is, sensation is a perception that can be understood by basis of changes in these organs (even if they are not caused by these changes).

Because sensation is studied by Wolff in a part dedicated to the lower part of human cognition, it becomes natural to ask if Wolff completely discarded sensation as without any value and completely obscure. Yet, the idea of clarity and distinctness as a scale instead of division makes it possible that sensation could rise in clarity and even gain some distinctness. This is especially shown to be true by Wolff's investigation of attention and reflection, but even sensations themselves contain levels of clarity – a stronger sensation is also clearer than a weaker sensation. A further value of sensations lies in their relative freedom from arbitrary whims of human mind. Thus, if one is looking at some spot, one cannot just choose what one is seeing. The only way to control what one senses is to move to another spot or at least look to somewhere else.

So much for sensations, next time I shall turn to imagination.

perjantai 29. elokuuta 2014

Empirical psychology (1732)

After cosmology, Wolff turns his attention once again to human soul, and just like in his German metaphysics, he divides the topic into two parts. The book I now reading, or Psychologia empirica, concerns, as the title says, empirical psychology, which is meant to provide us with the experiential information that any theory of human soul or consciousness should be able to explain. Second part, or rational psychology, is then supposed to present the theory used for explaining the propositions of empirical psychology.

Psychology is so for Wolff an empirical science, and it is through experience that we must ascertain the existence of the very topic of psychological investigations, that is, the human soul. Wolff can finally apply the Cartesian strategy, with which he had started the German metaphysics. He begins from the rather indubitable fact that we are aware of things external to us. Note that we need not confirm that there are things outside us, just that there is this state of being conscious of them. Now, it is easy to conclude that there must also be someone who is conscious, or the ”I”.

Wolff declares that the starting point of the deduction or the state of consciousness of external things is so indubitable that psychology has as certain beginning as mathematics. Clearly, he once again does not want to say that the existence of external things is certain, but only that our consciousness of them is. Wolff thus suggests that the consciousness of external things is dependent on the possibility of being conscious of ourselves. Later on, Kant tried in his refutation of idealism, as it were, to reverse this line of thought and show that our self-consciousness is dependent on our consciousness of external things.

Wolff then defines soul as that which is conscious of itself and external things. One might wonder if Wolff is here moving to the perilous area of Kantian paralogisms. Yet, one must remember that at the stage of empirical psychology Wolff merely describes what can be experienced without committing himself to any theories explaining these experiences. Thus, Wolff can certainly assume that there is both consciousness of things and consciousness of this consciousness and that these two states of consciousness are part of same stream of consciousness. He might even have the right to call this stream soul, if he just refrains from saying that the soul is e.g. immortal and independent substance – it would be just a different name for human mind or consciousness.

A more difficult problem lies in the question about the relationship of soul and body. Like a good Cartesian, Wolff notes that soul is known before body, that is, while we can be quite certain of the existence of our soul, the existence of our body is more doubtful. One might think that this assumption relies on Kant's fourth paralogism about the supposed relationship of soul and body. Yet, when it comes to empirical psychology, Wolff even here remains within the limits of what Kant could accept. Even Kant doesn't deny that ”I am and I think I am” is far more certain that the statement ”I am a bodily being”. It is only when from these facts conclusions like ”I am not a bodily being” are drawn that philosophers stray from a safe path.

Wolff's empirical psychology is then not full of paralogisms – if these are anywhere to be found, it will be in rational psychology, where Wolff will try to explain the empirical facts of our mental life. Even so, we still have to ask whether Wolff's methodology in empirical psychology is acceptable, as even I have voiced some skepticism about it.

Now, the aim of empirical psychology, according to Wolff, lies in cognition of our own soul: cognition is here defined as nothing else but awareness or consciousness of something. The cognition of ourselves, Wolff continues, we receive through our capacity of apperception. The word ”apperception” was introduced by Leibniz, because he wanted to separate consciousness of external things (perception as such) from consciousness of oneself. Wolff follows this lead in a rather unimaginative fashion. Perception, he says, is simply representation of something, while apperception is then perception of ourselves. All perceptions involve the possibility of apperception, that is, when we observe, for instance, an apple, we can also note that we are observing this apple. Wolff just takes it for granted that this self-observation is unproblematic, without considering in Kantian manner how this self-observation takes place. Yet, despite these methodological problems, we might still accept the results of such a self-observation, just as long as we do not make any problematic inferences from them – that is, just as long as we remain at the level of empirical psychology and note, for instance, that we have memories, without stepping to the field of rational psychology by trying to explain why we can remember things.

