torstai 14. joulukuuta 2017

Joachim Darjes: Elements of metaphysics I (1743)

Darjes is quickly becoming one of the most interesting second-generation Wolffians. In his logical works he has shown himself to have an analytical mind with an ability to make clear and still profound distinctions, has manifested extensive historical knowledge of such then rarely mentioned things like the medieval theory of supposition, and finally, has been quite original, for instance, in his metaphysical reading of predication. It will be interesting to see whether this positive view will continue through the first part of his metaphysical work, Elementa metaphysices.

As metaphysics is in the heavy core of philosophy, I will use several articles to go through in more detail what Darjes had to say about its many facets. I shall begin by asking what he himself considered to be the nature of metaphysics. We find an interestingly original take already in Darjes' view on the nature of philosophy. While previous Wolffians had either emphasised the object of philosophy – e.g. happiness – or then saw the essence of philosophy in finding reasons, for Darjes philosophy is all about abstracting. In other words, Darjes does not think philosophy or science is about explaining things, but about describing their general features.

Darjesian definition of metaphysics seems more in line with the Wolffian tradition. Its topic, Darjes says, are possible objects and the primary genera to which the possible objects divide into. Metaphysics then divides naturally into two different disciplines – ontology as the study of possible objects as such and special metaphysics as the study of primary genera of possible objects.

Thus far the division of metaphysics with Darjes doesn't seem surprising, but when it comes to special metaphysics, Darjes introduces some interesting novelties. Like with many Wolffians, for Darjes basic division of things was into simple and composite things. Darjes found from this division two primary parts of special metaphysics – monadology and somatology. This was already a bit of a novelty, since this division did not completely correspond with the usual division into cosmology on the one hand, psychology and natural theology on the other hand. While e.g. Wolff's cosmology contained a study of elements, in Darjesian division elements as simple objects were a topic to be handled in monadology – they formed the topic of monadology proper.

In addition to monadology proper, Darjes divided monadology into psychology – study of souls – and something called pneumatology – study of spirits – where both souls and spirits were not elements of bodies. We will have to consider the full import of this division later, but at least the pneumatology should contain natural theology as the study of infinite spirit, while finite spirits should be the topic of pneumatology proper. Just like other Wolffians, Darjes suggests that psychology should have an emprical side, because experiences are our only route to some capacities of souls. Darjes also extends this demand to pneumatology, which should have its own experimental side.

The main difference from other Wolffians is the lack of world as a proper topic of metaphysics. Indeed, this is quite logical, since world is not a primary genera of entities, but a collection of some of them – bodies form a corporeal world, while souls and spirits together form a moral world and both of them together a transcendental world or the world in the most extensive sense.

Next time, I shall begin with Darjesian primary philosophy, which strangely isn't identical with ontology and wasn't included in Darjes's division of metaphysics.

torstai 16. marraskuuta 2017

Christian Wolff: Natural right 3 (1743)

The third part of Wolff's Jus naturae continues with the topic of property, which was so prominent in the second part. Now it is not anymore a question about the original method of acquiring property, but more about what Wolff calls derivative modes of acquiring. In other words, it is all about rules by which the ownership of some thing can be transferred from one person to another. The primary result of Wolff's discussion is that this transference is always two-sided: while the owner undoubtedly has a right to state that he wants to transfer his property to someone, the person to whom the property is transferred must also accept this transaction.

Since transference of property, and more generally rights, involves usually spoken or written interaction between human beings, Wolff also considers obligations regarding language. A general rule guiding speech in Wolff's opinion is that one should be morally true or honest, that is, say what one believes is true. Yet, Wolff does not take this principle to the supposedly Kantian extreme, in which honesty is more important than anything, even human life. Instead, Wolff clearly states that honesty can never be an excuse for breaking natural law. One should even avoid saying honest things, which would offend someone's feelings. In general, one should not speak frivolously, but one should have always a good reason for saying something.

Wolff also says that no person is obligated to always say the same thing. Indeed, if one doesn't consider anymore as true something that one once held to be true, one need not be accountable for one's earlier opinions. Instead, such a change of opinion is a sign of flexible mind, who can correct oneself when new evidence is found. Yet, there is one particular type of speech that cannot be taken back, namely, promises involving transfer of property or some other activity.

