Dynamism in the Cosmology of Christian Wolff [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 20 (3):538-538 (1967)

In order to assay the dynamism in the philosophy of Wolff, Father Burns examines "substance," "bodies," and "elements" in Christian Wolff's philosophy, and in so doing provides some valuable information on a philosopher who has had scant attention in the English-speaking world. In the first chapter, simple substance is distinguished from composed substance, with the former being the only true substance for Wolff. Even here, the author contends, substance for Wolff is solely a concept of essences and, hence, Wolff's ontology is restricted to the realm of possible beings and excludes actual existing things. In an informative chapter on "Bodies," the Wolffian notion of active force as the principle of motion in bodies is challenged. The author maintains that an a priori commitment necessitated that Wolff locate the force principle in simple substances; and further, that Wolff's reasoning to simple substances involves a basic fallacy of identifying unity with indivisibility. A brief third chapter identifies the elements or first principles of bodies with the simple substances. While the author rightly claims that the terminology of Wolff makes it necessary to compare and contrast Wolff's ontology-cosmology with Aristotelian-scholastic thought, the conclusion of the book makes it difficult at times to ascertain whether the main task is a critical exposition of Wolff's dynamism or a staunch defense of traditional metaphysics. Within the latter frame of reference, Wolff's notion of force and motion is shown to be physical and/or mathematical rather than metaphysical, and is summarily set down as a distortion of the "true picture of substance and actuality into a caricature."—J. J. R.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph196720322
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