From Modern Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser


Copyright 2015, updated 1/1/2017


DESCARTES NOT SO GREAT (from Letter, 1679)


Cartesians not Original, Descartes too Abstract

Sir, since you desire very much that I express freely my thoughts on Cartesianism, I will not conceal anything of what I think of it, and which I can say in few words; and I will advance nothing without giving or being able to give a reason for it. In the first place, all those who give themselves over absolutely to the opinions of any author are in a slavery and render themselves suspected of error, for to say that Descartes is the only author who is exempt from considerable error, is a proposition which could be true but is not likely to be so. In fact, such attachment belongs only to small minds who have not the force or the leisure to meditate themselves, or will not give themselves the trouble to do so. This is why the three illustrious academies of our times, the Royal Society of England, which was established first, and then the Academic Royale des Sciences, at Paris, and the Academia del Cimento, at Florence, have loudly protested that they wish to be known neither as Aristotelians, nor Cartesians, nor Epicureans, nor followers of any author whatever.

            I have also recognized by experience that those who are wholly Cartesians are not adepts in inventing, they are but interpreters or commentators of their master, as the philosophers of the school were of Aristotle; and of the many beautiful discoveries which have been made since Descartes, I know of not one which comes from a true Cartesian. I know these gentlemen a little and I defy them to name one coming from them. This is an evidence that Descartes did not know the true method or that he has not transmitted it to them. Descartes himself had a sufficiently limited mind. Of all men he excelled in speculations, but in them he found nothing useful for life which is evident to the senses and which serves in the practice of the arts. All his meditations were either too abstract, like his metaphysics and his geometry, or too imaginary, like his principles of natural philosophy.


Descartes' Ethics a Combination of Stoicism and Epicureanism

I must therefore enter a little into details and give examples of what he has taken from others, of what he has himself done, and of what he has left to be done. From this it will be seen whether I speak without knowledge of the subject. In the first place, his ethics is a compound of the opinions of the Stoics and of the Epicureans, something not very difficult, for Seneca had already reconciled them very well. . . .


Descartes' God is merely the Power of Nature

It will be said that Descartes establishes very well the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. But I fear that we are deceived by fine words, for the God, or Perfect Being, of Descartes is not a God such as we imagine him and such as we desire; that is to say, just and wise, doing everything for the good of creatures as far as is possible. But rather he is similar to the God of Spinoza, namely, the principle of things, and a certain sovereign power or primitive nature which sets everything in action and does everything which is feasible. The God of Descartes has neither will nor understanding, since according to Descartes he has not the Good as the object of the will nor the True as object of the understanding.


Descartes' View of Immortality as Altered Souls without Memory

But some one of the better class of Cartesians, deluded by the fine discourses of his master, will say to me that he nevertheless establishes very well the immortality of the soul and consequently a better life. When I hear these things I am astonished at the ease with which the world is deceived. . . . I say then that the immortality of the soul, as it is established by Descartes, is of no use and can in no way console us. For grant that the soul is a substance and that no substance perishes; this being so the soul will not perish, but in reality also nothing perishes in nature. But like matter the soul too will change in form, and as the matter composing a man has at other times formed plants and other animals, so this soul may be immortal in reality but it will pass through a thousand changes and not remember at all what it has been. But this immortality without memory is altogether useless, viewed ethically, for it destroys all reward, all recompense, and all punishment. Of what use would it be to you, sir, to become king of China on condition of forgetting what you have been. Would it not be the same thing as if God at the same time that he destroyed you created a king in China.




"I Think Therefore I Am" not the Only First Truth (from "Thoughts on Descartes' Principles of Philosophy," 1692)

On Article 7. I think therefore I am is well remarked by Descartes to be among first truths. But it was but just that he should not neglect others equal to this. In general, therefore, it may be said: Truths are either of fact or of reason. The first of the truths of reason is, as Aristotle rightly observed, the principle of contradiction or, what amounts to the same thing, of identity. First truths of fact are as many as the immediate perceptions, or those of consciousness, so to speak. Moreover not only am I conscious of my thinking but also of my thoughts. Nor is it more certain that I think than that this or that is thought by me. Thus first truths of fact may be not inconveniently referred to these two, I think, and various things are thought by me. From this it follows not only that I am but also that I am affected in various ways.


Certainty in Metaphysics modeled after Calculus (from "On the Reform of Metaphysics" 1694)

I see that most of those who devote themselves with pleasure to the study of mathematics entertain a dislike for that of metaphysics because in the former they find clearness and in the latter obscurity. I think that the principal reason of this is that general notions, which are believed to be perfectly known by all, have become ambiguous and obscure by the negligence of men and by the inconsistency of their thoughts, and that what are ordinarily given as definitions are not even nominal definitions, because they explain absolutely nothing. . . .

            It cannot be denied that Descartes brought to it [i.e., first philosophy] many excellent things; that he has above all the merit of having renewed Platonic study by turning the mind away from the things of sense and of having afterwards employed usefully academic skepticism; but soon, by a sort of inconsistency or of impatience to affirm, he was led astray, no longer distinguishing the certain from the uncertain. . .

            But metaphysics, it seems to me, has more need of clearness and certainty than even the mathematics, because the latter carry with them their proofs and corroborations which is the principal cause of their success; whereas in metaphysics we are deprived of this advantage. Therefore a certain particular plan is necessary in exposition which, like the thread in the Labyrinth, serves us, no less than the method of Euclid, for resolving our problems after the manner of calculus, preserving, nevertheless, always the clearness which even in common conversation should not be sacrificed.


