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Christian Wolff's Treatment of Scientific Discovery CHARLES A. CORR DURING THE PAST TEN OR FIFTEEN YEARSthere has been a good deal of controversy concerning the viability of the notion of a "logic of discovery." 1 Although this argumentation has its own unique, contemporary character, the general nature of the problem is not altogether new. In fact, continental philosophers in the first half of the eighteenth century who located themselves in the Cartesian tradition faced a rather similar issue. Because of the basic commitments of their philosophical viewpoint, together with the rapid progress of the science of their times, one of the most pressing difficulties facing these thinkers was the need to provide an adequate philosophical account of the process of scientific discovery. More broadly, this is the problem of incorporating experiential knowledge originating in the senses in an outlook dominated by rational principles. The intention of the present paper is to examine some of the dimensions of this problem as it appears in the thought of one of the most prominent of these philosophers, Christian Wolff (1679-1754). By way of background, we will begin with an account of Wolff's general conception of philosophy and philosophical methodology. Following this, we will consider Wolff's comments on the question of scientific discovery itself and his incomplete notion of an ars inveniendi or art of discovery. A brief assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Wolff's position concludes the paper. 1 The most ardent exponent of the notion of a "logic of discovery" was the late Norwood R. Hanson, whose views, which underwent some evolution, are to be found in: Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), esp. Ch. 4; "The Logic of Discovery," The Journal of Philosophy, LV (1958), 1073-1089; "More on 'The Logic of Discovery'," idem., LVII (1960), 182-188; "Is There a Logic of Discovery?" in Current Issues in the Philosophy of Science, ed. H. Feigl and G. Maxwell (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1961), pp. 20-35; "Retroductive Inference" in Philosophy of Science: The Delaware Seminar, Vol. I, 1961-1962, ed. Bernard Baumrin (New York: Interscience Publishers , 1963), 21-37; "Notes Toward a Logic of Discovery" in Perspectives on Peirce, ed. Richard J. Bernstein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), pp. 42-65; and "The Idea of a Logic of Discovery," Dialogue, IV (1965-1966), 48-61. Two posthumous publications are especially helpful: "An Anatomy of Discovery," The Journal of Philosophy, LXIV (1967), 321-352 and Perception and Discovery: An Introduction to Scientific Inquiry, ed. Willard C. Humphreys (San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper & Company, 1969). See also Gerd Buchdahl, "Descartes's Anticipation of a 'Logic of Discovery'," in Scientific Change, ed. [3231 324 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 1. PHILOSOPHY AND MATHEMATICS In his Preliminary Discourse on Philosophy in General (1728) Christian Wolff distinguishes three primary divisions in human knowledge: history, philosophy, and mathematics. History is "knowledge of those things which are and occur either in the material world or in immaterial substances"; philosophy is "knowledge of the reason of things which are or occur"; and mathematics is "knowledge of the quantity of things." 2 Perhaps the most striking feature of this tri-partite division is the exceptionally broad scope which it accords to both historical and philosophical knowledge. We deal with history in the succeeding section of this paper, but for the moment it may be useful to begin with Wolff's understanding of mathematics and its relationship to philosophy. This will help us to appreciate Wolff's conception of philosophy and the emphases which he placed on its rational and empirical components. Wolff looked to mathematics as the paradigm for philosophy, because, despite their relatively limited subject matter, the mathematicians of his time were making great progress in the development of their discipline and in its effective expansion into related areas such as optics and astronomy.3 Philosophy, by contrast, was lost A. C. Crombie (New York: Basic Books, 1963), pp. 399-417. Hanson's comments on Buchdahl 's work are to be found in the same volume on pp. 458-466. A good survey of the entire problem from a much broader perspective, and by a man who has also studied and...


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