Development of philosophical disciplines hasn't been one of steady accumulation and maybe even not a progress at all. Instead, one sees some paradigms used for some time and then replaced suddenly by other paradigms. When looked at from the viewpoint of the new paradigm, it might seem that there was no development at all happening before the shift. Thus, from the viewpoint of a modern logician, the centuries of Aristotelian logic might seem filled with no important insights nor even with any true variation in the views – everyone just learned their Baroccos. Of course, such an external reflection hides the fact that within this older paradigm there might have been differences of opinions – these differences just seem inessential when compared to the difference of paradigms.
Such a paradigm shift occurred in many disciplines with the advent of Kant's critique. Ethics seems to be no exception. Thus, when we post-Kantians consider Wolff's and Baumngarten's ethics, we might have difficulties noting any differences between the two, because they share so many similarities.
And indeed, there are features found in ethics of both thinkers. Both Wolff and Baumgarten say that the ultimate principle of ethics is perfection. Furthermore, both philosophers think that duties divide into three classes: those toward oneself, those toward others and those toward God.
Yet, Wolff and Baumgarten have interestingly different tendencies in their ethics, and these tendencies are based on subtly different features of their metaphysics. For Wolff, human soul is always essentially a loner. It is connected to physical world through hypothetical pre-established harmony, but truly determined just by its own progression. Hence, its primary duty is always perfecting itself. Duties towards others are mostly negative, since one should let others perfect themselves, while the most important duty toward God is to act ethically – religion is just a modification of ethics.
At first sight, Baumgarten's view of the human soul might seem quite similar. Human soul, like all monads, has no real influence on anything outside itself and is not influenced by anything, except God, which affects everything. Yet, despite the seeming similarity, Baumgarten at least emphasises different things. First of all, he is keen note that monads do have ideal influences to one another – that is, whenever monad affects another, the other monad is not just passive, but acts itself. In other words, Baumgarten merely says that the existence of causal processes between monads is just a matter of viewpoint – in some sense a monad affects another, in another sense it doesn't.
Furthermore, Baumgarten says that similar relations hold between all monads and thus between all substances. In other words, there is no obvious difference between physical and mental causality and both souls and bodies form a part of the same world, held together by the glue of ideal causality. In addition, Baumgarten also holds that souls form a sort of body of their own – mystical community, one might say, with God as its head.
It is then no wonder that Baumgarten places duties toward God as the central element of his own ethics. We should aim to know God truly and thus avoid all sorts of heresies, like Spinozism. Furthermore, it is not just about internal beliefs – we should also externalize our beliefs through prayers and other ceremonies, Baumgarten says. In other words, religion becomes the essence of ethics in Baumgarten.
While the role of divinity becomes more central, the role of individual becomes less central. Of course, one should make oneself more perfect – that is, one should e.g. improve one's mental capacities and keep oneself healthy. Yet, this all seems more like a necessary means for improving perfection in general – something Wolff thought was best left for individuals themselves. For Baumgarten, instead, spreading goodness everywhere is a primary duty of a human being – and human beings as composites of both body and soul are a good target of good actions. Indeed, Baumgarten goes even so far as to insist on conversational abilities as one duty of human beings – we should not be hermits, but instead we should communicate with other fellow humans.
Baumgarten's emphasis of religion and duties concerning other conscious beings takes Baumgarten into rather strange places. God is supposedly the only thing one should worship, thus, worshiping other conscious entities – like demons, whether they happen to exist or not – is completely forbidden. Even worse it is if one tries to use such worship to magically aid oneself or harm others – magic is placed under suspicion.
This concludes Baumgarten's account of ethics. Next time, we shall turn our interest to royalty.