Thus, Wolff's discussion of transference of property and his discussion of honesty are combined in a discussion of pacts or contracts. Just like contract requires more than one person, it cannot be broken just by a one-sided decision, but only by a mutual consensus. If one side of the contract does not do what she has promised, the other side of the contract has the right to force the first person to keep her promise.

Not all contracts are valid, and a valid contract requires something more than mere mutual consent of the persons making the pact. Firstly, the persons making the contract must have enough reason that they are able to make contracts. Thus, minors, people who lack the necessary intellectual capacities and even persons under some severe emotional distress cannot make valid pacts. Secondly, the contract itself must be such that it can be fulfilled. Thus, contracts involving impossibilities or even conditions exceeding the capacities of the persons involved cannot be valid. Hence, no one could have made valid contracts, which would lead them to debts they could never hope to settle.

The majority of the third part of Wolff's natural law goes then into various intricacies of contracts. What makes interest a just part of contracts? That it is a recompensation of potential profits a person could have got by using her capital in another manner. If you have promised something to another person in a letter, can you still take your promise back? As long as the letter hasn't arrived to its destination, you can renounce the promise, but once the person to whom the promise has been made has read and accepted it, the promise becomes a valid contract. Can we in some case presume that a person has wanted to transfer some of his property, although she hasn't said it? If a thing has been derelict for years, we can assume that its owners won't miss it anymore.

Some of Wolff's concerns seem rather quaint these days, such as his long account of oaths, in which person tries to verify what he has spoken and especially to make his promises more believable by insisting that God will curse him if he lies or break his promises. Quite rightly Wolff notes that atheists can't make true oaths, although they can vouch for their own conscience. Furthermore, he notes that such an oath does not really add anything to promises or contracts and it certainly won't make it valid, if it isn't already – thus, although one would vow to do something impossible or beyond one's capacities, one still shouldn't be afraid of hell fire.

Next time we shall see what Darjes had to say about metaphysics.

lauantai 14. lokakuuta 2017

Joachim Darjes: Introduction in inventing art or theoretical-practical logic (1743)

Darjes has been one of those philosophers who, while outwardly staying within the Wolffian school, have in truth distanced themselves from some key tenets of Wolff's system and taken their ideas to original directions. We have already seen Darjes suggest rather interesting innovations in his book on logic. If you know the field of German philosophy in the first half of 18th century, you won't be surprised to hear that his Latin book on same topic, Introductio in artem inveniendi seu logicam theoretico-practicam, is a much fuller treatment.

In a sense, most of the additions concern the necessary presuppositions of logic, that is, its metaphysical underpinnings. Like all the Wolffians thus far, Darjes considers certain key notions that we hold to be logical as ontological – for instance, the principle of contradiction is not a principle denying the affirmation and negation of the same proposition, but describes the ontological impossibility of incompatible things actualising at the same position. Darjes goes even further than other Wolffians, suggesting in a manner reminiscent of Russell that the subject-predicate -relation is not just a human convention, but reflects the order of reality itself.

Another interesting novelty in Darjesian ontology is that the basic ingredients of the reality are not so much individuals, but characteristics, of which individuals are then full combinations, to which no new characteristics can be added. Part of this ontological picture is the idea that some of these characteristics are atomic or not analysable to further characteristics. This picture resembles Wolffian idea of determinations, but seems ontologically stronger – Darjes takes characteristics to be things, if only partial ones.

Another interesting, if only a passing addition to the preface of logic, is Darjes's account of truth. As you might recall, with Wolff, truth in the logical sense was assigned a place only in the applied logic, because truth required relating the content of pure logic – concepts, judgements and syllogisms – to what they are supposed to represent. In a sense, Darjesian reorganisation is quite natural. With Darjes, as with all Wolffians thus far, logic is based on psychology, because concepts, judgements and syllogisms exist within human soul. Surely the relation of these logical items to what they represent is not a mere afterthought, but a necessary part of the psychology of human thinking underlying logic.

