Christian Wolff (reconnaissance)

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Christian Wolff , from 1745 Freiherr von Wolff , (in the Encyclopédie Chrétien Wolf ; * January 24, 1679 in Breslau ; † April 9, 1754 in Halle ) was a German polymath , lawyer and mathematician as well as one of the most important philosophers of the Enlightenment between Leibniz and Kant . The Enlightenment ranks among the most important representatives of natural law and is considered the actual founder of theConceptual jurisprudence of the 19th century. German philosophy owes its terminological foundation to him; many of the terms he defined, such as awareness , meaning , attention, or in itself were later adopted into everyday language. Wolff also had a significant influence on Prussian legislation.

Christian Freiherr von Wolff
Memorial plaque in Wroclaw


Christian Wolff was born in Breslau in 1679. The pupil was shaped by the biconfessional (both Lutheran-Protestant and Catholic) character of the Silesian city, which was then under Austrian administration. At the age of eight, Christian Wolff, himself a Lutheran, came to the Maria Magdalenen Gymnasium in Breslau. According to his own statements, he also followed the Catholic services and discussed philosophical and theological questions with the Jesuit students in Breslau . The rector of the high school at that time was Christian Gryphius , a son of the poet Andreas Gryphius from Glogau . One of his most important teachers was Caspar Neumann , who had a strong influence on his career.

From 1699 Wolff studied theology in Jena , but above all physics and mathematics. He completed his habilitation in 1702 and lectured privately from 1703 at the University of Leipzig , where he also worked as a preacher in part.

In 1706 he became professor of mathematics and philosophy at the University of Halle . In 1710 Christian Wolff was appointed a member of the Royal Society and in 1711 of the Berlin Academy of Sciences . In the same year Wolff encountered the classics of Chinese philosophy in the Latin translation by Father François Noël (1651–1729). Intensive reading of the works of Confucius and Menzius inspired Wolff in 1721 to give his “speech on the practical philosophy of the Chinese” at the University of Halle. In this speech, Confucius and the Confucian tradition served as living proof of an ethic that had shaped a high culture for millennia, regardless of Christian faith. His pietistic opponents accused Wolff as a result of atheism ; they caused him to give up his office in 1723 and to leave the city of Halle within 48 hours on the basis of an order from the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I (exile). But Wolff studied the Chinese classics in the translation by Noël until his death in 1754. His entire work is permeated with quotes and allusions to this reading, which can be regarded as testimony to the most fruitful encounter between Western and Chinese philosophy.

He went to Hesse , where he taught at the University of Marburg with great success until 1740 . One of his students was Johann Adam von Ickstatt , another Mikhail Wassiljewitsch Lomonossow , whose name is now the Lomonossow University in Moscow . The Empress Catherine I (Russia) appointed him a member of the St. Petersburg Academy , and he also became a foreign member of the Académie des Sciences in Paris . Friedrich II. Of Prussia called him in 1740 back to Halle, 1743 he became Chancellor at the local university , two years later by the Duke of Bavaria and Elector Maximilian Joseph in his capacity as imperial vicar for baron ennobled .

Wolff died on April 9, 1754 in Halle, the whereabouts of his grave have not yet been fully clarified.

Scientific research into the biography of the philosopher Wolff is a desideratum of research. Apart from individual studies, only the works by Baumeister (1738), Gottsched (1755) and Wuttke (1841) are available so far . The philosopher's autographs are kept in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library , among others .

Philosophical work

The first German school education in philosophy emanated from Wolff's work. " Wolffians ", followers of the philosopher, were found in almost all universities of the Holy Roman Empire . Their influence in teaching and scientific research dominated for decades. Wolff also had followers outside of the academic sphere. Nobles, such as Ernst Christoph von Manteuffel , Friedrich II. Of Prussia in his time as Crown Prince and Luise Dorothea of ​​Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg , were also among his supporters, as were French Protestant religious refugees in Prussia, such as Jean Henri Samuel Formey and Jean Deschamps . Large parts of Wolff's followers were networked in societies and correspondence in the 1730s and 1740s and successfully propagated the work and ideas of the philosopher.