All Ideas Come from Within the Soul ("Reflections on Locke's Essay" 1696)

My opinion is, then, that nothing ought to be taken as primitive principles except experiences and the axiom of identity, or, what is the same thing, contradiction, which is primitive, since otherwise there would be no difference between truth and falsehood; and since all researches would cease at the start if to say yes or no were indifferent. We cannot, therefore, prevent ourselves from supposing this principle as soon as we wish to reason. All other truths are capable of proof. . . .

            As regards the question, whether there are ideas and truths created with us, I do not consider it absolutely necessary for the beginning nor for the practice of the art of thinking, to decide it. Whether they all come to us from without, or whether they come from us, we will reason correctly if we observe what I have just said on this subject and if we proceed with order and without prejudice. The question concerning the origin of our ideas and of our maxims is not preliminary in philosophy, and we must have made great progress to be able to answer it well. I think, however, that I can say that our ideas, even those of sensible things, come from within the soul of which you may judge by what I have published concerning the nature and interaction of substances and what is called the union of the soul with the body. For I have found that these things had not been well understood. I am in no way in favor of the tabula rasa [blank slate] of Aristotle; and there is something sound in what Plato called reminiscence. There is even something more, for we have not only a reminiscence of all our past thoughts but also a presentiment of all our future thoughts. It is true that it is confusedly and without distinguishing them, very much as when I hear the sound of the ocean I hear that of all the waves in particular which make up the total sound, although it is without discerning one wave from another. It is true in a certain sense, which I have explained, that not only our ideas but also our feelings, spring from within our own soul, and that the soul is more independent than is thought, although it is always true that nothing takes place in it which is not determined and that nothing is found in creatures which God does not continually create.


Plato's theory of Reminiscence: All Ideas Already Contained Within Us ("Discourse on Metaphysics," 1686)

It is a bad habit we have of thinking as though our minds receive certain messengers, as it were, or as if they had doors or windows. We have in our minds all those forms for all periods of time because the mind at every moment expresses all its future thoughts and already thinks confusedly of all that of which it will ever think distinctly. Nothing can be taught us of which we have not already in our minds the idea. This idea is as it were the material out of which the thought will form itself. This is what Plato has excellently brought out in his doctrine of reminiscence, a doctrine which contains a great deal of truth, provided that it is properly understood and purged of the error of pre-existence, and provided that one does not conceive of the soul as having already known and thought at some other time what it learns and thinks now. Plato has also confirmed his position by a beautiful experiment. He introduces a small boy, whom he leads by short steps, to extremely difficult truths of geometry bearing on incommensurables, all this without teaching the boy anything, merely drawing out replies by a well arranged series of questions. This shows that the soul virtually knows those things, and needs only to be reminded (animadverted) to recognize the truths. Consequently it possesses at least the idea upon which those truths depend. We may say even that it already possesses those truths, if we consider them as the relations of the ideas.


Tabula Rasa a Fiction from Abstraction: Souls and Faculties have Variety (from New Essays, 1704, 2.1)

This tabula rasa, of which so much is said, is in my opinion only a fiction which nature does not admit, and which is based only upon the imperfect notions of philosophers, like the vacuum, atoms, and rest, absolute or relative, of two parts of a whole, or like the primary matter, which is conceived as without form. Uniform things and those which contain no variety are never anything but abstractions, like time, space, and the other entities of pure mathematics. There is no body whatever whose parts are at rest, and there is no substance whatever that has nothing by which to distinguish it from every other. Human souls differ, not only from other souls, but also among themselves, although the difference is not at all of the kind called specific. According to the proofs which I believe we have, every substantial thing, be it soul or body, has its own characteristic relation to every other; and the one must always differ from the other by intrinsic connotations. Not to mention the fact that those who speak so frequently of this tabula rasa after having taken away the ideas cannot say what remains, like the scholastic philosophers, who leave nothing in their primary matter. You may perhaps reply that this tabula rasa of the philosophers means that the soul has by nature and originally only bare faculties. But faculties without some act, in a word the pure powers of the school, are also only fictions, which nature knows not, and which are obtained only by the process of abstraction. For where in the world will you ever find a faculty which shuts itself up in the power alone without performing any act? There is always a particular disposition to action, and to one action rather than to another. Besides the disposition there is a tendency to action, of which tendencies there is always an infinity in each subject at once; and these tendencies are never without some effect.

Experience is necessary, I admit, in order that the soul be determined to such or such thoughts, and in order that it take notice of the ideas which are in us. But by what means can experience and the senses give ideas? Has the soul windows, does it resemble tablets, is it like wax? It is plain that all who so regard the soul, represent it as at bottom corporeal. You oppose me with this axiom received by the philosophers: that there is nothing in the soul which does not come from the senses. But you must exclude the soul itself and its affections. nihil est in intellectu, quod non fuerit in sensu, excipe: nisi ipse intellectus ["nothing is in the mind without being first in the senses, except for the mind itself"]. Now the soul comprises being, substance, unity, identity, cause, perception, reason, and many other notions which the senses cannot give. This view sufficiently agrees with your author of the Essay, who seeks the source of a good part of ideas in the spirit's reflection upon its own nature.