Before moving onward to a more substantial account of capacities of human mind, I shall make a note of the structure of the book. Wolff uses the trusted notion that human mind has a cognitive and volitional part, basing even the division of the book on that presupposition. Within each major part, Wolff then differentiates between less and more clear faculties – sensory perceptions from understanding, sensuous impulses from free will. Next time, we shall be looking at the book in more detail, starting from sensation or perceptions.

maanantai 25. elokuuta 2014

Such a perfect world

Wolff has attached every entity with an essence, which, as it were, contains the kernel of a thing or its central characteristics, from which all features of the thing, or at least their possibility, can be explained. Every thing, whether just possible or actual, has also an essence, or else it wouldn't be a thing. Thus, even world must have such an essence or nature, and the nature of the world (or simply nature) means for Wolff the sum of all principles of mutation inherent in the world, that is, the sum of all active forces in the world.

Now, by natural Wolff simply means something belonging to the nature of any topic. In case of world, natural then means something being or happening in accordance with the forces and laws governing motion. Events that do not happen according to these forces and laws are then supernatural events or miracles. Furthermore, there is an intricate relation between the miracles and laws of motion. Wolff admits that laws of motion are not necessary and that events we would call miraculous are completely possible events of another world. Yet, Wolff goes even further and suggests that miracles can in a sense happen even during the normal course of events – this doesn't imply contradiction, Wolff says, but only the incompleteness of the world we live in. If world is a clockwork, miracle is like a finger entering the works and doing something clock itself wouldn't be able to do. Miracle changes the world, and to do that, it must have adjusted the inner workings of the elements of the world, because elements can exist only in a single world. In order that the world would remain the same world, another miracle will have to follow that changes everything back to how it was.

Laws of motion then define the nature of the world, but they also contribute to its perfection. Perfection in general Wolff defined in his ontology as arising from the unification of a multiplicity under some rules. In case of world, this unification must take the form of a spatio-temporal whole, and the rules governing it are clearly the laws of motion. Thus, when we become aware of the laws governing physical world or the order of nature, we are not just becoming more informed, but also able to appreciate the perfection of the world. Due to the incompleteness of human cognitive capacities, Wolff thinks we can never know the perfection of the world completely – a clever way for Wolff to avoid the possible objection that world does not appear perfect.

Before I completely move away from Wolff's cosmology, I would like to point out how misleading is the Kantian account of what cosmology is about when it comes to Wolff. As it is well known, Kant uses especially his idea of antinomies to undermine the traditional cosmology – reason faces insurmountable dilemmas in its most important questions. Now, ironically the four problems Kant mentions are not treated by Wolff in his cosmology. Problems about human freedom and possible creation of the world are respectively psychological and theological for Wolff, and the questions of the spatiotemporal limits of world and of the divisibility of matter are never comprehensively discussed by Wolff, as far as I can see.

Next time we'll turn to Wolff's empirical psychology.

torstai 21. elokuuta 2014

Matter and forces

An important feature of world, according to Wolff, is that it is a composite, that is, it consists of parts. Some of these parts are familiar to us from experience. Wolff points out that none of these experienced parts are indivisible, but consist of further parts – we might call them in a modern philosophical vocabulary middle-sized objects.

As composites, Wolff continues, everyday worldly objects must be such that can be completely explained through the structure and mutual relations of these parts – in effect, they are machines similar to the world itself. Because of the dependence, one need just change parts of a middle-sized object in order to change the object itself. In fact, this is the only way to truly have some effect on these objects.

All the changes on the bodies require then moving some stuff from them or moving some stuff in them – that is, movement or motion and direct physical contact is an essential element in changes of the worldly objects. It is then no wonder that a huge part of Wolff's cosmology is dedicated to determining the so-called laws of motion – mostly descriptions of what happens when several bodies collide with one another, depending on their size, mass, velocity and cohesion. Although determining what the correct laws of motion were was an ongoing philosophical and scientific theme at least from the time of Descartes' Principia philosophiae, I won't go into any further details here, besides one exception.

The one interesting element in the laws of motion is the notion that a resting body will not by itself start to move and that a moving body will not by itself change its velocity or direction. This property, known nowadays as inertia, is called by Wolff a passive force of a body, and according to him, should be taken as defining what is called matter, which he takes to be the extension of passive force. With just matter, bodies would then just have stayed in the same place for all eternity. The movement must have then been generated by something else, that is, by an active force, which is then transferred from one body to another in various collisions. Matter and active forces are then what one requires for explaining the constitution of our world and they might be taken as substances in what we observe of the world.

Yet, matter and active forces are not the whole story. As I've mentioned in a previous text, beyond the level of material bodies exists the level of elements of bodies, because as composite entities material bodies must ultimately consist of some simple entities. As simple, these elements cannot have any extension and are therefore indivisible. They are not like atoms are thought to be, Wolff says, because atoms are supposed to have no true distinguishing qualities, which would contradict the ontological principle that no two entities can have exactly same qualities.

