tiistai 24. marraskuuta 2015

Baumgarten: Metaphysics – Unity, order, truth and perfection

In the post-Kantian era of philosophy we are familiar with term ”transcendental” having something to do with the necessary presuppositions of knowledge and cognition. Yet, before Kant, transcendental described features that transcendend all differences between things, that is, that could be predicated of every existing thing or even of every possible thing. In a way, transcendental was just a synonym for ontological.

A list of such transcendental features or predicates was a traditional sight in works of metaphysics, although what to include in such a list might slightly differ from writer to writer. Still, if something could be found in all of them, it would be unity. Even Aristotle had maintained that ”being” and ”one” are almost synonymous, since all existent things are unities. Even Wolff had briefly followed the tradition and Baumgarten goes even so far as to dedicate a section of his metaphysics to the notion of unity.

Of course, one might have different notions of what being a unity means. Baumgarten approaches the term from the familiar notion of determinations – it is combinations of determinations that are somehow unified. More precisely, we might have either separable or inseparable sets of determinations, and unities are formed of inseparable sets. All essences, then, form such unities, because the essential properties of a thing cannot be separated without destroying the very thing. Because all possible things have an essence they are in this sense transcendental unities.

If unities concern things, order concerns conjunction of things, that is, many things grouped together. Conjunction itself might not be ordered, Baumgarten says, and this seems evident, since we don't usually say that hay stack is in order, although it does consist of many hays in conjunction. Order requires that something remains same in the things in the conjunction, and this same element can then be expressed in propositional form as a law.

A peculiar type of order lies in what Baumgarten calls transcendental truth, which is something altogether different from what we might call truth. For Baumgarten, transcendental truth is the ordering of some plurality into a unity. Truth in this sense requires then some principles according to which this plurality is unified. In other words, transcendental truth refers to a sort of stability holding things and their groupings together, while dreams should lack such truth, Now, since every possible things combines various properties according to general ontological principles, every thing must have transcendental truth, that is, it must be stable and not collapse into a heap of determinations.

While all orders do not combine things into unities, they might still in a sense connect things, for instance, by making them follow same laws and rules. Such a conjunction of many things is the essence of perfection, Baumgarten says, and whatever causes such a perfection is then good. While this might appear rather strange definition of goodness, we might justify it by noting that is quite aesthetic notion of goodness that is meant here. Just like in case of truth and unity, Baumgarten then defines transcendental perfection and goodness – since essence rules attributes of things, a thing is always in some measure perfect and good.

This concludes Baumgarten's tale of properties of all things whatsoever. Next, we shall see what he has to say about basic disjunctions or classifications of entities.

tiistai 17. marraskuuta 2015

Baumgarten: Metaphysics – Definition of existence

One of the most perplexing parts of Wolff's ontology is his notion of determination – something that can be affirmed of a thing. Are these determinations subjective or objective? The definitions appear to support the former reading, but the way Wolff actually uses these determinations to define possible things seems to support the latter reading. Furthermore, it is unclear whether these determinations should be universals or abstract particulars, i.e. tropes. The most faithful reading would perhaps be to deny that determinations are either, since both universals and particulars are defined through the determinations. Still, they seem more like universals, since unlike with particulars, they could be joined with other determinations.

Whatever these determinations are, Baumgarten accepts the notion, although he defines it in a somewhat different manner. Something is determinate, Baumgarten says, when it has been posited as A or not-A. The term ”posited” might seem rather strange, and indeed it is so – it is not quite clear whether Baumgarten wants to say that something is affirmed as A or not-A or whether it merely is A or not-A or perhaps both. Still, what is posited in something determinate is then a determination. If the posited determination is positive, it is a reality, otherwise it is negation. Since it seems objectively quite hard to say, which predicates should be called positive and which negative, the division appears rather arbitrary – yet, it should not be just subjective, since Baumgarten clearly distinguishes cases, in which e.g. seemingly positive determinations are actually negative.

Baumgarten's manner of distinguishing various determinations appears familiar from Wolffian ontology. Determinations can belong to a thing either as the thing is in itself – then it a question of absolute or internal determinations – or then as the thing is with respect to other thing – then it is a question of relations or external determinations. The internal determinations of a thing are either ground for all other internal determinations – then they are essentials, sum of which forms an essence – while other internal determinations are affections. Affections are then either wholly grounded in essentials – then they are attributes – or not – then they are modes.

Now, Baumgarten notes that a possible thing must be something that can be regarded in itself or without any relations to other things – that is, a possibility must be something with at least a minimal identity, by which to regonise it. This is quite a remarkable suggestion that is not included, at least explicitly, in Wolff's ontology. The important consequence of this suggestion, on the other hand, is something that we find from Wolff. If something is possible, it must have some internal determinations, because without them we could not speak about anything, and since these determinations must be grounded on something, the possible thing must have an essence. In other words, all possible things should have an essence.

