Wolff, Baron Christian von

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Wolff, Baron Christian von (1679-1754): German, Philosopher.

Baron Christian von Wolff was born in Breslau, Silesia, on January 24, 1679, the son of a tanner. At the request of his father, Wolff initially studied theology at the University of Jena, but soon turned his interests to mathematics, physics and philosophy. Wolff completed a Master of Arts degree at the University of Leipzig, and taught there from 1703 to 1706. Upon reading Wolff’s paper on universal practical philosophy, Leibniz helped Wolff secure the position of professor of mathematics at Halle in 1706. Upon being expelled from Prussia in 1723 by Frederick William I, for his anti-Pietist teachings, Wolff took a teaching position at the University of Marburg.

While at Marburg, Wolff further pursued the publication of his unified and deductive system of all branches of human knowledge. Using logical deductions and building upon the metaphysical principles established by his mentor Leibniz and, Wolff sought to systemize all aspects of human knowledge, which he categorized into the various branches of science, as presented in his Preliminary Discourse on Philosophy in General (1728). Wolff placed particular emphasis on the disciplines of philosophy, history and mathematics. Mathematics was deemed the clearest expression of the scientific connection between objects, while history comprised the realm of actualized possibilities. Based on his belief that every idea or concept expresses a possibility, Wolff characterized philosophy as “the science of all possible things.”

Frederick II, the Great recalled Wolff to Halle in 1740, where Wolff attained the position of chancellor of the university in 1743. He died at Halle on April 9, 1754.

Further Reading:

John V Burns, Dynamism in the cosmology of Christian Wolff; a study in pre-critical rationalism, 1966.

Kevin O’Regan