Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński

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Józef Maria Hoëne-Wroński
Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński, by Laurent-Charles Maréchal
Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński, by Laurent-Charles Maréchal
Born Josef Hoëné
(1776-08-23)23 August 1776
Wolsztyn, Poznań Province, Poland
Died 9 August 1853(1853-08-09) (aged 76)
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Nationality Polish
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.

Life[edit]

His father, Antoni, was the municipal architect of Poznań and came from a Czech family settled in 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 where he would spend most of his life working unremittingly to the last in the most difficult material circumstances. He also did magic.

He wrote exclusively in French, in the desire 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; at 75 years of age and nearing death, he exclaimed: "God Almighty, there's still so much more I wanted to say!"

In science, Hoene-Wroński set himself an extraordinary task: the complete reform of philosophy as well as that of mathematics, astronomy and technology. He not only elaborated a system of philosophy, but also applications to politics, history, economics, law, psychology, music and 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 of 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 were met with little acceptance, and his research and theories were generally dismissed as grandiose rubbish. His earlier correspondence with major figures meant that his writings garnered more attention than a typical crackpot theory, even earning a review from the great mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange (which turned out to be categorically unfavorable). In the ensuing controversy, he was forced to leave the observatory.

He immediately turned his focus towards applying philosophy to mathematics (his critics believed 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 which had been recently published by Paolo Ruffini; Ruffini turned out to be correct.

He later turned his attention to disparate and largely unsuccessful pursuits such as 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 travelled to England in an attempt to obtain financial backing 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 pretentious address, On the Longitude, contained much philosophizing and generalities, but no concrete plans for a working device, and thus failed to gain any support from the Board. He remained for several years in England and, in 1821, published an introductory text on mathematics in London, which moderately improved his financial situation.

In 1822, he returned to France, and again took up a combination of mathematics and far-fetched ideas, despite being 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 who 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.

Legacy[edit]

Portrait by Félix Vallotton

During his lifetime nearly all his work was dismissed as nonsense. However, some of it came to be regarded in a more favourable light in later years. Although most of his inflated claims were groundless, his mathematical work contains flashes of deep insight and many important intermediary results, the most significant of which was his work on series. He had strongly criticized Lagrange for his 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 proved important after his death, forming a determinant now known as the Wronskian (the name which Thomas Muir had given them 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 abstract formalism and obscurity of his thought, the difficulty of his language, his boundless self-assurance and his uncompromising judgments of others alienated him from most of the scientific community. He was perhaps the most original of the Polish metaphysicians, but others were more representative of the Polish outlook.

Works[edit]

Books

  • 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)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Historia filozofii (History of Philosophy), 3 vols., Warsaw, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1978.

External links[edit]