OVERVIEW OF LEIBNIZ'S VIEWS (from "Monadology", 1714)


Monads as Simple and Indestructible Substances that Make up Everything

            1. The monad, of which we will speak here, is nothing else than a simple substance, which goes to make up composites; by simple, we mean without parts.

            2. There must be simple substances because there are composites; for a composite is nothing else than a collection or aggregatum of simple substances.

            3. Now, where there are no constituent parts there is possible neither extension, nor form, nor divisibility. These monads are the true atoms of nature, and, in fact, the elements of things.

            4. Their dissolution, therefore, is not to be feared and there is no way conceivable by which a simple substance can perish through natural means.

            5. For the same reason there is no way conceivable by which a simple substance might, through natural means, come into existence, since it cannot be formed by composition.

            6. We may say then, that the existence of monads can begin or end only all at once, that is to say, the monad can begin only through creation and end only through annihilation. Composites, however, begin or end gradually.

            7. There is also no way of explaining how a monad can be altered or changed in its inner being by any other created thing, since there is no possibility of transposition within it, nor can we conceive of any internal movement which can be produced, directed, increased or diminished there within the substance, such as can take place in the case of composites where a change can occur among the parts. The monads have no [open] windows through which anything may come in or go out. The Attributes are not liable to detach themselves and make an excursion outside the substance, as could sensible species of the Schoolmen. In the same way neither substance nor attribute can enter from without into a monad.


All Monads are Different and Change Internally (Identity of Indiscernibles)

            8. Still monads need to have some qualities, otherwise they would not even be existences. If simple substances did not differ at all in their qualities, there would be no means of perceiving any change in things. Whatever is in a composite can come into it only through its simple elements and the monads, if they were without qualities (since they do not differ at all in quantity) would be indistinguishable one from another. For instance, if we imagine a plenum or completely filled space, where each part receives only the equivalent of its own previous motion, one state of things would not be distinguishable from another.

            9. Each monad, indeed, must be different from every other monad. For there are never in nature two beings which are exactly alike, and in which it is not possible to find a difference either internal or based on an intrinsic property.

            10. I assume it as admitted that every created being, and consequently the created monad, is subject to change, and indeed that this change is continuous in each.

            11. It follows from what has just been said, that the natural changes of the monad come from an internal principle, because an external cause can have no influence on its inner being.

            12. Now besides this principle of change there must also be in the monad a variety which changes. This variety constitutes, so to speak, the specific nature and the variety of the simple substances.

            13. This variety must involve a multiplicity in the unity or in that which is simple. For since every natural change takes place by degrees, there must be something which changes and something which remains unchanged, and consequently there must be in the simple substance a plurality of conditions and relations, even though it has no parts.


Monads Perceive yet Not Conscious: (Doctrine of Minute Perception)

            14. The passing condition which involves and represents a multiplicity in the unity, or in the simple substance, is nothing else than what is called perception. This should be carefully distinguished from apperception or consciousness, as will appear in what follows. In this matter the Cartesians have fallen into a serious error, in that they deny the existence of those perceptions of which we are not conscious. It is this also which has led them to believe that spirits alone are monads and that there are no souls of animals or other entelechies, and it has led them to make the common confusion between a protracted period of unconsciousness and actual death. They have thus adopted the Scholastic error that souls can exist entirely separated from bodies, and have even confirmed ill-balanced minds in the belief that souls are mortal.

            15. The action of the internal principle which brings about the change or the passing from one perception to another may be called appetition. It is true that the desire (l'appetit) is not always able to attain to the whole of the perception which it strives for, but it always attains a portion of it and reaches new perceptions.

            16. We, ourselves, experience a multiplicity in a simple substance, when we find that the most trifling thought of which we are conscious involves a variety in the object. Therefore all those who acknowledge that the soul is a simple substance ought to grant this multiplicity in the monad, and Monsieur Bayle should have found no difficulty in it, as he has done in his Dictionary, article "Rorarius."


Monads are Non-Physical since Material Things cannot Perceive (Giant Mill Analogy)

            17. It must be confessed, however, that perception, and that which depends upon it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is to say, by figures and motions. Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, ongoing into it he would find only pieces working upon each other, but never would he find anything to explain perception. It is accordingly in the simple substance, and not in the composite nor in a machine that the perception is to be sought. Furthermore, there is nothing besides perceptions and their changes to be found in the simple substance. It is in these alone that all the internal activities of the simple substance can consist.


Monads as Unconscious Entelches that Perceive, not Conscious Souls with Memories

            18. All simple substances or created monads may be called entelechies [i.e., vital function of a living organism], because they have in themselves a certain perfection. There is in them a sufficiency which makes them the source of their internal activities, and makes them, so to speak, incorporeal automatons.

            19. If we wish to designate as soul everything which has perceptions and desires in the general sense that I have just explained, all simple substances or created monads could be called souls. But since feeling is something more than a mere perception I think that the general name of monad or entelechy should suffice for simple substances which have only perception, while we may reserve the term Soul for those whose perception is more distinct and is accompanied by memory.

            20. We experience in ourselves a state where we remember nothing and where we have no distinct perception, as in periods of fainting, or when we are overcome by a profound, dreamless sleep. In such a state the soul does not sensibly differ at all from a simple monad. As this state, however, is not permanent and the soul can recover from it, the soul is something more.

