tiistai 22. huhtikuuta 2014

Perfectly true order

I can be quite quick with Wolffian notions of order, truth and perfection, since I covered them already while discussing his German metaphysics. Something of a novelty is Wolff's definition of order, which he states to be a similarity in the modes of things either located nearby each other or following one another. Such an order is then an explanation for a certain thing with particular features being in the place it is – for instance, in a well-ordered library, the place of an individual book is explained by the classification system requiring that a book with certain topic is situated in a particular place. In the case of library, the order is contingent or based on the external factor that some librarian has arranged the books in a suitable manner. There is also a possibility that the order is based on nothing but the very essence of the things ordered: this is the case, for instance, in ordered sequences of numbers.

A well-ordered library?

The principle of ordering can be linguistically embodied in a rule or a set of rules, Wolff asserts. The different rules can then be organised into a hierarchy of rules, in which the different subrules are grouped under more general rules – think of an instructional booklet for keeping a library in good order. As anyone with some experience on libraries knows, often librarians have not been able to order all the books perfectly according to the instructions, for instance, due to physical limitations of the library building or insufficient time for organising books. Similarly, there can be defects in all sorts of orderings, which makes it plausible to speak of more and less perfect orders. A complete lack of order or confusion is also a possibility.

Truth in an ontological or transcendental sense of the word or reality, as we might call it, can then be recognised through its orderly nature. Dreams, Wolff continues, are characterised, on the contrary, by a lack of order of confusion. Wolff goes even so far as to suggest that dreams would be contradictory, which can at most mean that they contradict the rules governing true reality, or indeed, almost all sets of rules. Because all things should have some orderliness in them – at least they have an essence that determines their attributes and possible modes – all things are in some measure true, Wolff concludes.

Finally perfection, which Wolff identifies with the scholastic notion of transcendental goodness, is defined as consensus in variety or unity in multiplicity. Perfection must again have its ground, and this ground is the regularity or orderliness of its constituents. Lack of perfection can then be defined as imperfection or evil. This does not still mean that an exception in the orderliness of some structure would entail its complete imperfection. Indeed, the imperfection might be just apparent, because from a more extensive viewpoint the apparent imperfection might be governed by some rule.

One might reasonably ask whether Wolff is smuggling some normative notions into his ontology with these definitions. Indeed, he appears to suggest by associating the notion of orderliness with words like truth and perfection that order is somehow preferable to a lack of order. Why should we assume that reality is well-ordered, instead of being at least somewhat chaotic? And why should we deem regularity as something perfect and worthy to strive for?

The most plausible defense of Wolff is to assume that the definitions as introduced in ontology should as yet carry no normative weight. Instead, the names hint at future arguments in future parts of philosophy, where the notions are shown to coincide with how we usually understand these words. Thus, we might see e.g. in theology that God has created an orderly world and in ethics that regularity is something we should strive for.

So much for these notions, and indeed, so much for general characteristics of all things. Next time we shall look at some complexities of space-time.

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