Clearly a thing with some essence could also be merely possible, since e.g. centaurs do have an essence without existing – this is something Wolff agrees upon. A natural question then is what makes something possible into something actual or existent. Wolff's answer is, briefly put, that it ultimately has something to do with God's decision to create just this particular world, but that it also lies beyond complete understanding of human beings. In this matter, Baumgarten deviates considerably from Wolffian example, although almost no one has recognised it.

Baumgarten almost equates the essence of a possible thing with its possibility. What about the rest of the internal determinations of a thing, especially its modes, which are not determined by mere essence? Simple, they are part of existence. More determinately, it is the sum of all the internal determinations that supposedly forms the existence of a thing. In other words, while all actual things clearly cannot have any more determinations and are in that sense complete, all possible things should also be in some measure incomplete or indeterminate.

Baumgarten's theory is remarkably curious, although even more curious is that Wolff has been considered to endorse this theory, at least implicitly. True, Wolff says that actual things are completely determinate, but he never affirms that all completely determinate things would be actual. In fact, Wolff identifies complete determination with another ontological notion, or individuality. As Wolff, for instance, accepts the existence of haecceitas, which might be described as an analogy of essence in individuals, it seems quite unreasonable to suppose that Wolff would have thought all individuals are actual.

Baumgarten, on the other hand, makes this bold move and declares all individuals to be existent, thus denying the possibility of merely possible individuals. One explanation might be that he has been led astray by the notion of positing in his definition of determinations. True, we human beings can posit some thing to be completely determinate, only if we can experience it and thus know that it exists. Yet, this does not mean that God with his infinite capacity of thinking – something which Baumgarten himself should believe in – could not think of a completely determinate individual, which still would not exist. It is then Baumgarten who has fallen for the old trick of confusing capacities of human understanding with the capacities of divine understanding – something, of which Kant was to later accuse his rationalist predecessors.

tiistai 10. marraskuuta 2015

Baumgarten: Metaphysics (1739)

The worth of Baumgarten in developing aesthetics is generally recognised, but the case is somewhat different with his metaphysics. True, this part of his philosophy has also found its readers, especially as people have wanted to see, why Kant used it in his own lectures of metaphysics. Then again, one still finds articles, in which Baumgarten's metaphysics is seen as little more than a continuation of Wolff's metaphysics and all the innovations of former are just implications of the latter – a view which does no justice to either of the philosophers.

When one just glances the contents of Baumgarten's Metaphysica, one might think that the association with Wolff's metaphysics is justified, as we find the book divided into four parts: ontology, cosmology, psychology and theology. Of course, this is just an external classification and one could argue that even Kant and Hegel still retained it at least partially, without being Wolffians. To make a more reliable judgement on the relation of Wolff and Baumgarten, we must then go into the details of latter's metaphysics.

Let us begin with ontology. Again, on superficial level, Baumgarten has borrowed his division of topics from Wolff. Baumgarten takes ontology to be a science of most general predicates of things and then suggests that such predicates are either internal (i.e. monadic) predicates or relative, while internal predicates are either universal (true of everything) or disjunctive (combination of predicates, exactly one of which must be predicated of everything). Indeed, Wolff also described first several general features of things, then the most general genera of things and finally general types of relations. Yet, a subtle difference can be seen already in these divisions, since many of the topics described by Wolff in the first division belong to second division in Baumgarten's ontology, while with Wolff, the second division contained only the oppositions of simple/complex and finite/infinite.

An even more interesting difference lies in Baumgarten's discussion of Wolff's highest principles of ontology. It appears that for Baumgarten it is concepts that are far more important than principles, and e.g. principle of non-contradiction is investigated in a chapter dedicated to possibility. Even more distant from Wolff's methodology is the lack of justification of these principles. Wolff's strategy in both German metaphysics and Latin ontology was to make an inductive move from individual cases, in which contradictions were denied – from a single case involving our own existence (in German metaphysics) or from our general tendency to deny contradictions (in Latin ontology). Baumgarten straightaway defines combination of predicate with its contradictory as impossible and uses that definition as a justification to conclude that no possible subject cannot have contradictory predicates.

Of course, this might just be an expositional feature of Baumgarten's text. The terse style of the book belies that it is meant to be used as a text book, and it might well be that Baumgarten is just describing the general features of his ontology, instead of arguing for its validity. This might be suggested by the fact that Baumgarten makes at this stage a rare reference forward – the principles are justified by the conclusions we can draw from them.

