When we speak of a Wolffian school, it is not just Christian Wolff himself we are thinking of, but a whole parade of more minor figures who in some sense continued the work of their masters. The 1720s appear to be the earliest point at which we can speak of Wolffians as a recognizable philosophical movement. I have already discussed a dissertation of one Wolffian, Bilfinger, that appeared 1722, and the topic of the current post, Meletemata varii et rarioris argumenti in unum volumen collecta, contains dissertations and essays published during 1720s.
Although the name does not reveal it, the continuous references to the works of the illustrious Wolff suggest that the writers are hard core Wolffians. Most of the contributors are quite minor names in the school and apparently did not even publish anything after their dissertation, so I'll skip introducing them. The only exception is the editor of the collection, Ludvig Philip Thümmig, a faithful follower of Wolff.
What I am mostly interested in this collection is the range of different topics discussed, which reflects well the multifarious nature of Wolff's philosophy. A considerable number of the essays concern natural or mathematical sciences, which was the original research field of Wolff and which he still continued to study even when he had already started his famous series on reasonable thoughts on nearly everything – even at this time Wolff published a series called Allerhand nützliche Versuche (All sorts of useful studies), which dealt with such important problems as how we can weigh objects or use a thermometer. The pupils of Wolff appear to have been interested at least of biology (there's an essay on how to study leaves), but especially of astronomy and ”things happening up in the sky”, like propagation of light.
It is not just physics that interested pupils of Wolff, but there are also more philosophical essays that concern all the four Rational thoughts we have encountered thus far. There's a logical discourse on the necessary and contingent concepts, which also has ontological consequences – the writer argues how Wolffian distinction between absolute and conditional necessity discredits Spinoza's idea that the world is necessary, because the existence of the world is not impossible, but depends on the free choice of God. This writing is the first sign thus far of the looming threat of Spinozan pantheism – we have more to say on the matter in a couple of decades.
Furthermore, the collection contains a metaphysical study of the immortality of soul – or more likely, it is an advertisement of the Wolffian proof, which is based on the simplicity of the soul and the supposed impossibility of a material basis of thinking. The only novelty in the essay appears to be the author's idea that the life of soul consists of a clarification of its ideas: the newborn child has only confused ideas, but the soul of a dead person sees everything distinctly. Despite its unoriginality, the essay shows well the appreciation of Wolff's rational psychology in contemporary Germany. Indeed, I think that Kant's theory of paralogisms is primarily targeted towards Wolffian ideas.
Morality is also topic of an essay, which analyses the notion of sincerity. A considerable portion of the essay is dedicated to defending Wolff's ideas of China as an atheist and still a moral nation – an issue that will surface often in the writings of 1720s.
Wolffian politics is not forgotten, although this essasy covers also architectural ideas. The author follows Wolff's suggestion that the needs of a comunnity determine what is good art. The outcome of the argument is that the Wolffian writings on architecture fulfill this criterion of good art perfectly.
It is this final tendency of subjugating art to the moral upbringing of people that will be the topic of my next post, where I'll discuss my first piece of fiction.