perjantai 14. helmikuuta 2014

Rational philosophy or logic (1728)

I recently had the distinct displeasure of reading a rant of a would-be philosopher who disparaged a logician, because modern logical texts are like circuit diagrams – useful perhaps, but meant only for people with no literary taste and ultimately unphilosophical. Personally, I find logical texts of all sorts – whether they be ancient, modern, formal, informal, transcendental or even Hegelian – to be aesthetically pleasing in a way that a beautiful calculation or a brilliant game of chess is also: as delightful in their very existence as brightest of poems, no matter how useful they otherwise might be. And if someone complains about non-existent philosophical import of logic, I am always reminded of Hegel's clever quip about enthusiastic youth who are enamored by Plato's more vivid and lively dialogues and who later become very disappointed when they hit the abstract heights of Plato's Parmenides and its study of dry concepts like one and many. Thus, I am not afraid of the supposed dryness of next book in line, Wolff's Philosophia rationalis sive logica.

Is this all there is to logic?

As someone might remember, Wolff had already published a book on logic, the first in his famous series of reasonable thoughts. The current book, on the other hand, begins Wolff's philosophy anew, except this time in Latin. While the German series was meant mostly for domestic markets and especially his students, the publication of Latin versions of different parts of his philosophy served the purpose of making Wolff's work more known throughout Europe. Because of their more scholarly ambitions, Wolff's Latin books contain also more material than their German equivalents. Thus, while I first thought that Wolff's Latin logic would contain only about 300 pages and not be much longer than its German counterpart, I noticed quickly I had actually picked up a separately published compendium for Latin logic, containing just the table of contents for the actual book, which happened to be over 800 pages long.

Just like its German counterpart, Wolff's Latin logic contains much that would not be dealt in a logic course these days: it is more of a book of methodology. Thus, it is also meant to be the first book of Wolff's Latin philosophical works in the sense that reader should first grasp how philosophy works before actually reading some philosophy: the true first philosophy is then ontology, because all the other parts of the philosophy depend on it.

As starting points of series, both books begin with an account of what philosophy is all about. But the inflatedness of the Latin logic shows itself in the very start, with Wolff's novel discussion of three forms of cognition – well, it is actually novel only from the perspective of Wolff, because it is quite reminiscent of Bilfinger's disputation with this very topic. What is important in this beginning, is Wolff's clear commitment on empiricism: all cognition begins with a historical phase, where one can just learn facts through observation. The cognition could then develop into mathematical cognition, by quantifying the results of observation, or it could turn philosophical by attempting to find explanations for the facts (note that nothing speaks against cognition that is both philosophical and mathematical, especially if the quantification helps us to discern causal relations).

If philosophical cognition means finding explanations for observed facts, philosopher is then a person who can give such explanations – that is, an expert on some topic. Philosophy, on the other hand, is for Wolff not just any expertise. Just like in his German logic, Wolff defines philosophy as a science of what is possible. I already noted that this definition means actually just what science does: capacity to demonstrate assertions from indubitable premisses.

Whereas German logic left a rather rationalistic impression, in Latin logic Wolff admits that experiences and experiments can well give science its required premises, provided that they just are reliable. Indeed, although Wolff does equate philosophical and mathematical method, he does accept also the construction of hypotheses or reasonable, but unproved assumptions as an incentive to scientific development. Thus, completely axiomatic-deductive system is admitted to be a mere ideal that we can perhaps approach, but never completely satisfy. The ideal also instigates philosophers to remain moderately skeptical in dilemmas where none of the options can be proven indubitably.

Wolff also notes that philosophy might be cognized only historically, that is, we could just e.g. read Wolffian system and learn all its propositions. Such a historical knowledge of philosophy might be useful, but true philosophical cognition of philosophy is achieved only when we try to understand what philosophers say, for instance, by repeating the experiments described in a text book.

Just like in German logic, in Latin logic Wolff also presents a general division of philosophy. What is remarkable is that the new division is more detailed, especially as it comes to more empirical parts of Wolffian system. This no doubt reflects the fact that Wolff has now actually worked out his system in more detail and has especially realized how important empirical observations are to the development of science. In addition, Wolff also helpfully indicates how each part of his system depends on some parts and serves as a foundation for others.

I’ll be continuing for a while with my account of Latin logic, and next time I shall take a look at the difference between natural and artificial logic.

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