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.

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