Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński
|Józef Maria Hoëne-Wroński|
Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński, by Laurent-Charles Maréchal
23 August 1776
Wolsztyn, Poznań Province, Poland
|Died||9 August 1853
|Known for||Scientific and philosophical contributions|
Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński (French: Josef Hoëné-Wronski; originally Josef Hoëné; 23 August 1776 – 9 August 1853) was a Polish Messianist philosopher who worked in many fields of knowledge, not only as philosopher but also as mathematician, physicist, inventor, lawyer, and economist. He was born Hoene but changed his name in 1815.
His father, Antoni, was the municipal architect of Poznań and came from a Czech family settled in the western Poland. Józef was educated in Poznań and Warsaw. In 1794 he served in Poland's Kościuszko Uprising as a second lieutenant of artillery, was taken prisoner, and remained until 1797 in the Russian Army. After resigning in the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1798, he studied in Germany until 1800, when he enlisted in the Polish Legion at Marseille. There he began his scientific and scholarly work and conceived the idea of a great philosophical system. Ten years later he moved to Paris and lived there until his death, working indefatigably to the last in the most difficult material circumstances.
He wrote exclusively in French, desirous that his ideas, of whose immortality he was convinced, should be accessible to all; he worked, he said, "through France for Poland." He published over a hundred works, and left many more in manuscript. When dying in the seventy-fifth year of his life, he exclaimed: "God Almighty, there's still so much more I wanted to say!"
In science, Hoene-Wroński set himself maximal tasks: the complete reform of philosophy and of mathematics, astronomy, technology. He not only elaborated a system of philosophy, but applications to politics, history, economics, law, psychology, music, pedagogy. It was his aspiration to reform human knowledge in an "absolute, that is, ultimate" manner.
In 1803 Wroński joined the observatory in Marseille, and began developing an enormously complex theory of the structure and origin of the universe. During this period, he took up a correspondence with nearly all the major scientists and mathematicians of his day, and was well respected at the observatory. In 1810 he published the results of his research in a massive tome, which he advocated as a new foundation for all of science and mathematics. His theories were strongly Pythagorean, holding numbers and their properties to be the fundamental underpinning of essentially everything in the universe. His claims met with little acceptance, and his research and theories were generally dismissed as grandiose rubbish. His earlier correspondence with major figures led to his writings gaining more attention than a typical crackpot theory, even earning a review from the great mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange (which turned out to be exceedingly unfavorable). In the ensuing controversy, he was forced to leave the observatory.
He immediately turned his focus towards applying philosophy to mathematics (his critics charged that this meant dispensing with mathematical rigor in favor of generalities). In 1812 he published a paper purporting to show that every equation has an algebraic solution, directly contradicting results that had just been published by Paolo Ruffini; however, Ruffini turned out to be correct.
Thereafter he turned his attention to disparate and largely unsuccessful pursuits. He developed a fantastical design for caterpillar-like vehicles which he intended to replace railroad transportation, but did not manage to persuade anyone to give the design serious attention. In 1819 he went to England to try to gain a grant from the Board of Longitude to build a device to determine longitude at sea. After initial difficulties, he was given an opportunity to address the Board, but his grandiose address, On the Longitude, contained much philosophizing and generalities, but no specific plans for a working device, and thus failed to gain him support from the Board. He remained for several years in England, in 1821 publishing in London an introductory text on mathematics, which moderately improved his financial situation.
In 1822 he returned to France, and again took up a combination of mathematics and fantastical pursuits, largely in poverty and scorned by intellectual society. Along with his continuing Pythagorean obsession, he spent much time working on several notoriously futile endeavors, including attempts to build a perpetual motion machine, to square the circle, and to build a machine to predict the future (which he dubbed the "prognometre"). In 1852, shortly before his death, he did find a willing audience for his ideas: the occultist Eliphas Levi met Wroński and was greatly impressed and influenced by his work and dedication.
Wroński died in 1853 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, on the outskirts of Paris.
Though during his lifetime nearly all his work was dismissed as nonsense, some of it has come in later years to be seen in a more favorable light. Although nearly all his grandiose claims were in fact unfounded, his mathematical work contains flashes of deep insight and many important intermediary results. Most significant was his work on series. He had strongly criticized Lagrange's use of infinite series, introducing instead a novel series expansion for a function. His criticisms of Lagrange were for the most part unfounded, but the coefficients in Wroński's new series were found to be important after his death, forming the determinants now known as the Wronskians (the name was given them by Thomas Muir in 1882).
The level of Wroński's scientific and scholarly accomplishments, and the amplitude of his objectives, placed Wroński in the first rank of European metaphysicians in the early 19th century. But the abstractness, formalism and obscurity of his thought, the difficulty of his language, his boundless self-assurance, his uncompromising judgments of others—alienated. He was perhaps the most original of the Polish metaphysicians, but others were more representative of the Polish outlook.
- Introduction à la philosophie des mathématiques, et technie de l'algorithmie (1811)
- Prodrome du Messianisme; Révélation des destinées de l’humanité (1831)
- Réflexions philosophiques sur un miroir parabolique (1832)
- Resolution of equation polynomials of tous les degries (in anglishe) (1833)
- Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Historia filozofii (History of Philosophy}, 3 vols., Warsaw, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1978.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Józef Hoene-Wroński.|
- Works by Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
- Piotr Pragacz, Notes on the life and work of Jozef Maria Hoene-Wronski, preprint (March 2007)
- J. Hoëné de Wronski, Introduction à la philosophie des mathématiques, et technie de l'algorithmie, 1811
- Roman Murawski, "The Philosophy of Hoene-Wronski" in: Organon 35, 2006, pp. 143-150