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.

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