Wolff's philosophy is a systematic expression of rationalism , which is fed by various sources, Leibniz, Descartes , the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suarez . Wolff was for a long time primarily ascribed the “systematization” of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's philosophy , whereby differences between Wolff and Leibniz, for example in monadology , should not be overlooked, which Wolff himself emphasized and which more recent research has worked out. The mathematical type of teaching propagated by Wolff and his followers aimed at a strict system when writing a text. In the best case, every single thought should appear with a corresponding explicitly defined sentence category. With this method, which is also referred to as "demonstrative", an optimal comprehensibility of the train of thought should be achieved.

Wolff is both defenders a congruent complement of reason and revelation (theologia naturalis, 2 vols, 1736/1737.) And a follower of the Platonic the "idea Philosophenkönigtums " ( De philosopho regnante et de brisk philosopher ante , in: Horae subsecivae Marburgenses , 1730 ). While his philosophy in the 1720s and 1730s was particularly strongly attacked by Lutheran orthodoxy and by the Protestant- Pietist side and placed under suspicion of atheism , Wolff arose in the 1740s powerful opponents in the empirical English ( Newtonianism ) and skeptical ( Voltaire ) to materialistic ( de La Mettrie ) French philosophy. In contrast, a positive reception of Wolff's Enlightenment philosophy during this phase can be observed in the Catholic parts of Europe, especially in Italy, often among the Jesuits and Benedictines .

Wolff postulates three main types of knowledge in his work "Introductory Treatise on Philosophy in General" :

  • historical knowledge (Wolff § 3: "The knowledge of what is and what happens, be it in the material world or in immaterial substances, we call historical knowledge .")
  • philosophical knowledge (Wolff § 6: "The knowledge of the reason of what is or happens is called philosophical knowledge .")
  • as well as mathematical knowledge (Wolff § 14: "We call knowledge of the quantity of things mathematical knowledge .")

Private law and private law historical significance

Wolff is also of great importance for the private law of the Enlightenment. In his capacity as a legal scholar, Wolff's ideas were based on the concepts of Hugo Grotius and, based on these, on those of Samuel von Pufendorf . In addition to the Jena late scholastics , Wolff had already got involved with the teachings of Pufendorf while studying. In essence, the two masterminds were from the civil jurisprudential binding to the Roman law made freely and in search of a secularized natural law issue that ultimately as rational law should establish a new discipline of law. Wolff not only took possession of these approaches, he arranged a comprehensive system of legal propositions from them, a system that, in his opinion, had to be derived from overarching dogmas. In 1740 his monumental work Jus naturae methodo scientifica pertractatum ( scientifically treated natural law ) appeared. The work was deeply rooted in private law doctrine and endeavored to present a model case for a complete codification of civil law. In merging Roman law with the natural law approach, he turned away from the views of his predecessors, Christian Thomasius in particular . In particular, he opposed Thomasius' view that duties based on ethical principles of conscience should not be confused with legal duties. In the extension he also abolished the separation of law and morality promoted by Thomasius, which had never gone unobjectionable.

Wolff's return to Grotius and Pufendorf was not limited to restoring the moral-philosophical approach of the two. Rather, he presupposed it, because his main concern was to be able to formulate and implement an independent political and legal doctrine for the age of enlightened absolutism that surrounded him . Even the existing common law - despite Wolff's always preferred application of Roman law - sometimes acquired a natural law character, a prerequisite in turn for giving Wolff's system a holistic habitus. Positive law and law of reason achieved great overlaps and ethical values ​​from a natural morality flowed into it. On the one hand, this resulted in a high practical benefit for legal practice. On the other hand, a social image soon emerged that was later to find its way into Prussian land law . Wolff's students, especially Daniel Nettelbladt , carried on his ideas. In its tradition, legal thought developed long-term effects that extended into pandectism , and ultimately the civil code should also be shaped by it.

Since Wolff had studied philosophy and mathematics just as conscientiously, he developed a deduction technique (mathematical teaching method) based on the methodology of these disciplines, which made him one of the main representatives of the mos geometricus . With this method, the concrete and increasingly specific rule sets are obtained from initially abstract legal principles.