In this rather terse beginning, Baumgarten makes a rather strange remark: ”A + –A = 0”. Later on Kant would speak against such statements, which appear to conflate purely formal contradictions with conflicts of opposed forces – and indeed, we have seen Hoffmann already make similar observations. Yet, it is perhaps not so much that Baumgarten would have conflated these two notions, but that he never had a notion of mere formal contradiction – this is something one could have seen already with Wolff, who thought that wooden metal was an example of contradiction, although logically speaking there's nothing contradictory in the notion. It might well be that we should take the equation of Baumgarten quite seriously – A and non-A are like two forces or tendencies inherent in all things and an attempt to actualise them both in the same subject can end up only with destruction of the subject.

It is important to take this ontological nature of Baumgarten's and Wolff's notion of contradiction seriously, because both philosophers used contradiction as a way to define nothingness or impossibility, and so in consequence the opposite, that is, the notion of something or possibility. In other words, the hidden ontological implication is that there are some primary forces and any combination of them is a possibility, just as long as these combinations are not mere nullities, that is, ontologically barren points of no force or activity.

This hidden view of primary forces is probably behind Baumgarten's next move, in which he, following Wolff's example, tries to prove principle of sufficient reason. Just like Wolff before him, Baumgarten defines reason or ratio of X in epistemic terms as something, through which one is able to know X. To possibly have such a reason or to possibly be such a reason are enough to make something rational, while irrational, that is, something that cannot be connected with any other possible state as having a reason or being a reason, is nothing more than an impossibility – the hidden presupposition is clearly that we cannot have any isolated fact or event, but all possible states are connected to other possible states.

With this hidden presupposition, it is easy for Baumgarten to show that the principle of sufficient reason is true. If these presuppositions are assumed, something not having something else as a reason could mean only that it has ”nothing” or a state of nullity as its reason, because mere being without no reason would be just incomprehensible. Yet, this alternative doesn't work either, since a state of nullity is in Baumgarten's ontology a synonym for impossibility – the only alternative left, then, is that this something has as its reason some non-null state or something else. Furthermore, similar reasoning works also for the other direction, that is, Baumgarten can conclude that all possible things are reason for something else.

So far, then, Baumgarten has mostly just augmented Wolff's presentation at some points and made its presuppositions even more glaring. Of course, while Wolff could always rely on experience, Baumgarten's terse method of presentation makes these presuppositions truly stand out. Next time, we shall see him moving away from Wolff's philosophy in an even more radical fashion.  

sunnuntai 1. marraskuuta 2015

Christian Wolff: Universal practical philosophy 2 (1739)

If first book of Wolff's Philosophia Practica Universalis was all about establishing the primary principle of practical philosophy, the second book, published year later than the first one, is then about application of this principle to more concrete cases. One must still remember that concreteness is here only a relative notion, and we are far from solving any determinate ethical or political questions.

The basic rules for good human action Wolff has already stated in the first book. One should follow natural law, which means striving for one's perfection. Since perfecting oneself means finding reliable and consistent happiness, natural law also guides us to strive for our own happiness. And, since God has made the world order, in which people become happy in certain manner, living according to natural law means also living according to God's decrees.

A new element in the second book is the social side of human activity. We are not just completely indifferent about each other's actions, but for instance, agree with other's actions, try to persuade them to some things etc. All these various social relations make responsibility of the actions also shared – if I convince my neighbour to do something, it is partially my fault, if something bad happens through her actions.

An important feature of this social element of human action Wolff emphasises is emulation – we tend to imitate behaviour of other people. This is important especially for making people act better. That is, if we set up examples of good life, heroes and saints, people might tend to improve their own live by imitating the lives of such good examples.

Wolff's suggestion that moral improvement might happen through emulation is an important sign of his appreciation of the less than fully intellectual side of human activity. True, Wolff thinks that one should try to improve one's behaviour through moral reasoning. Yet, he also sees that this is generally not enough, but there must be something to rouse the sensuous side of human mind. Thus, Wolff suggests that symbolism and rituals could be used for quickly teaching people about moral truths.

Despite admitting the importance of such sensuous element for morality, Wolff is still pretty antisensualist, when it comes to determining the actual principles of action. Senses and imagination provide us only with confused knowledge, which still requires conceptual analysis and reasoning to become truly valid and certain. Thus, sensuality as a source of confusion must be inhibited, in order to make oneself truly perfect.

Now, sensual side of human being is in Wolff's eyes not just a servant of morality or a mere hindrance to properly good life – it is also a sign of a person's motivation for his actions. Here Wolff once again speaks about physignomy, and since this is a topic I've discussed earlier I shall now merely mention it.

So ends Wolff's treatise on practical philosophy in general, although these outlines will be filled with more detailed treatises on ethics and politics later. But in case of theoretical philosophy, new personalities were already taking Wolff's formerly dominating place.