I have already described the most important novelties in the Darjesian logic itself in my description of its German version. This does not mean that his Latin logic would have nothing of interest, beyond the preface. One peculiar feature of Darjesian Latin logic book is its emphasis on invention, clearly expressed in the title of the work. Darjes is anxious to present not just theorems, but also solutions to problems – for instance, Darjes does not just define clear concepts, but also explains how to make one's concepts clearer. This is not a complete novelty, since we just saw Bilfinger doing something similar in his own logic.

Although sections on rules for disputations, communication of truths and hermeneutics are an addition in Darjes's Latin logic, they are not that peculiar in the more extensive context of logic textbooks. More interesting is the second part of Darjesian logic, which he calls dialectics, in separation from the part containing analytics. In effect, what Darjes means by dialectics is a study of probability and a search for probable truths – it is like reading part of Aristotelian logic through Bayesian eyes. What is even more intriguing is Darjes's idea of applying probability to pondering testimonies or to evaluating different hermeneutical possibilities.

This is just a glimpse of Darjes's innovations. Next time I shall again return to Wolff's natural law.

torstai 27. heinäkuuta 2017

Bilfinger: Logical lessons (1739)

It is somewhat peculiar to notice that almost all notable German philosophers of the period wrote a textbook on logic. Considering that there had been no notable additions to Aristotelian syllogistic, one might think that the market would have quickly been saturated with these books. Of course, one would then be forgetting that logic books of the time contained something beyond syllogisms and were more like books on methodology. Thus, they even gave the philosopher a chance to share his opinion on the proper means to do philosophy. Hence, it is not surprising to find Bilfinger in his Praecepta logic attacking Rüdigerian idea that mathematical and logical method would not be equivalent terms.

Bilfinger continues the trend of putting logic itself in logical form, that is, of using the formal schema of definitions, propositions and corollaries. An interesting part of his exposition is the heavy use of problems, that is, of practical propositions suggesting solution to some task, which especially emphasises the methodological part of the book. This methodological feeling is also heightened by an appendix concentrating in the use of logic in academic disputations – Bilfinger gives quite practical advise, for instance, on the means by which a defender or opponent of a thesis can look for arguments for or against some proposition.

As is often the case, the most interesting part of the book is the first one dealing with the ideas or concepts. Bilfinger's notion of idea is quite representational – idea is like a picture of something, although it might indeed be quite an obscure picture. The primary source of ideas for Bilfinger is our sense or experience, but we can then produce new ideas out of these first ones, e.g. through recombination, analogies and abstraction. Especially abstraction is a potent source of mistakes, because it might lead to embodiment and substantialisation of mere properties. This might happen e.g. in physics, where we speak of wind, which is nothing else but movement of air, or in psychology, where different capacities of mind are thought of as distinct entities, like Aristotelian souls.

The practical aim of Bilfinger with ideas is their clarification, that is, making them better tools for identifying things which they represent. This means for Bilfinger primarily making them more intuitive, that is, connecting them to ideas that are directly connected to what they represent. Most of our ideas are mere signs for other ideas – this is especially true of words, but also e.g. of some written symbols (like + and -), inflections of speech etc. Words should be defined, so that we could find marks which help to distinguish things signified by these words from other things.

Mere definitions are still not enough for Bilfinger. Even if we would have a definition of, say, God as the most perfect entity, we still wouldn't know from this mere definition whether there really could be possible things represented by this definition – for instance, even if we had a definition of a biangled figure, there still couldn't be any biangled figures. Thus, Bilfinger notes, the so-called Cartesian proof of God's existence (what Kant later called an ontological proof) wouldn't work if we weren't sure about the possibility of the notion of God. A better foundation for reliable information, according to Bilfinger, is a real definition, which gives an account of causal processes that would generate things signified by certain words. Because all things are ultimately generated by God, perfect real definitions would show how things are connected to God.

Ideas are connected to form judgements or propositions, and at this point Bilfinger's account starts to become more and more formulaic, with all the different forms of judgement. A more interesting thing is what methods to use for accepting propositions. Experience is, according to Bilfinger, undoubtedly a starting point of all cognition, whether it is formed through passive observation or through active experimentation. Still, experience is not the whole basis of cognition, Bilfinger continues, because we must still make some deductions to move from particular experiences to generalisations – for instance, although we can see light revealing a rock, we need still something more to conclude that light is a general cause for seeing things. Deductions might even lead us to things we cannot observe straightaway, Bilfinger says, for example, when we deduce the existence of caloric matter from observing its effects or heat.

