C. D. Broad's Examination of McTaggart's philosophy is an example of how commentaries should be made. Broad goes painstakingly through all the details and intricacies of McTaggart's Nature of existence, notes all the different variations that e.g. a theory of time might have, considers fairly how McTaggart's own theory fairs and then suggests the alternative he favours. Broad attempts to read McTaggart's sometimes convoluted ideas in as clear and believable manner as possible, sometimes agreeing with him, other times not. Never is any statement of McTaggart discarded before an honest consideration of what he attempts to say.
Then there is the other type of commentary, where the opinions of the commented author are assumed beforehand, ambiguous phrases and passages are interpreted in the worst possible manner and generally the author is treated like a customer of Spanish inquisition. Lange's Bescheidene und ausführliche Entdeckung der falschen und schädlichen Philosophie in dem Wolffianischen Systemate Metaphysico von GOtt, der Welt, und dem Menschen; und insonderheit von der sogenannten harmonia praestabilita des commercii zwischen Seel und Leib: Wie auch in der auf solches Systema gegründeten Sitten-Lehre: Nebst einem historischen Vorbericht, von dem, was mit dem Herrn Auctore desselben in Halle vorgegangen: Unter Abhandelung vieler wichtigen Materien, und mit kurzer Abfertigung der Anmerckungen über ein gedoppeltes Bedencken von der Wolffianischen Philosophie: Nach den principiis der gesunden Vernunft falls into the latter category.
I cannot blame Lange for a lack of thoroughness. On the contrary, he has read through all of Wolff's major works published thus far and apparently even some not as significant publications, and has left only his logical work uncommented, because it doesn't significantly differ from other contemporary books of logic. Lange has even found time to read books of Wolff published in the same year as Lange's own title, such as the book on teleology, I've just dealt with. It is not even pretense of assuming axioms, which are far from evident that I find fault with. This is just Lange playing with Spinoza's geometric style, which is already familiar from an earlier work (Lange even makes fun of Wolff, because he fails to present his theories in such a format). What I found fault with was Lange's reading of Wolffian philosophy,
The very first ”theorem” of Lange suggests that Wolff held onto the eternity of the world. I found this rather surprising, because in reading Wolff I had received the diametrically opposed impression that Wolff thought world was not eternal. Problem lies with Wolff's ambiguity. On the one hand, Wolff makes some remarks that appear to suggest that all things are infinitely grounded on other things, that is, that there has been an infinite series of events leading to this particular moment of time. On the other hand, he also clearly states that world is contingent and contingency is equivalent with non-eternity of the world. We have then stumbled on a seeming contradiction in the Wolffian system.
Lange's strategy in avoiding the contradiction is to assume that Wolff is just trying to sneak in the assumption of the eternity of the world and only pay lip service to the idea of creation, thus making the hypothesis of a creator superfluous. I, on the contrary, try to take seriously Wolff's explicit commitment to the non-eternity of the world. True, the references to infinite grounding remain problematic, but I consider the meaning of these passages to be more uncertain. I can accept the idea that Wolff might have toyed with the idea of an eternal world, but left the question purposefully ambiguous. Furthermore, I might also assume that the infinite grounding means just the fact that any thing in Wolffian world is supposed to be in a necessary relation with all the other denizens of a spatially infinite world.
In addition to finding fault in Lange's interpretation of Wolff, I also question his assumption that the acceptance of an eternally existing world would necessarily lead to atheism. This conclusion holds only if the creation is supposed to happen with time, as the first event of the world. The assumption completely ignores the possibility that the creation happened outside time, which would still allow the eternity of the world. Lange's assumption makes God not just personal, but almost a worldly thing – God is like a lead programmer of an interactive netgaming world, who actively takes part in the events by using the powers of moderator. The supposedly Wolffian God, on the other hand, is like a programmer who knows he has done so good work that he never needs to do anything to improve it. This doesn't mean that this second type of God would be e.g. incapable of miracles – they would just be like preprogammed Easter eggs that bend the rules of the game when players stumbled onto right coordinates.
We'll continue with Lange's criticism on Wolffian cosmology with the notion of determinism.