            21. Nevertheless it does not follow at all that the simple substance is in such a state without perception. This is so because of the reasons given above; for it cannot perish, nor on the other hand would it exist without some affection and the affection is nothing else than its perception. When, however, there are a great number of weak perceptions where nothing stands out distinctively, we are stunned; as when one turns around and around in the same direction, a dizziness comes on, which makes him swoon and makes him able to distinguish nothing. Among animals, death can occasion this state for quite a period.

            22. Every present state of a simple substance is a natural consequence of its preceding state, in such a way that its present is big with its future.

            23. Therefore, since on awakening after a period of unconsciousness we become conscious of our perceptions, we must, without having been conscious of them, have had perceptions immediately before; for one perception can come in a natural way only from another perception, just as a motion can come in a natural way only from a motion.

            24. It is evident from this that if we were to have nothing distinctive, or so to speak prominent, and of a higher flavor in our perceptions, we should be in a continual state of stupor. This is the condition of monads which are wholly bare.


Basic Animal and Human Mental Activity: Sensation, Memories, Association

            25. We see that nature has given to animals heightened perceptions, having provided them with organs which collect numerous rays of light or numerous waves of air and thus make them more effective in their combination. Something similar to this takes place in the case of smell, in that of taste and of touch, and perhaps in many other senses which are unknown to us. I will have occasion very soon to explain how that which occurs in the soul represents that which goes on in the sense organs.

            26. The memory furnishes a sort of consecutiveness which imitates reason but is to be distinguished from it. We see that animals when they have the perception of something which they notice and of which they have had a similar previous perception, are led by the representation of their memory to expect that which was associated in the preceding perception, and they come to have feelings like those which they had before. For instance, if a stick is shown to a dog, he remembers the pain which it has caused him and he whines or runs away.

            27. The vividness of the picture, which comes to him or moves him, is derived either from the magnitude or from the number of the previous perceptions. For, oftentimes, a strong impression brings about, all at once, the same effect as a long-continued habit or as a great many reiterated, moderate perceptions.

            28. People act in like manner as animals, in so far as the sequence of their perceptions is determined only by the law of memory, resembling the empirical physicians who practice simply, without any theory, and we are empiricists in three-fourths of our actions. For instance, when we expect that there will be daylight tomorrow, we do so empirically, because it has always happened so up to the present time. It is only the astronomer who uses his reason in making such an affirmation.


Rational Human Mind and Necessary Truths: Reflection, Principles of Reasoning, Tautologies

            29. But the knowledge of eternal and necessary truths is that which distinguishes us from mere animals and gives us reason and the sciences, thus raising us to a knowledge of ourselves and of God. This is what is called in us the Rational Soul or the Mind.

            30. It is also through the knowledge of necessary truths and through abstractions from them that we come to perform Reflective Acts, which cause us to think of what is called the I, and to decide that this or that is within us. It is thus, that in thinking upon ourselves we think of being, of substance, of the simple and composite, of a material thing and of God himself, conceiving that what is limited in us is in him without limits. These reflective acts furnish the principal objects of our reasonings.

            31. Our reasoning is based upon two great principles: first, that of contradiction, by means of which we decide that to be false which involves contradiction and that to be true which contradicts or is opposed to the false.

            32. Second, the principle of sufficient reason, in virtue of which we believe that no fact can be real or existing and no statement true unless it has a sufficient reason why it should be thus and not otherwise. Most frequently, however, these reasons cannot be known by us.

            33. There are also two kinds of truths: those of reasoning and those of fact. The truths of reasoning are necessary, and their opposite is impossible. Those of fact, however, are contingent, and their opposite is possible. When a truth is necessary, the reason can be found by analysis in resolving it into simpler ideas and into simpler truths until we reach those which are primary.

            34. It is thus that with mathematicians the speculative theorems and the practical canons are reduced by analysis to definitions, axioms, and postulates.

            35. There are finally simple ideas of which no definition can be given. There are also the axioms and postulates or, in a word, the primary principles which cannot be proved and, indeed, have no need of proof. These are identical propositions whose opposites involve express contradictions.


Cosmological Argument: Why an Infinite Chain of Contingent Causes Exists

            36. But there must be also a sufficient reason for contingent truths or truths of fact; that is to say, for the sequence of the things which extend throughout the universe of created beings, where the analysis into more particular reasons can be continued into greater detail without limit because of the immense variety of the things in nature and because of the infinite division of bodies. There is an infinity of figures and of movements, present and past, which enter into the efficient cause of my present writing, and in its final cause there are an infinity of slight tendencies and dispositions of my soul, present and past.

            37. As all this detail again involves other and more detailed contingencies, each of which again has need of a similar analysis in order to find its explanation, no real advance has been made. Therefore, the sufficient or ultimate reason must needs be outside of the sequence or series of these details of contingencies, however infinite they may be.

            38. It is thus that the ultimate reason for things must be a necessary substance, in which the detail of the changes will be present merely potentially, as in the fountainhead, and this substance we call God.

            39. Now, since this substance is a sufficient reason for all the above mentioned details, which are linked together throughout, there is but one God, and this God is sufficient.


Perfection as the Nature of God

            40. We may hold that the supreme substance, which is unique, universal and necessary with nothing independent outside of it, which is further a pure sequence of possible being, must be incapable of limitation and must contain as much reality as possible.

