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.

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