chapter  6
17 Pages

The uses of uselessness: aesthetics, freedom, government

Wolff’s The Real Happiness of a People under a Philosophical King economically summarises the relationship that ought to obtain between philosophy and government. The ideal is ‘that if Kings or Rulers are Philosophers, or Philosophers Kings, then it is that the End of Society is obtained’ (Wolff 1750: 5) where that end is envisaged as an ordered set of social and political relations governed by the principles of police. The ‘common Good’ is secured when the philosopherking is able to bring about ‘the highest Good, which every individual can attain to in this World, according to the different State he is in’ (Wolff 1750: 4). The role of philosophy was to apply the logic of subsumptive judgement in securing this end, bringing every particular case under the heading of a determinate concept in order that the requirements of the common good could be accurately and consistently determined from one case to the next. This required a rare degree of philosophical penetration:

For the discursive Judgment must determine about what ought to be done in every Emergency, which is evidently not established by a bare Attention to the present Case; but gathered from it by Virtue of a Ratiocination: For no one can persuade himself that the very Idea of the particular Case contains what the End of Government, civil Happiness, directs to be done. There is a Degree of Penetration requisite, which in vain is to be

looked for in one who is no Philosopher, for forming distinct Notions by Means of Reflection, for distinguishing Circumstances, which are mutually determinable, or which may only co-exist, and for determining properly in every emergent Case. And after having duly determined the Case, some certain Principle is necessary, by Virtue of which we may

come to learn, what ought to be done in that Case, that we may not seem to act contrary to the publick Safety, Security and Peace. … That you may therefore with a Certainty of Judgement attain to what ought to be done in any given Case, Philosophy is necessary.