            41. From this it follows that God is absolutely perfect, perfection being understood as the magnitude of positive reality in the strict sense, when the limitations or the bounds of those things which have them are removed. There where there are no limits, that is to say, in God, perfection is absolutely infinite.

            42. It follows also that created things derive their perfections through the influence of God, but their imperfections come from their own natures, which cannot exist without limits. It is in this latter that they are distinguished from God. An example of this original imperfection of created things is to be found in the natural inertia of bodies.


Ontological Argument: Essences and Real Possibilities depend upon an Existing Region of Eternal Truths

            43. It is true, furthermore, that in God is found not only the source of existences, but also that of essences, in so far as they are real. In other words, he is the source of whatever there is real in the possible. This is because the understanding of God is in the region of eternal truths or of the ideas upon which they depend, and because without him there would be nothing real in the possibilities of things, and not only would nothing be existent, nothing would be even possible.

            44. For it must needs be that if there is a reality in essences or in possibilities or indeed in the eternal truths, this reality is based upon something existent and actual, and, consequently, in the existence of the necessary Being in whom essence includes existence or in whom possibility is sufficient to produce actuality.

            45. Therefore God alone (or the Necessary Being) has this prerogative that if he is possible he must necessarily exist, and, as nothing is able to prevent the possibility of that which involves no bounds, no negation and consequently, no contradiction, this alone is sufficient to establish a priori his existence. We have, therefore, proved his existence through the reality of eternal truths. But a little while ago we also proved it a posteriori, because contingent beings exist which can have their ultimate and sufficient reason only in the necessary being which, in turn, has the reason for existence in itself.

            46. Yet we must not think that the eternal truths being dependent upon God are therefore arbitrary and depend upon his will, as Descartes seems to have held, and after him M. Poiret. This is the case only with contingent truths which depend upon fitness or the choice of the greatest good; necessarily truths on the other hand depend solely upon his understanding and are the inner objects of it.


Three Characteristics of God in Created Monads

            47. God alone is the ultimate unity or the original simple substance. All created or derivative monads are the products of him, and arise, so to speak, through the continual outflashings (fulgurations) of the divinity from moment to moment, limited by the receptivity of the creature to whom limitation is an essential.

            48. In God are present: power, which is the source of everything; knowledge, which contains the details of the ideas; and, finally, will, which changes or produces things in accordance with the principle of the greatest good. To these correspond in the created monad, the subject or basis, the faculty of perception, and the faculty of appetition. In God these attributes are absolutely infinite or perfect, while in the created monads or in the entelechies (perfectihabies, as Hermolaus Barbarus translates this word), they are imitations approaching him in proportion to the perfection.

            49. A created thing is said to act outwardly in so far as it has perfection, and to be acted upon by another in so far as it is imperfect. Thus action is attributed to the monad in so far as it has distinct perceptions, and passion or passivity is attributed in so far as it has confused perceptions.

            50. One created thing is more perfect than another when we find in the first that which gives an a priori reason for what occurs in the second. This why we say that one acts upon the other.

            51. In the case of simple substances, the influence which one monad has upon another is only ideal. It can have its effect only through the mediation of God, in so far as in the ideas of God each monad can rightly demand that God, in regulating the others from the beginning of things, should have regarded it also. For since one created monad cannot have a physical influence upon the inner being of another, it is only through the primal regulation that one can have dependence upon another.

            52. It is thus that among created things action and passivity are reciprocal. For God, in comparing two simple substances, finds in each one reasons obliging him to adapt the other to it. Consequently what is active in certain respects is passive from another point of view. It is active insofar as what we distinctly know in it serves to give a reason for what occurs in another. It is passive insofar as the reason for what occurs in it is found in what is distinctly known in another.


Best of all Possible Worlds

53. Now as there are an infinity of possible universes in the ideas of God, and but only one of them can exist, there must be a sufficient reason for the choice of God which determines him to select one rather than another.

            54. This reason is to be found only in the fitness or in the degree of perfection which these worlds possess, each possible thing having the right to claim existence in proportion to the perfection which it involves.

            55. This is the cause for the existence of the greatest good; namely, that the wisdom of God permits him to know it, his goodness causes him to choose it, and his power enables him to produce it.


Every Monad Mirrors the Universe

            56. Now this interconnection, relationship, or this adaptation of all things to each particular one, and of each one to all the rest, brings it about that every simple substance has relations which express all the others and that it is consequently a perpetual living mirror of the universe.

            57. As the same city regarded from different sides appears entirely different, and is, as it were multiplied respectively, so, because of the infinite number of simple substances, there are a similar infinite number of universes which are, nevertheless, only the aspects of a single one as seen from the special point of view of each monad.

            58. Through this means has been obtained the greatest possible variety, together with the greatest order that may be. That is to say, through this means has been obtained the greatest possible perfection.

            59. This hypothesis, moreover, which I venture to call demonstrated, is the only one which fittingly gives proper prominence to the greatness of God. M. Bayle recognized this when in his dictionary (article "Rorarius") he raised objections to it. Indeed, he was inclined to believe that I attributed too much to God, and more than it is possible to attribute to him. But he was unable to bring forward any reason why it is impossible to suppose that this universal harmony causes every substance to express exactly all others through the relation which it has with them.