The differentiating principle of the elements, Wolff suggests, should be their conatus, that is, the basic force containing in nuce all the changes that will happen to a particular element. In effect, elements are differentiated by their whole life history. Because an essential part of a life history of an element consists of its interactions with other elements and these interactions are essential part of a nexus forming a world, an element cannot exist except in a single world, that is, by changing world you must change also its elements and vice versa.

The actual relation of elements to bodies is rather confusing in Wolffian philosophy. What is clear is that elements constitute the realm of bodies we observe. This means that many features we appear to observe in bodies must be deceptive. For instance, bodies appear to consist of continuous masses of such types of stuff as water. Yet, because all matter and even water must consist of individual, indivisible and completely distinct elements, they must actually be discontinuous. What is unclear is how this phenomenal realm of continuities is supposed to arise from true realm of discontinuities. The question is muddled even more by corpuscles, which Wolff introduces as constituting a level between observed bodies and elements. The behaviour of bodies Wolff explains as constituted by the corpuscles, parts of body, which still are divisible. Yet, no explanation is given how corpuscles are generated from the level of elements, and number of confusing questions remain. For instance, should a corpuscle consist of an infinity of elements?

This enigma is a point where we must leave the Wolffian concept of microcosm. Next time I still have something to say about the order and perfection of the world in Wolff's cosmology.

tiistai 19. elokuuta 2014

General cosmology (1731)

After Wolff's huge works on logic and ontology, his Cosmologia generalis feels refreshingly short with its under five hundred pages. The shortness of the book might also reflect its lack of importance in the purely philosophical part of Wolffian system. Wolff's cosmology works mostly as an introduction to general natural science or physics and is thus firmly connected with Wolff's more empirical studies. Then again, of other parts of metaphysics only theology is essentially said to be based on cosmology, because Wolff argues for the existence of God from the existence of a certain type of universe.

The topic of Wolffian cosmology is then world or universe and general types of objects in it. The very existence of universe is not so much proven by pure reasoning, but assumed – or at least the existence of a universe is justified by certain empirical observations we have. What we actually perceive or observe are certain things – rocks, trees, houses and such. Now, all of these entities are finite, that is, their existence requires a number of other entities, either existing at the same time (like trunk supports branches) or existing before them (like rain requires gathering of clouds).

As they say, no smoke without fire.

The entities we observe are then connected to various other entities in space and time through causal influences. These intricate relations form a kind of web or nexus, in which one thing can be connected to any other thing of the nexus through a string of causal relations. A totality of such interconnected spatio-temporal things is then a world or a universe. There might be different possible universes, because a number of possible strings of events might have occurred, but only one of them truly has occurred, that is, the string of events constituting the history of our world.

I have investigated the nature of this Wolffian universe in quite a detail earlier, but there's no harm in going through it all again. World is a composite of things, and as a composite, its nature is dictated by the nature of its parts. Thus, Wolff concludes, if we replaced just one peck of sand, the world would be completely different, because its identity is determined by the very entities constituting it.

Now, in the actual universe, all things we happen to observe are composite substances, that is, they consist of other things and what they are or their essence is determined by their constituents. If we then want to change these substances, we must essentially change their constitution, that is, remove some parts or add other (for instance, if we want to make blackened metal objects shiny, we must remove all the grime on the surface of the objects), or then we can change the way they happen to move at the moment. All these changes require then direct contact with the object to be changed: you cannot pluck something out, if you are not close enough. In effect, this means that world and all the composite objects that we observe can be changed only through motion that comes in contact with what is to be changed. Wolff can thus add that the world is like a machine or a perfect watch which remains in action, even if its creator fails to wind it.

As we have mentioned number of times, Wolff does not think that his account of world could be called necessary in the strict sense of the word. Indeed, it is easy to see that even if we could explain all the events of a current day, we would be forced to explain them by referring all of them to past events, which would then be completely unexplained and required a new explanation. At the end, these events would be necessary in the strict sense, only if no other series of events would be even conceivable, which is clearly not so.

Then again, Wolff also claims that worldy events are not completely inexplicable facts. Indeed, this non-explicability of some facts should be contradicted even by the principle of sufficient reason, which states that all contingent things and events arise out of some more primary things and events. In case of universe, these primary things and events are movements of material bodies, which with machine-like predictability leads to further things and events. This deterministic view of universe does not completely cancel the non-necessity of the worldly events, because a deterministic series as a whole is not necessitated by anything,

This is enough for the Wolffian scheme of macrocosmos, next time I'll take a look of what he has to say on microcosmos, that is, bodies and their parts.

lauantai 16. elokuuta 2014

Attempt at a critical art of poetry (1730)

We have already witnessed an uprising of a Wolffian school, particularly in the guise of two followers of Wolff, Thümmig and Bilfinger, but now a second generation of Wolffians starts to appear on the scene of German philosophy. Johann Christoph Gottsched had already studied Thümmig's summarised rendering of Wolff's ideas and would himself write another text book of philosophy later in 1730s. Yet, his primary achievements on the field of philosophy was the introduction of aesthetical questions to German philosophy in the shape of a widely distributed book, Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst.

