BILFINGER Georg Bernhard (Bülfinger, Büllfinger)—philosopher and theologian, b. January 23, 1693 in Canstadt (Wirtenbergia), d. February 18, 1750 in Stuttgart. In his writings he most often used the Latin version of his family name and the first names: Georgius Bernardus Bülfingerus (in fact there are as many as seventeen different versions of how his first and last names were written).
He received his primary education in church schools and his university education in Tübingen where he began to study in 1709. The philosophy of G. W. Leibniz, and in particular that of C. Wolff, had a very important influence on his intellectual formation and his later life. He left the attractive offers for work in Tübingen that were presented to him upon completion of his studies and went to Halle to study Wolff’s philosophy. Ten years later he received a post without pay in Tübingen, but his lectures there, just as took place in Wolff’s case, met with enmity from the Protestant theologians there. As a result of various intrigues and the spreading of bad opinions about him, potential listeners were not interested in his lectures. In 1722 Bilfinger obtained the position of professor of mathematics and ethics in Collegium Illustre, which significantly improved his living situation. In 1725, as a result of a proposition from the Tsar of Russia (the result of C. Wolff’s private correspondence with the Tsar), Bilfinger travelled to Petersburg where he lectured independently. He stayed in Russia from 1725 to 1730. There he wrote works dedicated chiefly to questions in the field of mathematics and the art of fortification. Because of his accomplishments in the latter field, Prince Charles Alexander of Wirtenberg summoned Bilfinger as an advisor to Stuttgart in 1735.
Bilfinger’s most important philosophical works are Latinum idioma Specimen doctrinae veterum Sinarum moralis et politicae […] (F 1724, T 1725, 17464, reprinted in a collected edition of the works of C. Wolff: Gesammelte Werke. Christian Wolff, Hi 199); Dilucidationes de Deo, anima humana, mundo et generalibus rerum affectionibus (T 1725, repr. Hi-NY 1982); De harmonia animi et corporis maxime praestabilita, ex mente illustris Leibnitii, commentatio hypothetica (F-L 1723, T 17413, repr. Hi-NY 1984); In Benedicti Spinosae Methodum Explicandi Scripturas Sacras brevibus notis animadvertit […] (He 1739, T 1732); De Cultu Dei Rationali… Publice disputavit Georgius Bernardus B. (Je 1742); Georgii Bernhardi B. Elementa Physices: Accedunt eiudem Meditationes Mathematico-Physicae in Commentariis […] (L 1742); Georgii Bernhardi B.: Praecepta logica cum ipsius quadam oratione de dicendi regulis et comparatione corporis et animi erutis (Je 1742); Sammlung einiger kleiner Schriften und Reden, welche bei unterschiedlicher Gelegenheit verfertigt und gehalten worden (St 1745); De progressionibus localibus commentatio inedita, quam praemissa auctoris vita […] (L 1794).
His work Specimen doctrinae veterum sinarum moralis et politicae […] [Model of the moral and political doctrine of the ancient Chinese […]) was written because of the great interest at the time in the Far East. Bilfinger also translated from Russian to Latin and provided his own commentaries to Stephani Javorski Discursus de poena haereticorum, noviter ab ecclesia se avellentium: von der Strafe der Ketzer, wleche sich von der Kirche trennen […] (1748).
Bilfinger wrote his most important works in Tübingen. Special attention is due to Dilucidationes de Deo, anima humana, mundo et generalibus rerum affectionibus (Explanation concerning God, the human soul, the world and the general properties of things) and an earlier treatise published in Frankfurt De harmonia animi et corporis humani maxime praestabilita, ex mente illustris Leibnitii, commentatio hypothetica (Hypothetical commentary on the most perfect harmony pre-established between the soul and body, based on the conception of the illustrious Leibniz). This last treatise brought Bilfinger the greatest renown and to this day is probably the most complete exposition of the theory of “pre-established harmony”. Bilfinger divided the entire work into seven basic parts. In the first part he presented, among other things, introductory definitions of pre-established harmony, basic distinctions and assumptions, and its historico-philosophical genesis (Praestabilitam vocamus cum Leibnitio, § 5). In the second part he considered systemic theses, especially those concerning phenomena of the agreement of cognition in the case of objects of cognition of varied ontological status. Bilfinger devoted the next two parts of the work to two theories explaing the cooperation of soul and body: the Aristotelian theory of physical influence (influxus physicus) and Cartesian occasionalistic theory. The fifth part was a positive exposition of the system of pre-established harmony. The remaining two parts take up respectively objections and responses to objects (part six), and the benefits of the theory of pre-established harmony, discussed in the seventh part. The Dilucidationes, which some (N. Hinske) think had an important influence on I. Kant’s early philosophy (Primorum principiorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio, 1755), was very clear exposition of the theory of being, in completely agreement with the spirit of Wolffianism, with a characteristic distinct position in ontology, which was defined as a science that “generally explains being as being, namely essence, and these [determinations that] belong to it” [Ontologia explicat ens qua enes, sive essentia, quae ad illam pertinet, generaliter, § VI). In the spirit of radical essentialism, which identifies being with essence, he ascribed to the latter the following features: (1) a constitutive character (quidditativum sive constitutivum); (2) cognitive and ontological primacy (primum); (3) the fundamental character for deriving all the properties of a thing (Eum, cuius ope caetera, quae de re aliqua dicuntur, demonstrari possunt). Bilfinger connected the cognition of being-essence directly with the cognition of the conditions for the possibility of the being (Ille Essentias intelligit, qui novit, quomodo res sint possibile; sive quaenam sint illa, ex quibus unaquaeque res in sua specie determinatur, quomodo ex illis haec res consistat). For a certain period Bilfinger was occupied with the study of the writings of the Church Fathers. Bilfinger created the term “philosophia Leibnitio-Wolfiana”, which designated a current of radically rationalist philosophy that was very influential at the beginning of the eighteenth century in Germany. The term was permanently accepted in historico-philosophical studies, although Wolff himself in his Autobiography dissociated himself from the term, which suggested that his thought was directly dependent on Leibniz’s philosophy. Bilfinger himself belonged to the current of that philosophia and was one of the most faithful disciples of Wolff.
C. Wolff, Christian Wolffs eigene Lebenschreibung, L 1841 (Autobiografia [Autobiography], Wr 1997); Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, L 1875, II 235–236; R. Wahl, Professor Bilfingers Monadologie und prästabilierte Harmonie in ihrem Verhältnis zu Leibniz und Wolff, Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik 85 (1884), 66–92, 202–232; N. Hinske, Kants Weg zur Traszendentalphilosophie, St 1970; J. École, Préface, in: Georg Bernard Bilfinger, De harmonia animi et corporis humani […], Hi-Z-NY 1984; S. Carbonici, Transzendentale Wahrheit und Traum. Christian Wolffs Antwort auf die Herausforderung durch den Cartesianischen Zweifel, St-Bad Cannstatt 1991.