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.