            60. Besides, in what has just been said, there are a priori reasons for why things cannot be otherwise than they are. It is because God, in ordering the whole, has had regard to every part and in particular to each monad. Since the monad is by its very nature representative, nothing can limit it to represent merely a part of things. It is nevertheless true that this representation is, as regards the details of the whole universe, only a confused representation, and is distinct only as regards a small part of them, that is to say, as regards those things which are nearest or greatest in relation to each monad. If the representation were distinct as to the details of the entire Universe, each monad would be a Deity. It is not in the object represented that the monads are limited, but in the modifications of their knowledge of the object. In a confused way they reach out to infinity or to the whole, but are limited and differentiated in the degree of their distinct perceptions.

            61. In this respect composites are like simple substances, for all space is filled up; therefore, all matter is connected. In a plenum or filled space every movement has an effect upon bodies in proportion to this distance, so that not only is every body affected by those which are in contact with it and responds in some way to whatever happens to them, but also by means of them the body responds to, those bodies adjoining them, and their intercommunication reaches to any distance whatsoever. Consequently every body responds to all that happens in the universe, so that he who saw all could read in each one what is happening everywhere, and even what has happened and what will happen. He can discover in the present what is distant both as regards space and as regards time; "all things conspire" as Hippocrates said. A soul can, however, read in itself only what is there represented distinctly. It cannot all at once open up all its folds, because they extend to infinity.

            62. Thus although each created monad represents the whole universe, it represents more distinctly the body which specially pertains to it and of which it constitutes the entelechy. As this body expresses all the universe through the interconnection of all matter in the plenum, the soul also represents the whole universe in representing this body, which belongs to it in a particular way.

            63. The body belonging to a monad (which is its entelechy or soul) constitutes together with an entelechy what may be called a living being, and with a soul what is called an animal. Now this body of a living being or of an animal is always organic. For, since every monad is a mirror of the universe and is regulated with perfect order, then there also needs to be order in what represents it.  That is to say there must be order in the perceptions of the soul and, consequently, in the body through which the universe is represented in the soul.


Pools of Life within Pools of Life on to Infinity (Fractal Cosmology)

            64. Therefore every organic body of a living being is a kind of divine machine or natural automaton, infinitely surpassing all artificial automatons. This is because a machine constructed by human skill is not a machine in each of its parts. For instance, the teeth of a brass wheel have parts or bits which to us are not artificial products and contain nothing in themselves to show the use to which the wheel was destined in the machine. The machines of nature, however (that is to say, living bodies) are still machines in their smallest parts ad infinitum. Such is the difference between nature and art, that is to say, between divine art and ours.

            65. The author of nature has been able to employ this divine and infinitely marvelous artifice, because each portion of matter is not only, as the ancients recognized, infinitely divisible, but also because it is really divided without end, every part into other parts, each one of which has its own proper motion. Otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express all the universe.

            66. From this we see that there is a world of created things, of living beings, of animals, of entelechies, of souls, in the smallest particle of matter.

            67. Every portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fish. But every branch of a plant, every member of an animal, and every drop of the fluids within it, is also such a garden or such a pond.

            68. Although the ground and air which lies between the plants of the garden, and the water which is between the fish in the pond, are not themselves plants or fish, yet they nevertheless contain these, usually so small however as to be imperceptible to us.

            69. There is, therefore, nothing uncultivated, or sterile or dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion, except in appearance. This is somewhat as a pond would appear at a distance when we could see in it a confused movement, and so to speak, a swarming of the fish, without however discerning the fish themselves.

            70. It is evident, then, that every living body has a dominating entelechy, which in animals is the soul. The parts, however, of this living body are full of other living beings, plants and animals, which in turn have each one its entelechy or dominating soul.

            71. This does not mean, as some who have misunderstood my thought have imagined, that each soul has a quantity or portion of matter appropriated to it or attached to itself for ever, and that it consequently owns other inferior living beings destined to serve it always. Because all bodies are in a state of perpetual flux like rivers, and the parts are continually entering in or passing out.


Animal Metamorphosis: Souls Exist Before Birth and after Death in Other Animal Forms

            72. The soul, therefore, changes its body only gradually and by degrees, so that it is never deprived all at once of all its organs. There is frequently a metamorphosis in animals, but never metempsychosis or a transmigration of souls. Neither are there souls wholly separate from bodies, nor bodiless spirits. God alone is without body.

            73. This is also why there is never absolute generation or perfect death in the strict sense, consisting in the separation of the soul from the body. What we call generation is development and growth, and what we call death is envelopment and diminution.

            74. Philosophers have been much perplexed in accounting for the origin of forms, entelechies, or souls. Today, however, it has been learned through careful investigations made in plant, insect and animal life, that the organic bodies of nature are never the product of chaos or putrefaction, but always come from seeds in which there was without doubt some preformation. Thus, it has been decided that not only is the organic body already present before conception, but also a soul in this body, in a word, the animal itself. It has been decided that, by means of conception, the animal is merely made ready for a great transformation, so as to become an animal of another sort. We can see cases somewhat similar outside of generation when grubs become flies and caterpillars butterflies.

            75. These little animals, some of which by conception become large animals may be called spermatic. Those among them which remain in their species, that is to say, the greater part, are born, multiply, and are destroyed, like the larger animals. There are only a few chosen ones which come out upon a greater stage.

