Born Jan. 24, 1679, in Breslau; died Apr. 9, 1754, in Halle. German philosopher; representative of rationalism. Professor of mathematics and philosophy at Halle (1706-23 and from 1740) and Marburg (1723-40), where M. V. Lomonosov was among those who attended his lectures.
Wolff was mainly a popularizer and systematizer of the ideas of G. Leibniz; on the basis of these ideas he strove to work out a unified and all-encompassing system of knowledge. Wolff believed that physics studies bodies—“simple substances” whose motion is explained by mechanical causality; that pneumatology studies the activity of spirits; mathematics, the magnitude of objects; ethics, natural law; and politics, the will as a property of the soul. The task of First Philosophy (or ontology) was to apprehend the universal connection of all spiritual and corporeal essences; Wolff interpreted this connection as being aimed at the fulfillment of that which exists, which was predetermined by god. Reducing the beautiful to intellectual introspection of sensory perception, Wolff gave impetus to the formulation of aesthetics (A. Baumgarten was one of his students). Wolff divided psychology into empirical and rational branches; the first examines the soul from the point of view of its connection with the body, while the second is concerned with the unchangeable, immortal soul. Wolff was a proponent of enlightened absolutism. As a follower of H. Grotius, he defended the theory of natural law; Wolff wrote a number of works on international public law. The philosophy of Wolff and his school was dominant in German universities until the appearance of the “critical philosophy” of Kant and was also widespread in other countries. Wolffs works in German did much to determine German philosophical terminology.
WORKSIn Russian translation:
Razumnye mysli o silakh chelovecheskogo razuma i ikh ispravnom upotreblenii v poznanii pravdy. St. Petersburg, 1765.
REFERENCESIstoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1943. Pages 13-16.
Utitz, E. Chr. Wolff. Halle, 1929.
Campo, M. Chr. Wolff e il razionalismo precritico, vols. 1-2. Milan, 1939.
Schöffler, H. Deutsche s Geistesleben zwischen Reformation und Aufklärung von M. Opitz zu Chr. Wolff, 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main, 1956.
B. S. RABBOT