Giovanni Scarafile

“Surfing in interdisciplinarity: a dialogue with Matthias Armgardt”

In Uncategorized on 18 March 2014 at 4:18 PM

Armgardt 

Matthias Armgardt[1] is Professor of Civil Law, Ancient Legal History & Roman Law and the Recent History of Private Law at the University of Konstanz (Germany). He is the leader of the German team in the JuriLog Project, a Franco-German initiative to promote interdisciplinary research on the fields of Law and Logic. Professor Armgardt is also a Leibniz scholar as well as a man of many intellectual and artistic interests. In a brief interview per e-mail, he agreed to talk about the challenges of interdisciplinarity, his intellectual history and his religious commitment.

YOD: Professor Armgardt, during the time we have worked together, I couldn’t help but notice that you nurture a diversity of intellectual and artistic interests — Civil Law and Ancient Right, Classic Languages, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Logic and Music. Could you tell YOD a bit of your intellectual history and how all those interests make themselves present in your everyday intellectual production? 

Armgardt: The basis of my whole life was and is my Christian belief: I have been a member of the New Apostolic Church since my childhood. Music has always been important to me and when I was a teenager, I wanted to become a cellist in a trio or a quartet. My favourite composers are Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. But when I noticed that it is almost impossible to survive by chamber music, I decided to study law. When I finished my studies, I detected Leibniz and wrote my PhD-thesis about the application of formal logic in his Doctrina Conditionum in Cologne. My supervisor was Klaus Luig. At that time, I was more interested in Jurisprudence than in Legal History. Since Klaus Luig was about to retire and there were almost no chairs for Civil Law and Jurisprudence, I became a lawyer and dealt with Mergers & Acquisitions, IT-Law and Contract Law. At about the same time, I began to study Hebrew and Greek, because I wanted to study the original text of the Bible. At that time, my historical interests awoke and I decided to write a Habilitationsschrift about the development of Ancient Law, dealing with Jewish Law, Greek Law and Roman Law. The topic was Antikes Lösungsrecht. After one year as a Visiting Professor at the Leopold-Wenger-Institut in Munich, I got the Chair of Civil Law, Ancient Law, Roman Law and the Newer History of Private Law in Konstanz. Now I work primarily on Law and Logic in Roman Law and in the work of Leibniz, on Ancient Jewish and Roman Law as well as on the Harmonization of European Private Law. What do these things have in common? They all deal with invisible things and symbols you cannot understand immediately.

YOD: Two and a half years ago, we witnessed the birth of the JuriLog Project and since then, French and German academics have met to discuss the problems concerning the centrality of logic to the development of a theory of law and to reflect upon juridical practices. Could you tell our readers why the study of logic is so important to juridical thinking? What about the experience of setting up a mixed team of Jurists, Philosophers and Logicians — for you, what are the challenges of interdisciplinarity?

Armgardt: The beginning of Jurilog goes back to the late 90s. I met Shahid Rahman in Saarbrücken. He was about to finish his Habilitationsschrift. We became friends immediately and we were both interested in the application of logic on law. More than 10 years later, when I got the chair in Konstanz, I wrote him an e-mail and suggested to work together again. He was very enthusiastic about that, because two of his pupils had worked about the Doctrina Conditionum of Leibniz making use of my work. They had tried to apply new types of logic to describe what Leibniz had in mind whereas my logical approach was more “traditional”. So Jurilog was “born”. I think that with Leibniz, Law and Logic are closely linked. Maybe even the birth of logic is law and a legal process. If you want to have a Law of high quality, the combination of logic and law is unavoidable. I could show that Roman Jurists like Julian made use of Stoic Logic in ancient times. The whole European Private Law of today is based on Roman Law to a very great extent – this shows that high quality in law and logic go together. Today, we have serious problems to get a unified European Private Law. In my opinion, this is due to the fact that not enough research has been done concerning the foundations of law in the last decades (at least in Germany). The challenge of interdisciplinarity is that it is necessary to have a basic knowledge of the foreign (unfamiliar) field of research. If philosophers do not study law carefully, they cannot solve juridical problems – and vice versa: if lawyers are not willing to study logic, no transfer of knowledge is possible. This is the price you have to pay.

