Treschow, Niels (1751–1833)

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Niels Treschow, the Norwegian philosopher, defended a monism strongly influenced by Benedict de Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Treschow was born at Drammen, Norway. He studied at the University of Copenhagen, where he became a professor in 1803. In 1813 he left Denmark to become the first professor of philosophy at the University of Oslo, but he held the post for only one year before entering government service.

Treschow's philosophical views are based on an idea of the unity of all things and on a concept of God similar to that of Spinoza. However, Treschow wanted to combine the idea of God's immanence, the idea that God is in all things, with the idea of God's transcendence, the idea that God is above all things. God is not the unity of all things but rather that which makes all things into a unity; as such, God is not an abstraction but a real individual, "unchangeable, eternal, and independent" (Om Gud, Idee- og Sandseverdenen, Vol. I, p. 81). The nature of God is manifest in our consciousness. God, or the One, "stands in the same relation to the manifold produced by it as does our mind to its thoughts, feelings, and decisions" (p. 115). Our consciousness "pictures the Absolute One."

In his psychology also, Treschow tried to uphold a Spinozistic view, opposing the Cartesian dualism of soul and body. "Man may indeed be considered composite," Treschow said, but not a composite of soul and body, for these are both different aspects of the same thing as it is a possible object of the inner and outer sense (see Om den Menneskelige Natur, p. 11).

Treschow also commented on the problem of universals and individuals. He criticized the tendency of abstract philosophers to give priority to universals and to regard individual things and events as instances and exemplifications of universals. The concrete individual, he held, is prior in existence and in knowledge. Only individuals exist, and universals are merely means toward the recognition and description of individual things. An individual thing cannot be fully grasped, however, since this would involve recognizing what is at the basis of all its various states, the idea that expresses all these states.

Since only individuals are real, universal concepts, or concepts of species of things, are "artificial," and so also is any classification of things into more or less fixed kinds. The "specific nature of man" is in a way a fiction, but man has developed gradually from some animal in which the specifically human dispositions potentially inhered, and the natural history of man is part of the history of the whole of nature. In his philosophy of history Treschow tried to substantiate his claim that man descended from some species of animal. Humankind's gradual development is due to the interaction of external and internal conditions. The fact that the individual physically and mentally goes through the various phases of the historical development of the species was to Treschow another proof of the primacy of the individual.

See also Cartesianism; Holism and Individualism in History and Social Science; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Universals, A Historical Survey.


works by treschow

Gives der Noget Begreb Eller Nogen Idee om Enslige Ting? (Are there concepts or ideas about particular things?). Copenhagen, 1804.

Elementer til Historiens Philosophie (Elements of the philosophy of history). Copenhagen, 1811.

Om den Menneskelige Natur, Især fra Dens Aandelige Side (Human nature, especially its mental aspects). Copenhagen, 1812. The first Scandinavian work on empirical psychology.

Om Gud, Idee- og Sandseverdenen (On God and the worlds of ideas and sensations), 3 vols. Christiania, 18311833.

works on treschow

Høffding, Harald. Danske Filosofer (Danish philosophers). Copenhagen, 1909.

Schmidt-Phiseldech, K. Niels Treschows Historiefilosofi. Copenhagen, 1933.

Stybe, Svend Erik. "Niels Treschow (17511833), A Danish Neoplatonist." Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 13 (1976): 2947.

Svendsen, P. Gullalderdrøm og Utviklingstro (The dream of the golden age and the belief in evolution). Oslo, 1940.

Winsnes, A. H. Niels Treschow. En Opdrager til Menneskelighet (Niels Treschow. An educator to humanity). Oslo, 1927.

Anfinn Stigen (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)