Baumgarten, Alexander. Metaphysics: A Critical Translation, with Kant's Elucidations, Selected Notes, and Related Materials.
The standard way of lecturing in Kant's time was to follow closely a set text, usually a well-known and influential book of the time. For his rational theology and metaphysics lectures this was for the most part Alexander Baumgarten's Metaphysica, first published, in Latin, in 1739. It went through seven editions and was translated (or rather shortened and paraphrased) into German by Georg Friedrich Meier, Baumgarten's pupil, in 1766. This German translation was republished by Johann August Eberhard, one of Kant's opponents, in 1783, in order to revive the kind of metaphysics the Critique of Pure Reason was attacking. For Baumgarten's metaphysics was influenced by Leibniz and Wolff (and also Bilfinger, Reusch, Thummig, and Baumeister), whom Kant opposed.
Hitherto, readers unable to read Latin had to resort to Meier's version, or, more recently, to Naragon and Ameriks's selections, Watkins's selections, or the German historical-critical translation of the Metaphysica by Gawlick and Kreimendahl. The critical translation by Courtney D. Fugate and John Hymers changes this. It offers us not only the full text of the fourth edition of the Metaphysica (published in 1757 and used by Kant), but also a substantial historical and systematic introduction, Kant's notes written into his copy of the book (with sample facsimiles), Meier's and Eberhard's prefaces, Eberhard's insertions, Baumgarten's three prefaces, a glossary of the main Latin terms, and also many useful footnotes in the running text, containing further explanations or references to other works, such as Kant's and Wolffs.
The Metaphysica follows the structure of Wolffs Latin version of his metaphysics, containing a general metaphysics, or ontology, as Part I, and the special metaphysical disciplines of cosmology, psychology (empirical and rational), and natural theology as Parts Two through Four. But, as the translators point out, Baumgarten was not simply a Wolffian. The differences between the two are considerable. For instance, Wolff offers a longer prolegomenon containing a detailed explanation of (natural and artificial) ontology and its relation to the outdated (Protestant) Scholastic philosophy. Baumgarten only devotes one paragraph to the principle of contradiction and another to that of sufficient reason, while Wolff devotes a whole chapter to each. This is not just because Wolffs elaborate, almost verbose presentation contrasts with Baumgarten's succinct, abstract style. Wolff was more interested in principles for a universal scientific method to unify and derive all human knowledge. Ontology is for him the science of being in general, while for Baumgarten it is only of "the more general predicates of a being." Unlike Wolff, Baumgarten embraces Leibniz's monadology and the doctrine of preestablished harmony (for Wolff only a "hypothesis"). His true aim is to systematize Leibniz's metaphysics by means of Wolffs "mathematical" methodology, and it is therefore correct to describe Baumgarten as "a Leibnizian in Wollfs clothing," as Mario Casula once wrote.
How much Baumgarten is there in Kant? Several transcriptions of Kant's lectures read more like an exposition of his critical philosophy by means of a critical commentary on Baumgarten. Of course, aspects of the structure of the first Critique were informed by Baumgarten's, and Wolffs, metaphysics, for example the sections on the paralogisms (psychology), antinomies (cosmology), and the Ideal (theology) in the Transcendental Dialectic. In addition, important notions like "complete determination" are found in Wolff and Baumgarten. However, it is harder to find agreement in doctrines between Kant and his predecessors. For instance, Kant criticized Baumgarten's definition of metaphysics as the science of the first principles of human knowledge for its vagueness. Crucially, he also dismissed (Wolffs and) Baumgarten's definition of existence as "the complement of internal possibility," since existence is really absolute position. No doubt, through the admirable effort of the translators we will gain a better understanding of Kant's intellectual development. But whether Baumgarten's Metaphysica will teach us real philosophy or whether it is merely a "plaster-cast" of real philosophy, as Kant objected to the Wolffian system, remains to be seen.--Edward Kanterian, University of Kent
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|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2014|
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