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Research Graduate School of Philosophy PhD ceremonies

Grounding the world

The dissemination of occasionalism in early modern germany
PhD ceremony:Mr C.K.R. (Christian) Henkel
When:April 07, 2022
Supervisor:prof. dr. L.W. (Lodi) Nauta
Co-supervisor:A. (Andrea) Sangiacomo, Dr
Where:Academy building RUG
Grounding the world

This dissertation analyses how occasionalism provides a solid metaphysical foundation for early modern natural philosophy. Occasionalism is the doctrine which, in its strongest and most universal form, maintains that only God has causal power and that finite beings, typically both minds and bodies, are purely passive. The main historical and conceptual focus of this dissertation is on the rise and fall of occasionalism in early modern Germany. The first chapter is dedicated to Géraud de Cordemoy’s (1626–1684) ultimately politically motivated project of explaining human reality, and it is intended as a prelude to the discussion of the German debate about occasionalism in the rest of the dissertation. The second chapter investigates Johann Christoph Sturm’s (1635–1703) eclectic reconciliation of ‘old’ (scholastic) and ‘new’ (mechanical) natural philosophy by means of occasionalism. The third chapter studies the early Christian Wolff’s (1679–1754) endorsement of occasionalism to account for the phenomenon of speech, along with the reasons for his later dismissal of this doctrine. The case of Wolff is presented as a turning point in the history of German occasionalism. The fourth and last chapter aims to explain occasionalism’s fall from grace in the eighteenth-century German causation debate. It focuses on several influential university professors, such as Martin Knutzen (1713–1751), Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–1762), Gottfried Ploucquet (1716–1790), and the pre-Critical Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), and claims that all of them (bracketing off the early Ploucquet) took occasionalism to be in violation of a non-transcendental (this-worldly) explanation of nature itself.