            76. This, however, is only half the truth. I believe, therefore, that if the animal never actually begins by natural means, no more does it by natural means come to an end. Not only is there no generation, but also there is no entire destruction or absolute death. These reasonings, carried on a posteriori and drawn from experience, accord perfectly with the principles which I have above deduced a priori.

            77. Therefore we may say that not only the soul (the mirror of the indestructible universe) is indestructible, but also the animal itself is indestructible, although its mechanism is frequently destroyed in parts and although it puts off and takes on organic coatings.


Pre-Established Order between Mind and Body (Mind-Body Parallelism)

            78. These principles have furnished me the means of explaining on natural grounds the union, or rather the conformity between the soul and the organic body. The soul follows its own laws, and the body likewise follows its own laws. They are fitted to each other in virtue of the pre-established harmony between all substances since they are all representations of one and the same universe.

            79. Souls act in accordance with the laws of final causes through their desires, ends and means. Bodies act in accordance with the laws of efficient causes or of motion. The two realms, that of efficient causes and that of final causes, are in harmony, each with the other.

            80. Descartes saw that souls cannot at all impart force to bodies, because there is always the same quantity of force in matter. Yet he thought that the soul could change the direction of bodies. This was, however, because at that time the law of nature which affirms also that conservation of the same total direction in the motion of matter was not known. If he had known that law, he would have fallen upon my system of pre-established harmony.

            81. According to this system, bodies act as if (to suppose the impossible) there were no souls at all, and souls act as if there were no bodies, and yet both body and soul act as if the one were influencing the other.


Human Souls: Sensuous Animal Souls Elected to have Reason

            82. I find that essentially the same thing is true of all living things and animals, which we have just said (namely, that animals and souls begin from the very commencement of the world and that they no more come to an end than does the world). However, rational animals have this peculiarity, that their little spermatic animals (as long as they remain such) have only ordinary or sensuous souls, but those of them which are, so to speak, elected, attain by actual conception to human nature, and their sensuous souls are raised to the rank of reason and to the prerogative of spirits.

            83. Among the differences that there are between ordinary souls and spirits (some of which I have already described) there is also this, that while souls in general are living mirrors or images of the universe of created things, spirits are also images of the Deity himself or of the author of nature. They are capable of knowing the system of the universe, and of imitating some features of it by means of artificial models, each spirit being like a small divinity in its own sphere.


Universal Monarchy: Pre-Established Order between Natural and Moral Worlds

            84. Therefore, spirits are able to enter into a sort of social relationship with God. With respect to them he is not only what an inventor is to his machine (as in his relation to the other created things), but he is also what a prince is to his subjects, and even what a father is to his children.

            85. From this it is easy to conclude that the totality of all spirits must compose the city of God, that is to say, the most perfect state that is possible under the most perfect monarch.

            86. This city of God, this truly universal monarchy, is a moral world within the natural world. It is what is noblest and most divine among the works of God. In it consists in reality the glory of God, because he would have no glory were not his greatness and goodness known and wondered at by spirits. It is also in relation to this divine city that God properly has goodness. His wisdom and his power are shown everywhere.

            87. As we established above that there is a perfect harmony between the two natural realms of efficient and final causes, it will be in place here to point out another harmony which appears between the physical realm of nature and the moral realm of grace, that is to say, between God considered as the architect of the mechanism of the world and God considered as the monarch of the divine city of spirits.

            88. This harmony brings it about that things progress of themselves toward grace along natural lines, and that this earth, for example, must be destroyed and restored by natural means at those times when the proper government of spirits demands it, for chastisement in the one case and for a reward in the other.

            89. We can say also that God, the Architect, satisfies in all respects God the Law Giver, that therefore sins will bring their own penalty with them through the order of nature, and because of the very structure of things, mechanical though it is. In the same way the good actions will attain their rewards in mechanical way through their relation to bodies, although this cannot and ought not always to take place without delay.

            90. Finally, under this perfect government, there will be no good action unrewarded and no evil action unpunished. Everything must turn out for the well-being of the good; that is to say, of those who are not dissatisfied in this great state, who, after having done their duty, trust in Providence and who love and imitate, as is proper, the author of all Good, delighting in the contemplation of his perfections according to the nature of that genuine, pure love which finds pleasure in the happiness of those who are loved. It is for this reason that wise and virtuous persons work in behalf of everything which seems conformable to the presumptive or antecedent will of God. Such people are, nevertheless, content with what God actually brings to pass through his secret, consequent and determining will. They recognize that if we were able to understand sufficiently well the order of the universe, we should find that it surpasses all the desires of the wisest of us. They will also see that it is impossible to make it better than it is, not only for all in general, but also for each one of us in particular. This is on the condition that we have the proper attachment for the author of all, not only as the Architect and the efficient cause of our being, but also as our Lord and the Final Cause, who ought to be the whole goal of our will, and who alone can make us happy.




Monads as Metaphysical Points: Living, Perceiving, Exact and Real (from “The New System” 1695)

Atoms of matter are contrary to reason, besides the fact that they also are composed of parts, since the invincible attachment of one part to another (granted that this could be reasonably conceived or supposed) would not destroy their diversity. It is only atoms of substance, that is to say unities which are real and absolutely without parts, which can be the sources of actions, and the absolute first principles of the composition of things, and as it were the ultimate elements into which substantial things can be analyzed. They might be called metaphysical points, there is about them something living and a kind of perception, and mathematical points are their points of view for expressing the universe. But when corporeal substances are contracted all their organs constitute to us but a physical point. Thus physical points are indivisible in appearance only: mathematical points are exact, but they are nothing but modalities [i.e., possibilities]. It is only metaphysical points, or points of substance (constituted by forms or souls), which are both exact and real; and without them there would be nothing real, since without true unities there would be no plurality.


