Bilfinger, Georg Bernhard (1693–1750)

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Georg Bernhard Bilfinger was the German philosopher who coined the expression Leibniz-Wolffian philosophy for the view he expounded. Bilfinger, whose family name was also spelled Buelffinger, was born in Kannstadt, Württemberg. He studied theology at Tübingen, and mathematics and philosophy at Halle under Christian Wolff. He was appointed extraordinary professor of philosophy at Tübingen in 1721, but after Wolff's expulsion from Halle in 1723, Bilfinger was accused of atheism and deprived of his positions. On Wolff's recommendation he was appointed professor of philosophy and academician in St. Petersburg. His growing reputation as a natural philosopher caused Duke Eberhard Ludwig of Württemberg to recall him to Tübingen as professor of theology. In 1735 the new Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg called Bilfinger to his capital, Stuttgart, as a member of the privy council. Bilfinger became president of the Consistorium, a council for ecclesiastical and educational affairs, and in this capacity permitted Pietism to be taught in Württemberg.

Although Bilfinger's doctrines are quite close to Wolff's, he showed a certain originality, discussing Wolff's doctrines critically and frequently accepting them only with reservations. In an early work he held, against John Locke, the view that there are innate ideas in the human mind, identifying them with axioms. In psychology he did not accept the distinction, introduced by Wolff, between empirical and rational psychology, but proceeded in a more traditional manner. In his later writings, Bilfinger referred less frequently to Wolff.

The most independent part of Bilfinger's system was his theory of possibility, expounded in his main work, Dilucidationes Philosophicae de Deo, Anima Humana, Mundo et Generabilis Rerum Affectionibus (Tübingen, 1725). He asserted that the notion of possibility is more fundamental than the principles of identity and contradiction. Possible things are not absolute beings in an independent realm of ideas, but they depend for their existence on God's understanding (not on his will). It is a part of God's essence to think possible things as they are, but they are, only insofar as God thinks them.

See also Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Wolff, Christian.


additional works by bilfinger

De Harmonia Animi et Corporis Humani Maxime Praestabilita ex Mente Illustris Leibnitii, Commentario Hypothetica. Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1723.

"De Viribus Corpori Moto Insitis et Illarum Mensura." Commentarii Academiae Petropolitanae, Vol. 1 (1728). A famous essay on the measurement of forces.

Praecepta Logica, edited by C. F. Vellnagel. Jena, Germany, 1739.

Varia in Fasciculos Collecta. 3 vols. Stuttgart, 1743.

works on bilfinger

Kapff, P. "G. B. Bilfinger als Philosoph." Württembergischen Vierteljahrshefte für Landesgeschichte, n.f. (1905).

Liebing, H. Zwischen Orthodoxie und Aufklärung. Das philosophische und theologische Denken G. B. Bilfingers. Tübingen: Mohr, 1961.

Wahl, Richard. "Professor Bilfingers Monadologie und prästabilirte Harmonie in ihrem Verhältniss zu Leibnitz und Wolff." Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik 85 (1884): 6692 and 202231.

Giorgio Tonelli (1967)