Wolff is one of the most important German philosophers in history. Let’s see why.
Christian Wolff (1679-1754) was a rationalist German philosopher and mathematician, who stood out in the historical context of the Enlightenment, a movement both cultural and intellectual, especially active in Germany, France and England.
This movement was committed to knowledge and its dissemination as essential tools to create a better world in every way.
In this article you will find a biography of Christian Wolff ; We will talk about his origins, his studies, his career … without forgetting his thought, his philosophy, his works and his great contributions to the field of knowledge.
Christian Wolff Biography
Christian Wolff (1679-1754), full name Christian Freiherr von Wolff, was a German philosopher who was born in Breslau (Silesia, Poland), on January 24, 1679, and who died in Halle on April 9, 1754, to the age of 75 years.
This intellectual belonging to the Enlightenment can be defined as an idealist, systematizer and popularizer of the philosophy of the philosopher Leibniz ; in fact, a large part of his work focused on disseminating and interpreting the philosophy of that thinker. He also worked as a teacher and went through different universities
On the other hand, Wolff influenced, years later and in a notorious way, the rationalist ideas of the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant.
The ideological current of Christian Wolff was rationalist, according to which knowledge can be achieved through reason as an activity detached from the material reality that surrounds us, and his ideas were influenced, in turn, by the philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. On the other hand, his scientific method ended up being nourished, in large part, by mathematics, since in addition to being a philosopher, Wolff was also a mathematician.
Origin and studies
Christian Wolff was the son of a craftsman. He studied Lutheran theology (a branch of Christianity) and philosophy in the Polish city of Breslau, his hometown. Later, in 1699, Wolff began to pursue other types of studies (physics and mathematics), this time in a German city: Jena.
Three years later, in 1702, he went to Leipzig to get a doctorate, a year later, in philosophy. His doctoral thesis was Philosophia practica universalis mathematica methodo conscripta .
In addition, he obtained the chair of mathematics at the University of Halle, a few years later (in 1706), largely thanks to the recommendations of his partner Gottfried Leibniz, a German philosopher and mathematician. In this university he worked as a professor of mathematics and natural philosophy.
Controversy: the clash of his ideas with religion
Christian Wolff generated controversy with his thought; Specifically, one of his works, Oratio de Sinarum philosophica practica (1721), which dealt with the philosophy of the Chinese, sparked controversy. As a result of this work, many colleagues, professors of Theology, accused him of being an atheist, and for this reason they dismissed him two years after the publication of the mentioned work.
However, it is not true that he was an atheist, and Christian Wolff denied this with another of his works: Theologia Naturalis , where he exposes the importance of God as a perfect and real being.
Life went on, and as a result of what happened, Christian Wolff was exiled from Prussia. His works were also banned in 1723. Luckily, Wolff was taken in by the Landgrave Hesse-Kassel.
He began to teach at the University of Marburg, until 1740. That same year, Frederick II of Prussia (also called Frederick II the Great), the third king of Prussia, called him, and as a result he returned to Halle (German city). Four years later, at the University there, he was appointed chancellor, and two years later, he was awarded the title of baron. Christian Wolff remained in Halle until his death.
Work and thought
The work of Christian Wolff is very extensive, and he published up to 67 titles, organized in 23 volumes, only between the years 1703 and 1753. His works were written in both German and Latin.
On the other hand, for us to understand Wolff’s thought and philosophy, his work focused on disseminating and interpreting Leibniz’s philosophy. They were Leibniz and Descartes, the two most relevant figures who influenced the thought of this philosopher.
Specifically, they inspired him to create his philosophical method, which had a mathematical orientation. On the other hand, Christian Wolff’s thinking was rationalistic, which means that he considered reason as the main source of knowledge, although that does not mean that he was a believer.
One of his most relevant works was Logic: Rational Thoughts on the Forces of Human Understanding (1728), based on his idea of society, which followed the trend of enlightened despotism.
Beyond this book, these are some of his most relevant works:
- Philosophia practica universalis, mathematica methodo conscripta (1703)
- Dissertationes pro loco (1703)
- Aërometriae elementa, in quibus aliquot aëris vires ac proprietates iuxta methodum geometrarum demonstratur (1708)
- Elementa matheseos universae, IV vols. (1713-1715)
- Lexicon mathematicum (1716)
- Cosmologia generalis (1731)
- Empirical Psychology (1732)
- Psychologia rationalis (1734)
Regarding his contributions, Wolff also developed a metaphysical teleologism (a branch of metaphysics that studies the purposes of objects or beings), through which he explained the universal connection and harmony of being as goals established by God.
Another of Christian Wolff’s contributions was to systematize and revive scholasticism, a medieval philosophical and theological current that uses part of classical philosophy to understand Christianity.
In addition, Wolff developed his own philosophical method, which was a deductive and rationalistic method, through which he maintained that all the truths of philosophy were reduced to the laws of formal logic.
Finally, we must not forget the great diffusion that Wolff made of sciences more “remote” from philosophy, such as: mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany …
- Fazio, M (2002). History of philosophy III: Modern philosophy. Word.
- Gilson, É. And Langan, T. (1967). Christian Wolff. Modern philosophy. Buenos Aires-Barcelona. pp. 192-202 and 542-550.
- Komar, E. (1962). The Virtue of Prudence in Ethics by Christian Wolff. Sapientia. pp. 89-111.
- Wolff, Ch. (2000). Rational thoughts: About God, the world and the soul of man, as well as about all things in general (German Metaphysics). Edition of Agustín González Ruiz. Publisher: Akal.