  • Mons Wolff - mountain on the earth's moon in the Montes Apenninus on the edge of the Mare Imbrium.
  • Christian Wolff Houses - student dormitory complex in Marburg
  • Christian-Wolff-Haus - main building of the Halle City Museum
  • Christian Wolff Society - founded in 2017 for the philosophy of the Enlightenment

Fonts (selection)

Handwritten letter from Wolff (1744)
  • Beginnings of All Mathematical Sciences , 1710: 3rd part
  • Extract from the beginnings of all mathematical sciences , later edition, 1772
  • Reasonable Thoughts of the Powers of the Human Mind and Their Proper Use in Knowledge of Truth , 1713
  • Elementa matheseos universae , 1713-1715
  • Discovery of the true cause of the miraculous increase in grain , 1718
    • "Reprint" explained, Hall 1719
  • Reasonable thoughts about God, the world and the soul of man, also all things in general, communicated to lovers of truth , 1719,
  • Reasonable Thoughts of Human Social Life , 1721
  • All sorts of useful attempts to pave the way to a more precise understanding of nature and art , 1721
  • Sensible Thoughts from Nature's Strangles , 1723
  • Oratio De Sinarum Philosophia Practica In Solemni Panegyri Recitata , 1726
  • De differentia nexus rerum sapientis et fatalis necessitatis , 1724
  • Philosophia rationalis sive logica with the Discursus praeliminaris de philosophia in genere , 1728
  • Philosophia prima, sive Ontologia , 1730
  • Theologia naturalis , 1737
  • Jus naturae methodo scientifica pertractatum , 8 volumes, 1740–1748
  • Compendium elementorum matheseos universae , 1742
  • Ius gentium methodo scientifica pertractatum , 1749
  • Institutiones Iuris Naturae et Gentium , 1750;

Posthumous editions

  • Letters from Christian Wolff from the years 1719–1753 , St. Petersburg 1860
  • Correspondence between Leibniz and Christian Wolf , Halle 1860
  • Collected works , ed. and edit by J. École u. a., Georg Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 1962ff.
  • The correspondence between Christian Wolff and Ernst Christoph von Manteuffel from 1738 to 1748. Transcriptions from the manuscript holdings of the Leipzig University Library (shelf marks MS 0345, MS 0346, MS 0347) , first part: letters No. 1 to 150 (May 11, 1738 to May 30 , 2017) . December 1743); Part Two: Letters Nos. 151 to 314 (January 5, 1744 to March 24, 1747); Third part: Letters No. 315 to 488 (March 26, 1747 to November 5, 1748), ed. by Katharina Middell and Hanns-Peter Neumann, preprint status February 2013, available on the Internet at:


  • Talk about the practical philosophy of the Chinese. Latin-German, transl. u. ed. v. Michael Albrecht. Meiner, Hamburg 1985 (= Philosophical Library, Vol. 374), ISBN 978-3-7873-0795-1 .
  • First philosophy or ontology (§§ 1-78). Philosophia Prima sive Ontologia. Latin-German, transl. u. ed. v. Dirk Effertz. Meiner, Hamburg 2005 (= Philosophical Library, Vol. 569), ISBN 978-3-7873-1720-2 .
  • Introductory treatise on philosophy in general (Discursus praeliminaris), trans. u. ed. v. Günter Gawlick u. Lothar Kreimendahl . Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart 2006 (= research and materials for the German Enlightenment. Dept. 1: Texts, Vol. 1), ISBN 3-7728-1523-5 .
  • About the difference between a systematic and a non-systematic mind . Latin-German. Translated, introduced and edited by Michael Albrecht ( Philosophical Library , Vol. 710). Hamburg 2019.