After moving from propositions to syllogisms, Bilfinger's exposition becomes even more formulaic, although it does have its moments, especially in discussion of problems, for instance, when Bilfinger points out that a solution to a problem must be 1) a possible solution (perpetuum mobile is a solution to nothing), 2) a real solution of the problem, 3) a full solution (diligence alone is not enough for becoming a scholar) and 4) accurate (phases of the Moon are not an accurate enough criterion for deciding when to sow the seeds).

Despite these interesting tidbits, Bilfinger's logical lessions contain nothing surprisingly novel. Indeed, the same verdict can be pronounced on his whole philosophical career. He was undoubtedly a historically important figure, because he both introduced Chinese philosophy to a serious discussion in German culture and also started a move within Wolffian school to a more Leibnizian way of thinking. Yet, in both cases Bilfinger was again merely a follower of other philosophers and not an imaginative and creative thinker.

This is as much as we'll see of Bilfinger. We shall continue with logical treatises and this time check whether Darjes has anything new to say about it.

perjantai 7. huhtikuuta 2017

Christian Wolff: Natural right 2 (1742)

If the topic of the first book of Wolff's Jus naturae was clearly ethical and dealt with rights and duties of individual toward herself, other people and God, the second book moves to what could be called economy, by taking its topic property and rights duties pertaining to it.

Wolff begins by noting that the nature of things implies no owner to them. This means, he continues, that originally there was no ownership. In this natural state, all things were in a sense in communal use – not in the sense that there would have been any communities, of course, but in the sense that no individuals owned anything. In this original state, every human being was entitled to just take whatever she found and to use it to satisfy her needs – one could just take an apple and eat it. Because no property existed, no one gathered anything for herself, but things were used only so far as needs for them arose.

Although one might think such an original state was a true paradise, like perhaps Rousseau would have insisted, for Wolff it was just a beginning for further development. In such a state of communal sharing no one would have any incentive to work on things further. Farming and such would not be required for immediate needs – and all such further manipulation of things would be pointless, since anyone would have the right to just take what you had worked on. With no development of industry, sciences could not develop. Since the ultimate duty in Wolffian system was the drive for the perfection, the original state with no property was for him something to be discarded, while private ownership then being almost like a duty.

Original mode of acquiring property is simply seizing something that is ownerless – if a thing does not yet have any owner, Wolff insists, we have a right to take it as our own. After something has an owner, this is not yet possible anymore – if we try to seize upon something that has an owner and we know that it is owned by someone else, we are infringing upon the rights of the owner.

Even if we do not know who the owner is, Wolff says, we should try to find out who she is. Only in the case that the thing has been discarded by its owner or we are incapable of finding who she is are we allowed to make ourselves the owner of the thing. In all other cases we merely possess a thing without owning it. Possession of a thing does give some rights over a thing – for instance, if we do not own a thing, we are not allowed to take it from its possessor – but the right of the owner is greater than the right of the possessor.

All property need not be material, but also rights for doing things could be owned. This is especially pertinent for land owners, because in Wolffian system ownership over land implies several relations of ownership over material and immaterial things. Firstly, ownership of land means ownership over originally ownerless individual things that happen to come upon the land owned, such as ship wreckage. Some things, such as wild animals moving through a land, are not as such owned by the owner of the land, but once the animal has died and stopped its wandering, the rights of the owner of the land come in force. In fact, owner of the land has the right to hunt, fish, pick berries etc. as her immaterial property, and anyone violating that right should forfeit her catch to the owner of the land. Here we see the limited viewpoint of Wolff – in Northern Europe, people have had, since time immemorial, a right to use such goods, even without any clear permission of the owner of the land.

A most striking consequence of Wolff's suggestion of the duty-like nature of property is that this duty never ends. Even if we would be rich, we would still have the duty to take care of our property, and if possible, make our savings bigger. It is somewhat ironic to find a philosopher holding unlimited drive for money a necessary obligation, when this drive could be regarded as a source of many problems of modern society.

torstai 2. maaliskuuta 2017

Baumgarten: Philosophical letters of Aletheophilus (1741)

Letters have been a medium of philosophical discourse at least since the Platonic letters, which were probably not written by Plato at all. Just like in case of these Platonic forgeries, philosophical letters have often been meant from the start for a wider audience, even if they have had a nominal addressee.

