keskiviikko 22. huhtikuuta 2015

Hoffmann: Study of reason, in which the marks of true and false are deduced from the laws of human understanding (1737)

It is regrettable that the most talented of Wolff's opponents, Adolph Friedrich Hoffmann, died (1741) before writing any further works, dedicated e.g. to metaphysics. As it is, we must take as his main work a book on logic, Vernunftlehre darinnen die Kennzeichen des Wahren und Falschen aus den Gesetzen des menschlichen Verstandes hergeleitet. Because the work represents the best and most systematic treatment of philosophy in the whole anti-Wolffian school, I shall take a more careful look at the various topics it treats over the next few texts.

As it has been noted by Beck in his seminal work on early German philosophy, Hoffmann appropriated much of the Wolffian tone in his works, trying to be even more systematical than the master himself. Indeed, reading Hoffman's logic, it appears at times like Hoffman is the more careful and ”geometric” thinker of the two, while Wolff seems in comparison like a bumbling empiricist disguising himself behind a semblance of deductions and definitions and making amateur logical mistakes.

It is not just Wolff's style of reasoning that has influenced Hoffmann, but also his division of topics. Thus, just like any other Wolffian, Hoffman begins by discussing philosophy in general. But before even that, he instructs the reader about the various parts relevant to academic discussion and particularly the various types of statements one will find in these discourses. Here, Hoffmann clearly tries to be more full and complete than Wolff, who satisfies himself with recounting the basic types of statements in supposedly mathematical treatises. Thus, Hoffmann begins by noting that some statements in academic writings depend on mere arbitrary choice – that is, they are stipulations assigning a contingent definition to some words or stating that a sign like x is meant to refer to an unknown number.

Statements in academic works that are not stipulations are then real statements, that is, statements meant to describe some facts not dependent on arbitrary choices. Most of these real statements are meant to be justified, but others cannot be, although they must still be accepted. Such statements Hoffmann calls postulates, thus distancing himself from Wolffian definition, in which postulate was taken as a statement describing some basic action possible to us (for instance, drawing a circle). Hoffman's postulates might be convenient idealisations, if not completely true, such as the idea that parallel lines will meet after an infinite distance. Then again, his postulates might also be apparently convincing generalisations that we cannot ever prove completely, such as the statement that all human beings desire happiness.

By allowing such postulates into an academic discourse Hoffmann appears to be distancing his stance from the Wolffian attitude that all statements of philosophy should be completely justified, either through experience or through demonstration. Indeed, Wolff does occasionally admit that some of his statements have been just likely hypotheses, but Hoffmann makes it a point to give the postulates an explicit place in his methodology. Furthermore, he notes that postulates cannot just be accepted willy-nilly, but one must still justify why such a postulate has been presumed,

The core of a learned discussion is still formed by statements that are taken as completely true. Some of these derive their justification from proofs, and these can then be divided into axioms, propositions etc. Here Hoffmann does not differ much from Wolff, although Hoffmann doesn't define axioms as self-evident principle, but as principles taken as granted in some discipline, although perhaps proven by another, higher discipline.

More interesting is Hoffmann's division of statements based on sensation (Empfindung), the second type of statements taken as completely true. Such statements include, quite expectedly, statements based on experience, which Hoffmann calls also immediate existential statements. Immediate existential statements might then be based on common experience, in which we immediately sense some objects and their connection : for instance, we might see in an experience that air can be compressed. On the other hand, the immediate existential statements might also be based on reflective experience, in which the objects are abstractions, but the connection is still something sensed or experienced, for instance, when we note that some avaricious persons are ambitious. In other words, reflective experience appears to be behind more generalised statements based on experience.

Interestingly, Hoffmann thinks that statements based on sensation include also what he calls immediate essential statements and which by their definition seem to be Kantian analytical judgements – for instance, ”expanded substance takes up more space than it used to” is immediately essential, because the predicate just explains what the subject says. The most radical suggestion here is that such analytical connections between concepts should be based on sensations. The idea appears to be that one can through an inner sensation view one's representations and instantly see that some of them are essentially connected to one another.

After introducing all the types of statements one will meet in a learned discussion, Hoffmann continues by defining the very notion of philosophy, just like Wolffians, but once again, Hoffmann's definition has some clear differences from Wolff's definition. What they both do have in common is the assumption that philosophy is a natural cognition, that is, different from the supernaturally justified theology. Hoffmann also agrees with Wolff that philosophy is not mere history or recounting – philosophy discovers truths that are not obvious on plain sight. At the same time he is willing to go further and discard even all mere descriptions of experiments from philosophy – in Wolffian tractates these were often included in the so-called experimental philosophy.

What are then the hidden truths Hoffmann wants philosophy to study? Firstly, they describe essence or nature of some things, since essences are usually not something that we could just plainly see. Furthermore, philosophy should also concern actually existing things, since some of them, say God and other souls, we never can sense. Indeed, Hoffmann goes even so far as to say that philosophy can never be about mere possibilities, which is a direct denial of Wolff's definition of philosophy as the science of possibilities.

There is still one element missing from Hoffmann's definition of philosophy, namely, restricting philosophy to eternal or unchanging truths – or at least to truths which cannot naturally stop being truths. One important group of topics removed from the field of philosophy is then everything that is based on free choice of human beings, such as specific arts giving techniques for actualising certain purposes. Even such arts are still based on philosophy, Hoffmann says, because the ultimate ends of all human actions are stable, that is, based either on essence of humanity or on God's immutable will.

