tiistai 9. joulukuuta 2014

Joachim Lange: Hundred and thirty questions of the new mechanical philosophy and Philosophical questions from the new mechanical morality; Hoffman: Thoughts of the current state of scholarship (1734)

The reader might well think that by dedicating one post to three different works I am insinuating that the works are not of particular importance or even bad. The suspicion is at least partially right, at least when it comes to two works by Joachim Lange. One might remember that Lange was almost a leading figure in the attacks of pietists against Wolffian philosophy, which finally led to the end of Wolff's career in Halle and his forced move to the University of Marburg. The two works of Lange, Hundert und dreyßig Fragen aus der neuen mechanischen Philosophie and Philosophische Fragen Aus der neuen Mechanischen Morale ,were occasioned by the attempt of king Friedrich Wilhem of Prussia to call Wolff back from his exile in 1733 – the king had come to regret his earlier decision, because Wolff's case had raised objections all over the Europe. Lange's attempt was to speak against Wolff's return by reminding everyone of the evil consequences of his philosophy – somewhat in vain, because Wolff simply rejected king's offer.

Lange's doubts concerning Wolff's philosophy were old, but so were his arguments against it. With similar strategy as before, Lange picks up Wolff's statements out of their context and draws some insinuating consequences out of them. His particular target in the first writing is the Leibnizian pre-established harmony between body and soul, which combines, according to Lange. Spinozan materialism with idealistic solipsism and makes both body and soul into mere deterministic clockworks. This is all quite familiar from Lange's earlier writings, and the only new feature appears to be his answer to Wolff's suggestion that pre-established harmony might be a mere reasonable hypothesis – science and philosophy should not consider mere hypothesis, but truths, Lange proclaims proudly.

While Lange's new works are then a bit of a disappointment. Hoffman's Gedancken von dem gegenwärtigen Zustande der Gelehrsamkeit is somewhat interesting, despite the rather simple nature of the text. Hoffman's work is a sort of advertisement for his own lectures – it was a common habit among scholars of the period that such ads were prefaced by short essays showing the expertise of the lecturer. Hoffman's essay is a work on the state of modern philosophy and especially describes what is wrong with it.

Hoffman begins with a short analogy: philosophers have been like people constructing everyone their own buildings with their own taste and fancy and without any general plan what the whole city should look like. The result is obviously a mismatch of different and even incompatible styles built side by side and even on top of one another – when one has constructed an edifice, another comes and tears it up to make room for his own plans.

Hoffman specifies three particular problems in modern philosophy, first two of which concern the relation of philosophical and scientific theories to practice. Firstly, philosophical and scientific theories have been utterly useless in actual practice. This is a sign, Hoffmann says, that these theories are considerably bad, since general theories should be of immense worth when deciding what to do in particular cases (Hoffman has especially medicine and jurisdiction in mind). One might think that actual practicioners might be able to make – if not complete theories, then at least – generalisations out of the particular cases they've witnessed. But this brings us to the second problem that practicioners are usually so bad that they muddle things more than they help them – doctors make people even sicker and jurists just raise legal quibbles.

The third problem that Hoffman points out is the most interesting: lack of controversy. True, he has just criticised the way that scholars tear down what the other has built, but even this tearing down has happened without any scholarly interaction. Instead of saying what is problematic what is wrong with other person's writing, they just officially praise the works of co-scholars and in actual practice ignore them, when making their own contribution. Actual criticism, Hoffman thinks, is in fact a sign that scholars care for what the others say and good criticism is meant to improve their work.

Due to these faults, it is no wonder that some people have renounced philosophy altogether. In Hoffman's eyes this is a wrong answer to a real problem – it is like closing your eyes instead of fixing things. Hoffman enumerates four types of such unphilosophical scholars. The bottom rang of this hierarchy is formed by critics, who learn much of externalities of scholarly book printing: when was this and that book published etc. Not so much better are stylists, who pay much more regard to the style than the content of books. The two higher type of unphilosophical scholars are interested of the content, but they study it unphilosophically and unsystematically. First of therse are memorisers, who learn sentences that are arbitrarily pulled out of books. The highest type of unphilosophical scholars are the experientialists, who learn only the essential, but unexplained data provided by experiences – these scholars are often practicing doctors or lawyers who fail to appreciate the usefulness of systematic theory.

Even scholars who do appreciate philosophy might apply it unsuccesfully, Hoffman continues. First sort of such philosophers are titularists, who fail in a manner opposite to experientialists: they merely repeat some general and even vulgar tautologies, which they cannot connect with actual practice.

By far the most interesting class of Hoffman's classification failed scholars is the last, paralogists, who, as the name belies, use faulty reasoning. It is this group in which Hoffman things Wolff and his 
followers belong. Hoffman even provides an example of Wolff's faulty reasoning. Wolff had suggested that bodies have forces and all features of complex bodies must be grounded on their simple constituents, then even these constituents or elements must have forces. Hoffman points out that the features of bodies are not actually determined just by their parts, but also by their manner of combining with one another – for instance, unextended elements are combined in such a manner that an extended body is generated out of them. Similarly to extension, force might be something that is only generated through combination of elements.

This is what Wolff's opponents had been up to. Next I am coming back to Gottsched's philosophy.

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