Such an audience was obviously meant for Baumgarten’s Philosophische Brieffe von Aletheophilus. As can be seen from the title, these letters were published under a penname, which suitably translates into the lover/friend of truth - not to mention it's also a clever pun on Baumgarten's names: Ale(xander) Theophilus (lover of God or Gottlieb in German). Aletheophilus isn’t the only writer, but there are occasional letters from the readers, and one letter contains a poem written by Museophilus (friend of muses). Despite this anonymity, we find interesting tidbits of Baumgarten’s own philosophical development. In the very first letter, he mentions that for a long time he had merely identified Spinoza’s and Wolff’s philosophies, but then to his surprise he was finally branded as a Wolffian, because he had used the formalities of Wolffian textbooks and relied on ontological truth of God’s existence (which ironically was not that important to Wolff).

It is quite clear that Baumgarten is making an attempt of a lighter tone than in his text books. One letter even is a parody of a philosophical text book – it is divided into numbered paragraphs, where the first paragraph is explicitly marked as not containing the principle of contradiction, because the definition of letter requires it to be an address to the readers. In one letter he lets his supposed reader to ask that Aletheophilus wouldn’t write about metaphysics, but more about things in general vogue and especially about moral and aesthetic questions.

And Baumgarten truly attempts to fulfil this request. He studies the recently published Anti-Machiavelli and tries to strike peace between different religious factions (one shouldn’t call one’s religious opponents enthusiasts, if they are not, and if they are, one should pity them, because that is just a sign of an understanding not capable of discerning lively imaginations from real experiences). Baumgarten deals also with moral questions and speaks for the right of the sensuous nature of human beings – even Stoics wanted merely to subdue it, not completely eradicate. Thus, he argues for allowing certain amount of frivolity in one’s life, because it is no great sin.

It is no wonder that Baumgarten has a number of things to say about aesthetics. Just like in his more formal works, Baumgarten contrasts it with logic – while the latter is a discipline for good use of understanding, the latter is a discipline for good use of sense, especially in matters concerning beauty. He also goes into the topical question of good poetry, first distinguishing it from mere oratory and then noticing that a good poem must strike a balance between lively thoughts and an ordered structure that only appears to be chaotic.

Between these more popular topics, Baumgarten does have time to enter more theoretical questions. It is somewhat striking that he even tries to present a sort of formal symbolism for logic – a peculiar choice for a series of popular letters. Somewhat more interesting for a common reader is a series of letters concerning truth. In these letters Baumgarten describes in vivid details that truth is like an abundant well of water, which also flows into various smaller streams (i.e. different kinds of applied truth). He continues by telling that different persons have need for different streams of truth and that different streams have different criteria for reliability – in some fields we must accept mere probabilities.

Baumgarten goes also into some specific metaphysical problems. The most general of these is, undoubtedly, the question of the unity of the world, where he again praises the Leibnizian notion of the principle of sufficient reason. By a daring and faulty leap, Baumgarten moves from the relatively humble supposition that all things are connected to something else through such links of reasons to the much more powerful statement that all things are connected to one another through such links (clearly, he seems to ignore the quite real possibility that there would be several universes with their own internal links).

More specific metaphysical questions handled by Baumgarten concern the nature of ensouled beings. Firstly, he sets for philosophy the task of proving the immortality of human soul, which shouldn’t be just assumed on basis of Bible, because instead, Baumgarten states, the truth of Bible should be justified from it. While Baumgarten doesn’t actually go into proving this statement and even says that no conclusive proof for either truth or falsity of it has been given, he does note that by immortality one could mean several things – for instance, that human soul couldn’t be broken to pieces, that it would continue to exist indefinitely or that it could continue with a memory of its previous existence.

