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.

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