As we have now seen various disciplines which are not philosophy, we should see what belongs to philosophy. Surprising is the inclusion of medicine in philosophy, but indeed, facts about human health might well be hidden and unchanging. Even mathematics is part of philosophy, since mathematical truths are not dependent on human choices. Still, Hoffmann wants to separate mathematics as a science of extensa, like space, from philosophy proper, which should instead study qualities.

The difference between mathematics and philosophy proper is not that first one deals with quantitative issues, since qualities might also be quantified, Hoffman says. Instead, just like Kant would later do, Hoffmann places the difference to the methodologies the two disciplines use – clear battle cry against Wolff's wish to apply mathematics to philosophy straightaway. Mathematical objects are such that we can abstract them easily from all their surroundings, while in case of qualities such abstraction is usually difficult, since qualities interact with other things much easier. Thus, in mathematics we may well take just an individual example of e.g. triangle and define through this example all triangles. In case of qualities, on the other hand, individual cases are so multifarious that it is almost impossible to make such generalisations. Indeed, while in case of mathematical objects one might easily use the Wolffian standard of generative definition to characterise e.g. circles, in case of qualities the genesis might affect the object to be defined. Then again, simplicity of mathematical objects often makes it futile to divided them into further types of objects, but qualities can be divided just because of their multiple characteristics and dealings with other students. All in all, Hoffmann argues that philosophy proper must often satisfy itself with mere probabilites, while mathematics must always use proper deductions.

If then move to Hoffman's division of philosophy proper, the basic classification depends on whether one wants to study things that are common to all possible worlds or things proper particularly to the actual world. The first class consists of things, Hoffman says, like God, space, time and spirits, which are then investigated by metaphysics, while things of second class, like gold and lions, are investigated by the so-called disciplinal philosophy. It is interesting that Hoffmann is able to characterise metaphysics, while in Wolffian tradition it was defined merely as a sum of certain philosophical disciplines.

Indeed, Hoffman's vision of metaphysics differs also substantially from Wolffian, since one of the central parts of metaphysics in Wolff's philosophy or cosmology is the major part of discplinal philosophy with Hoffmann. Furthermore, cosmology of Hoffmann differs from Wolffian cosmology, since Hoffmann's world is meant to explicitly contain both human souls and material objects in it. In addition to cosmology, disciplinal philosophy should contain study of nature, study of human understanding and study of human will. Of these, the study of human will is most developed by Hoffmann and is divided into a discipline called thelematology, which supposedly studies things dependent on nothing, but human will, such as laughter, and into moral philosophy, which should study things dependent on both human will and God. Moral philosophy Hoffmann then divided into prudence or study of means and various disciplines studying different moral principles, namely, natural theology, law of nature and ethics.

What really interests Hoffmann here is, of course, logic, or as he prefers to call it, the study of reason. Just like Wolff, Hoffmann appears to prefer beginning study of philosophy from logic. General need for logic arises from the need to know how to distinguish truth from falsehoods. Hoffmann doesn't apparently say that this would belong wholy to the province of logic, and in fact, distinguishes four different ways we come to regard something as true, only one of which he explicitly connects with logic. Firstly, we have immediate sensations of things, such as seeing that some tower is tall. Secondly, we sometimes notice that contradictory of something is impossible to think and conclude that this something must then be true. Both of these two methods Hoffmann takes to be fairly reliable.

The two other methods for ascertaining truth of something are then not so reliable. First of these resembles the second reliable method, but whereas in that case thinking the contradictory was impossible, in this case it should be just not something we can think easily or vividly enough. In such a case Hoffmann says we believe something, but cannot be as convinced of it as in the reliable case.

The second unreliable method then depends on truths cohering with one another in such a manner that knowing one truth can lead us to recognise the truth of another thing. It is this coherence of truths that is the peculiar topic of logic. In other words, Hoffmann explains, there must be some reason why human understanding can move from one truth to another. We may have some natural proneness for discovering these reasons, which then forms what is called natural logic. Just like Wolff, Hoffmann thinks it is the task of scientific or artificial logic to generalise and clarify these reasons into rules we could then use explicitly for recognising truths.

In a Wolffian fashion, Hoffmann then divides logic into a theoretical and pratical part, but in a novel fashion. Theoretical part, Hoffmann says, should discover the reasons why our understanding is able to know truths. First demand for this is to know the various capacities understanding has and then to move on to the effects of the use of these capacities – for these effects Hoffmann lends a Lockean term ”idea”, which appears roughly to correspond to what is called usually in tradition of German philosophy representation or Vorstellung. Ideas are then classified according to their various characteristics, and their various relations, such as subordination, opposition and general coherence, are considered. Notions of clarity and distinctness of ideas are also taken into account. The next topic consists then of combinations of ideas or concepts, propositions and proofs.

All of this sounds at least superficially Wolffian, but truly original is Hoffmann's inclusion of an account of truth to the theoretical part of logic, while wolffians had placed it into the practical side. Hoffmann's justification of this choice is quite believable – surely truth itself must also be a presupposition for knowing truths.

Practical part of logic attempts then to give rules, by which to improve the effects of understanding through various abstract rules. Understandably, the division of practical logic follows quite closely the division of theoretical logic. In addition, practical logic should at least contain chapters on e.g. disputation.

The preliminary outline of logic has then been set up. Next time, I'll begin with Hoffman's account of the various capacities of understanding.

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