Gottsched (1700-1766)

As the name of the work reveals, its topic is the art of poetry and particularly the possibility of evaluating poetic works through philosophical principles. As we shall see again when considering Gottsched's text book on general philosophy, he was quite fond of beginning with historical discussions and especially with speculations on times before reliable written histories. Thus, he suggests that poetry is the second eldest art, preceded only by music, which also was a natural ingredient in the first works of poetry, which were sang and not read.

At first poems were made quite freely, Gottsched continues, but experience made it clear that even poetry must have some rules – he explicitly mentions Aristotle and Horace as masters in this field. Every art, Gottsched suggests, strives to imitate nature – painting does it with images and music with sounds, but poetry can use full field of all sensations, or at least our mental recollections of such sensations. Just like every other art, poetry must then strive for naturalness, Gottsched concludes.

Mere description of natural entities is still not poetry, according to Gottsched, or at least it occupies only the lowest rung. A slightly more adequate type imitates the speech patterns of certain persons – this is especially true of dramatic works. Yet, the real meat of poetry lies in fables or story telling – a good poem tells of activities of people, either of the common folk, as in comedies, or of the noble and mighty, as in tragedies or in epics, which Gottsched evaluates as the highest form of poetry, recounting an event important to the fate of a whole nation. It is clear without saying that Gottsched insists each story to have a moral – the aim of poetry is to make people better.

Gottsched accepts the Wolffian idea that stories present, as it were, events in other possible worlds and thus might not follow rules of the actual world – a story might have, for instance, talking animals as characters. Still, naturalness is an important standard for good poetry: improbable events usually hinder the enjoyment of a poem, Gottsched says. Of course, what seems probable depends on the level of education. We cannot therefore disparage Greeks for using divinities and other mythical entities as characters, but in the modern world any use of magical effects would seem incredible, Gottsched concludes.

Even if Gottsched strives for naturalism, when it comes to stories, he does not insist on using a natural style in poems. Indeed, he goes even so far as to suggest that too naturalist style might turn into banalities, which are against morality. In fact, poetic style is characterised by certain wittiness, which combines seemingly distant ideas in a manner that is rare in a straightforward historical telling of events: thus, while a historical work describing a battle would just recount all the events, a poem about the same battle might e.g. use some suggestive similes making more philosophical points about the nature of warfare.

A good poet is then one who can discover new and surprising connections between apparently quite disparate topics. Yet, this is still not enough, Gottsched says. An uneducated natural poet does not know about the rules of good poetry and therefore might well fail to have a proper taste and be lured by bad novels. Even if she manages to gain skills required for good poetry, she might still lack the basic ethical education, which is an essential requirement for educational poetry.

Judging just by these general directives, one might concur with Egon Friedell that Gottsched was a bit uptight in his aesthetic views. This impression is amply confirmed by his actual reviews of certain well known poets. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar has some delightful moments, Gottsched admits, but it has one great fault – the events of the play last longer than one day, which makes the whole thing seem quite improbable, as what audience sees happens only within few hours (I believe Gottsched is just one of those persons with no ability for suspension of disbelief). And Molière is also witty author, but he sometimes uses characters reminiscent of commedia dell'arte and especially that awfully unbelievable magical trickster, the Harlequin. Besides, many of his plays fail to have a proper moral.

But truly vehement criticism Gottsched lays upon opera, which he calls the most absurd invention of human understanding. This form of art Gottsched considers to follow the sad tendency of modern forms of poetry that they let the music control the substance of the poem too much. Indeed, even the very notion of opera shows its absurdity, because the idea of people singing all the time is just too incredible to believe. True, the music can be divine, but the stories used are from the worst kinds of books, featuring all sorts of unlikely events, magic and wondrous things, making it all seem like a tale out of another planet. But what is definitely worst is the complete absence of morals that operas appear to endorse. As a life-long fan of Wagner I cannot but wonder what Gottsched would have had to say about the overtly mythological story of Nibelungen.

GOTTSCHED: Dragons? No way!

It is not that Gottsched sees no justification for the existence of opera – it can serve as an amusement of princes and nobles, serving to ease their life of constant toil over state welfare. Even here Gottsched recommends replacing opera with ballet, which at least reveals the gentle grace of human anatomy. After all these remarks, one cannot fail to see the irony that a person attempting to find universal rules of good poetry can epitomise so well the essential relativism of aesthetic judgements.

So much for Gottsched's aesthetics, next I shall return to Wolff with yet another part of his Latin works.