chronological, newest first

  • Hans-Joachim Kertscher : He brought light and order into the world - Christian Wolff: A biography. (published by the Christian Wolff Society for the Philosophy of Enlightenment), Mitteldeutscher Verlag , Halle (Saale) 2018, ISBN 978-3-96311-096-2 .
  • Johannes Bronisch: The fight for Crown Prince Friedrich. Wolff versus Voltaire. Landt-Verlag, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-938844-23-6 .
  • Johannes Bronisch: "La trompette de la vérité". On the correspondence between Ernst Christoph Graf von Manteuffels and Christian Wolff 1738–1748. In: Ivo Cerman, Luboš Velek (ed.): Noble education. The challenge of education and the consequences. Meidenbauer, Munich 2006 (= Studies on Central European Nobility, Vol. 1), ISBN 3-89975-057-8 , pp. 257-278.
  • Christoph Schmitt:  Wolff, Christian. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 13, Bautz, Herzberg 1998, ISBN 3-88309-072-7 , Sp. 1509-1527.
  • Wolfgang Drechsler: Christian Wolff (1679–1754). A Biographical Essay. In: European Journal of Law and Economics 4 (1997), ISSN  0929-1261 , pp. 111-128.
    • Reprinted in: Jürgen G. Backhaus (Ed.): Christian Wolff and Law & Economics. The Heilbronn Symposium. Georg Olms, Hildesheim, Zurich, New York 1998 (= Christian Wolff: Gesammelte Werke. Dept. III: Materials and Documents, Vol. 45), ISBN 3-487-10701-5 , pp. 1–18.
  • Werner Schneiders (Ed.): Christian Wolff 1679–1754. Interpretations of his philosophy and its effect. With a bibliography of the Wolff literature. 2nd ed. Meiner, Hamburg 1986 (= studies on the eighteenth century, vol. 4), ISBN 3-7873-0676-5 .
  • Wilhelm SchraderWolff, Christian . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 44, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1898, pp. 12-28.
  • The three older biographical texts mentioned by Baumeister, Gottsched and Wuttke (1738, 1755, 1841) reprinted in: Hans Werner Arndt (Hrsg.): Biographie. Georg Olms, Hildesheim, New York 1980 (= Christian Wolff: Gesammelte Werke. Dept. I: Deutsche Schriften, Vol. 10), ISBN 3-487-06959-8 .
  • Stefan Borchers (ed.): (Anonymous and pseudonymous) four writings at the end of Wolff's first teaching period at the University of Halle. Georg Olms, Hildesheim, Zurich, New York 2012 (= Christian Wolff: Gesammelte Werke. Dept. III: Materials and Documents, Vol. 130), ISBN 978-3-487-14321-7 .


  • Fundamental to the literature situation: Gerhard Biller: Wolff after Kant. A bibliography. With a foreword by Jean École. Georg Olms, Hildesheim, Zurich, New York 2004 (= Christian Wolff: Gesammelte Werke. Dept. III: Materials and Documents, Vol. 87), ISBN 3-487-12588-9 .
    • 2nd edition 2009 PDF .
  • Heinrich P. Delfosse, Berthold Krämer, Elfriede Reinardt, Wolff-Index. Job index and concordance on Christian Wolff's “German Logic”. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart 1987 (= research and materials for the German Enlightenment. Dept. 3: Indices, Vol. 19), ISBN 3-7728-0933-2 .
  • Jean École: Was Christian Wolff a Leibnizian? In: Robert Theis (Hrsg.): The German Enlightenment in the mirror of the more recent French Enlightenment research. Meiner, Hamburg 1998 (= Enlightenment, Vol. 10/1), ISBN 3-7873-1216-1 , pp. 29-46.
  • Jean École: Wolff était-il un enlightenment? In: Frank Grunert, Friedrich Vollhardt (Hrsg.): Enlightenment as practical philosophy. Werner Schneider's 65th birthday. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1998 (= early modern times, vol. 45), ISBN 3-484-36545-5 , pp. 31-44.
    • Reprinted in: Jean École (Ed.): Autour de la philosophie Wolffienne. Textes by Hans Werner Arndt, Sonia Carboncini-Gavanelli et Jean École. Georg Olms, Hildesheim, Zurich, New York 2001 (= Christian Wolff: Gesammelte Werke. Dept. III: Materials and Documents, Vol. 65), ISBN 3-487-11233-7 , pp. 172–185.
  • Hans-Martin Gerlach (Ed.): Christian Wolff - his school and his opponents. Meiner, Hamburg 2001 (= Enlightenment, Vol. 12/2), ISBN 3-7873-1455-5 .
  • Norbert Nail: Russi intra muros: Students from Saint Petersburg 1736–1739 with Christian Wolff in Marburg. On the 300th birthday of the polymath Michail Vasil'evič Lomonosov on November 19, 2011. In: Studenten-Kurier 1/2012, ISSN  0931-0444 , pp. 15-19.
  • Oliver-Pierre Rudolph, Jean-François Goubet (ed.): The psychology of Christian Wolff. Systematic and historical research. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2004 (= Hallesche Contributions to the European Enlightenment, Vol. 22), ISBN 3-484-81022-X .
  • Werner Schneiders: Christian Wolff (1679-1754): Interpretations of his philosophy and its effect . Hamburg 1986.
  • Silvia Sommerhoff-Benner: Christian Wolff as a mathematician and university teacher in the 18th century. Shaker, Aachen 2002 (= reports from mathematics), ISBN 3-8322-0665-5 .

Web links

Commons : Christian Wolff (Philosopher)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Christian Wolff (philosopher)  - sources and full texts


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  8. ;