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.