Finally, Baumgarten considers also the partly metaphysical, partly moral question of the intelligence of animals – if animals were intelligent, they shouldn’t be slaughtered for food. Baumgarten makes first the quite obvious point that if animals are defined as non-intelligent living beings, no animal would be intelligent, but at the same time points out that this doesn’t tell whether there really are such animals. He then proceeds to argue that animals do exist, because in a perfect world there must be entities in all possible levels of existence. Of course, this statement doesn’t tell us yet, whether some particular living being is an animal or not, and Baumgarten appears to leave this question completely undecided.

Next time, we shall return to Wolff's tale of natural law.

tiistai 27. joulukuuta 2016

Martin Knutzen: Philosophical proof of the truth of Christian religion (1740)

Considering that the interpretation and reinterpretation of religions and especially Christianity will be one of the main hobbies of the post-Kantian German philosophy, it is somewhat surprising to see that religion has played so little role in the discussions of the German philosophy in the beginning of 18th century. True, Christianity has been a clear background of all the philosophers we have dealt with and religious topics like God and immortality of the soul have been discussed especially in works concentrating on natural theology. Still, there has been little discussion of religion itself, barring some remarks of religion as a cult in natural theology and of religious communities in natural law.

Martin Knutzen's Philosophischer Beweiß von der Wahrheit der Christlichen Religion feels then quite a fresh work. Knutzen himself is probably best known as a teacher of Kant, and one might hypothesise that Kant might have been inspired by Knutzen's work. Then again, Knutzen's philosophy of religion has a very different basis from later Kantian and post-Kantian philosophies of religion. It could be called broadly Wolffian in the sense that Knutzen follows the formal trappings of the Wolffian school, with its supposedly strict definitions and proofs.

Knutzen's proof has essentially two steps. The latter step, in which Knutzen tries to show the divine origin and reliability of Bible stories and especially of the account of the resurrection of Jesus, is less interesting, as it relies more on historical interpretation and Bible exegesis than any deep philosophical insights. Yet, it is of interest in the sense that Knutzen outlines different criteria for deciding the truth of various matters. While the metaphysical or ”geometric” truth should be based on nothing else but the nature of things and physical truth should be based on the actual natural laws, a third kind of or moral truth is dependent on the moral nature of human beings – in other words, we can be reasonably sure that some event has occurred if its denial would involve people behaving against their character. Thus, Knuzen cites as evidence for the truth of the gospel that the supposed enemies of Christianity have accepted it as a historical account – it would go against human nature that one would outright accept the stories of your rivals, if one wouldn't already accept them as reliable.

The first step in the proof involves more philosophical speculations. Knutzen notes that all humans are obligated to obey God's commandments, which coincide with the natural law – firstly, following the natural law just means following our own nature, and secondly, as a divinely instituted law it has the further obligating element that it is based on the will of a person responsible for creating us. Furthermore, Knutzen notes as an empirical fact that all human beings break the natural law in some manner, how insignificant it may seem. Importantly, he does not suggest that this empirical fact would require some sort of original sin as an explanation – it is just something that happens and definitely not a destiny of fallen human beings.

Still, because of this tendency to break the natural law, human beings are in debt to God, Knutzen continues, and because their whole existence depends on God, this debt is infinitely great. In fact, it is so great that nothing that human beings could by themselves do would ever be enough for cancelling this debt – not even if they would conduct the rest of their lives according to the tenets of natural law. Because God is also just and must require some sort of recompensation for the sins of human beings, an infinite punishment should be in store for all human beings.

Knutzen thinks that this problem of the infinite guilt of human beings should be the basis of all true religion – a religion that would just repeat all that natural law has to say would be completely futile. He is also convinced that in addition to Christianity no other religion in the world tackles this question (admittedly, he has only limited information on these other religions). Since Christianity is the only answer given to the problem of infinite guilt – in effect, the answer is that a) God has many aspects and that b) in one aspect he took the shape of a human being and by his death paid the infinite debt – it must be the true religion, just as long as we know that this dying person was truly divine (this is supposed to be proven by the second step, since resurrection is for Knutzen a clear sign of divine power).

Although Knutzen's proof is clearly full of holes, it does address an important issue – that people do have the feeling that they have something to pay for – and recognises that this feeling is a basis of lot of religious sentiments. Indeed, we might be able to draw a clear line from Knutzen's proof to the romantic idea of an alienation of human beings.