YOD: I know that the work of Leibniz is a big source of inspiration for your work, but how did you come across Leibniz for the first time? How did his philosophy urge you to pursue an interdisciplinary approach to the study of law? As we are already centuries away from Leibniz, what can his philosophy contribute to the understanding of our own times? 

Armgardt: I detected Leibniz when I studied the works of the famous logician Kurt Gödel. He admired Leibniz very much and because of that, I became curious. I first read the Théodicée of Leibniz – and I think this book is the best answer to the problem until today. Then I found out that Leibniz was a Jurist and that in spite of the high quality of his thinking, almost no legal historian was working on his legal texts. Incredible! So I made the first translation of the Doctrina Conditionum and then studied the logic of Leibniz. The richness of this early text of the young genius is incredible. Here I could see what law could (!) be – if it was treated in the right way. But the text has had almost no influence on Jurisprudence until today. So we are currently at the beginning – not at the end – of making use of his thoughts about law.

YOD: Religious tolerance was a big issue to Leibniz and I am sure that as a jurist and a religious man, this is also a big theme for you. In the past, we have had conversations about Judaism, your studies on the Talmud and your religious practices in the New Apostolic Church. What are the ways in which we can reconcile Judaism with Christianity? Could you give us an account of your own experience of religious tolerance and how the study of Judaism informs your Christian practices? 

Armgardt: The irenic approach of Leibniz is really important. Tolerance means that you do not force anybody to anything – even if you are sure that he or she is in total error. But tolerance does not (!) mean that you are not allowed to discuss, to explain your position and to try to convince somebody of your opinion. Christianity is a Jewish invention. Jesus and all of his apostles were Jews (or to be more precise Israelites). During the first 20 years after the death of Jesus, almost only Jews became Christians – and this does not mean that they switched their religion, they simply were convinced that Jesus (or Jeshuah) was the Jewish Messiah – who came as a servant and would come again in glory at the end of this time. It was Paul who began to bring the gospel to the heathens. At the end of the apostolic times, John brought the two parts of the church – the Jews and the (former) Gentiles – together. But after the death of John, things changed. The church lost the apostolic ministry – and lost its original spiritual power. The Jews were excluded from the Christian community and Greek Philosophy began to influence the Christian Church to a great extent. Great parts of the Jewish legacy of Christianity were lost. And even worse: Christians began to persecute Jews. This would not have been possible under the (Jewish!) apostles! Two reconciliations are necessary: first, the reconciliation of the Christian confessions, then the reconciliation of Christianity and Judaism. Today, we can only prepare this by making use of the power of love. The great reconciliation will come when Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, comes again. He is the Prince of Peace – the Sar Shalom.

YOD: YOD’s current issue is dedicated to the theme of insignificance and as I wrote my piece to the magazine, I couldn’t help but to think about the Book of Proverbs, 1:7. There it says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In your opinion, what can we make of this passage in connection to Pascal’s claim that we are too sinful and insignificant for God to accept us? Is he right to say that the moment we realize our own insignificance in relation to the divine, is the moment when we finally encounter the greatness within us? Is it impossible to interpret those words out of a religious context? 

Armgardt: I am convinced that the writer of the proverbs is right: fear of God does not mean to be frightened, but to have awe and great respect for the eternal God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. By the offer of his son Jesus, God solved our problems: the sin can be forgiven, if we believe in Jesus! This is, in my opinion, the only way to freedom. The Yom Kippur and the acting of the High Priest have been a model for that. Jesus is the true High Priest. This shows that in spite of our sins, we are not insignificant for God – in his great love to mankind, he gave his son to rescue us. Mankind has a great future. In his revelation, John saw that there would be an eternal life and a new heaven and a new earth without death, disease, injustice, evil or grief. I am sure that this is true. For this reason, I am an optimist – as was Leibniz.

 Juliana de Albuquerque Katz 

 


[1] As requested: Professor Armgardt answers appear in this magazine according to the material exchanged by e-mail, without any edition work from the interviewer.

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