Boström, Christopher Jacob (1797–1866)

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Christopher Jacob Boström, an Swedish Idealist philosopher, studied and also taught at Uppsala University, where he was assistant professor of "practical philosophy" (the philosophy of morals, law, and religion) from 1828 to 1833. After an interlude as tutor to the royal princes in Stockholm from 1833 to 1837, he resumed his academic teaching, and from 1842 to 1863 he held the chair in practical philosophy. His "rational idealism" is a spiritualistic metaphysics, combining traits from Plato's theory of ideas, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's monadology, and George Berkeley's immaterialism. With arguments, some of which are reminiscent of Berkeley's, he tried to show that nothing but minds and their perceptions exist.

Two of his more original, though hardly very convincing, arguments were these: (1) Truth means agreement between the perception and the perceived object. Perfect truth, therefore, is perfect agreement; and perfect agreement is the same as identity. Hence, the object of any perfectly true perception is identical with that perception; in other words, any object, when perceived with perfect truth, is itself a perception. (2) "Outside" has a meaning only when it refers to space. Since a mind is not in space, nothing can be outside a mind. Hence, everything exists inside a mind.

Particular minds and particular perceptions are forms of "self-consciousness," which can be likened to "a substance or stuff of which everything ultimately consists." With this spiritualistic position Boström combined the Leibnizian-Kantian distinction between a thing as it is in itself (essence) and a thing as it appears to us (phenomenon). The spatiotemporal world of experience is merely phenomenal. Or, more correctly, the spatiotemporal world of a person's experience is merely the way in which the things-in-themselves appear to that person because of the imperfection of his particular perceptive faculty. The things-in-themselves, which underlie the appearances, are purely rational minds whose existence is nonspatial and nontemporal. Boström usually called them "ideas," the word being borrowed from Plato rather than from British empiricism. These ideas form a series that, according to him, is similar to the series of natural numbersexcept that it contains a maximal idea, God. In this series each idea contains and perceives all the preceding, but none of the succeeding, ones. On this point, however, he was apparently not quite consistent. Simultaneously he asserted that every idea perceives the entire system of ideas but with varying perfection and clarity. God alone has a perfect perception of the whole system. Because every idea that is not God perceives the system imperfectly, the system presents a phenomenal appearance to that idea.

Boström's system contains several other apparent inconsistencies. Although each mind is a purely rational, nonspatial, and nontemporal idea, Boström also taught that each mind other than God has a double existence. Besides existing as a rational idea, it also exists as a temporal mind with a mixed rational and sensual nature. Each mind even has a whole (temporal?) sequence of such mixed and temporal manifestations. (Boström himself points to the analogy between this doctrine and the Hindu belief in reincarnation.) He was thinking primarily of human beings in this context, but the doctrine of double existence is also supposed to apply to such "moral personalities" as the state, the "people," and each one of the four estates.

Boström was aware of the nonintellectual motives that attracted him to this view of the world and once asserted that no philosopher would ever embrace a system that was repugnant to his feelings. Simultaneously, however, he made excessive claims concerning the provability of his own doctrine, to which he attributed the same kind of certainty that has traditionally been ascribed to mathematics.

From the vantage point of his rather fantastic metaphysics, Boström took an active part in public debate in Sweden. In religious questions he was, on the whole, a liberal, vigorously attacking many of the dogmas of Lutheran orthodoxy, especially the dogma of eternal damnation. On political questions, on the other hand, he took an ultraconservative stand. He was one of the staunchest opponents of the parliamentary reform that took place in 1866, soon after his death, and that replaced the four estates by a two-chamber system. His metaphysics might seem to indicate a mystical strain, but his very systematic, precise, and dry mode of writing does not corroborate this impression. The dominant traits in his philosophic temperament would seem to be a strong, puritanical, moral pathos, an unorthodox but firm religious belief, a love of neat systematics, and a rather naive private dogmatism. Boström's philosophy represents the culmination of the idealistic tradition that dominated Swedish philosophy through the entire nineteenth century. In the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, Boströmianism and Hegelianism reigned supreme in Swedish academic philosophy. At the turn of the twentieth century a strong neo-Kantian current set in.

See also Berkeley, George; Hegelianism; Idealism; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Plato.


works by bostrÖm

Skrifter av Christopher Jacob Boström. Edited by H. Edfeldte and J. G. Keijser. Vols. I and II, Uppsala, Sweden: V. Roos, 1883; Vol. III, Norrköping, Sweden, 1901. Collected works.

C. J. Boströms Förëlasningar i Religionsfilosofi. Edited by S. Ribbing. Stockholm, 1885. Lectures on philosophy of religion.

Prof. C. J. Boströms Förëlasningar i Etiken. Edited by S. Ribbing. Uppsala, Sweden, 1897. Lectures in ethics.

C. J. Boströms Förëlasningar i Religionsfilosofi II. Edited by G. J. Keijser. Vol. I, Stockholm, 1906; Vol. II, Stockholm, 1910; Vol. III, Stockholm, 1913. Second series of lectures in the philosophy of religion.

Prof. C. J. Boströms Förëlasningar i Etik Vårterminen 1861. Edited by G. Klingberg. Uppsala, Sweden: Akademiska bokhandeln, 1916. Boström's lectures in ethics of the spring term of 1861.


Grundlinien eines philosophischen Systems. Translated by R. Geijer and H. Gerloff. Leipzig, 1923. German translation of various writings.

Philosophy of Religion. Translated by Victor E. and Robert N. Beck. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962.

works on bostrÖm

Larsson, H. Minnesteckning över C. J. Boström. Stockholm, 1931. Memorial oration.

Morin, Harald. Om Dualismen i Boströms Definitiva Filosofi. Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist and Wiksells, 1940. On the dualism in Boström's definitive philosophy.

Nyblaeus, A. Den Filosofiska Forskningen i Sverige, 4 vols. Lund, Sweden, 18731897.

Rodhe, S. E. Boströms Religionsfilosofiska Åskådning. Göteborg, Sweden: Elanders, 1950. Boström's views in the philosophy of religion.

Wedburg, A. Den Logiska Strukturen hos Boströms Filosofi. Uppsala, Sweden, 1937. Logical structure of Boström's philosophy.

general background

Ueberweg, F., and M. Heinze. Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, 12th ed. Berlin, 1928. Vol. 5. Excellent survey of Swedish philosophy up to the beginning of the twentieth century.

A. Wedburg (1967)