All about Monads (from “Principles of Nature and Grace,” 1714, 1-3)

1. Substance is being, capable of action. It is simple or compound. Simple substance is that which has no parts. Compound substance is a collection of simple substances or monads. Monas is a Greek word which signifies unity, or that which is one. Compounds, or bodies, are multitudes; and simple substances, lives, souls, spirits are unities. There must be simple substances everywhere, because without simple substances there would be no compounds; and consequently all nature is full of life.

            2. Monads, having no parts, cannot be formed or decomposed. They cannot begin or end naturally; and consequently last as long as the universe, which will indeed be changed but will not be destroyed. They cannot have shapes; otherwise they would have parts. Consequently a monad, in itself and at a given moment, could not be distinguished from another except by its internal qualities and actions, which can be nothing else than its perceptions (that is, representations of the compound, or of what is external, in the simple), and its appetites (that is, its tendencies from one perception to another), which are the principles of change. For the simplicity of substance does not prevent multiplicity of modifications, which must be found together in this same simple substance, and must consist in the variety of relations to things which are external. Just as in a center or point, altogether simple as it is, there is found an infinity of angles formed by lines which there meet.

            3. All of nature is a plenum. There are everywhere simple substances, separated in reality from each other by activities of their own which continually change their relations; and each simple substance, or monad, which forms the center of a compound substance (as, for example, of an animal) and the principle of its unity, is surrounded by a mass composed of an infinity of other monads, which constitute the body proper of this central monad; and in accordance with the affections of this it represents, as a center, the things which are outside of itself. This body is organic when it forms a sort of automaton or natural machine; which is a machine not only in its entirety, but also in its smallest perceptible parts. As, because the world is a plenum, everything is connected and each body acts upon every other body, more or less according to the distance, and by reaction is itself affected thereby; it follows that each monad is a mirror, living or endowed with internal activity, representative according to its point of view of the universe, and as regulated as the universe itself. Perceptions in the monad spring one from the other, by the law of appetites or by the final causes of good and evil, which consist in visible, regulated or unregulated perceptions; just as the changes of bodies and external phenomena spring one from another, by the laws of efficient causes, that is, of movements. Thus there is perfect harmony between the perceptions of the monad and the movements of bodies, established at the beginning between the system of efficient causes and that of final causes. In this consists the accord and physical union of the soul and body, although neither one can change the laws of the other.


No Vacuum: God's Perfection makes him Fill all Space in a Plenum (from "Fourth Letter to Clarke", 1715)

All those who maintain a vacuum are more influenced by imagination than by reason. When I was a young man, I also gave into the notion of a vacuum and atoms. But reason brought me into the right way. It was a pleasing imagination. People carry their inquiries no farther than those two things [i.e., a vacuum and atoms]. They, as it were, nail down their thoughts to them. They fancy they have found out the first elements of things, a non plus ultra ["the final word"]. We would have nature to go no farther and to be finite, as our minds are. But this is being ignorant of the greatness and majesty of the author of things. The least corpuscle is actually subdivided in infinitum, and contains a world of other creatures, which would be wanting in the universe, if that corpuscle was an atom (that is, a body of one entire piece without subdivision). In like manner, to admit a vacuum in nature is ascribing to God a very imperfect work. It is violating the grand principle of the necessity of a sufficient reason which many have talked of, without understanding its true meaning; as I have lately shown in proving, by that principle, that space is only an order of things, as time also is, and not at all an absolute being. To omit many other arguments against a vacuum and atoms, I will here mention those which I ground upon God's perfection, and upon the necessity of a sufficient reason. I lay it down as a principle, that every perfection which God could impart to things without taking away from their other perfections, has actually been imparted to them. Now let us imagine a space wholly empty. God could have placed some matter in it, without derogating in any respect from all other things. Therefore he has actually placed some matter in that space. Therefore, there is no space wholly empty. Therefore all is full.

            I will add another argument grounded upon the necessity of a sufficient reason. It is impossible that there should be any principle to determine what proportion of matter there ought to be, out of all the possible degrees from a plenum to a vacuum, or from a vacuum to a plenum. Perhaps it will be said, that the one should be equal to the other. But, because matter is more perfect than a vacuum, reason requires that a geometrical proportion should be observed, and that there should be as much more matter than vacuum, as the former deserves to have the preference before the latter. But then there must be no vacuum at all. For the perfection of matter is to that of a vacuum, as something to nothing. The case is the same with atoms. What reason can anyone assign for confining nature in the progression of subdivision? These are fictions.




Some Monads as Souls (“Principles of Nature and Grace,” 1714)

            4. Each monad, with a particular body, makes a living substance. Thus there is not only life everywhere, provided with members or organs, but also there is an infinity of degrees in monads, some dominating more or less over the others. But when the monad has organs so adjusted that by means of them there is clearness and distinctness in the impressions which it receives and consequently in the perceptions which represent them (as, for example, when by means of the shape of the humors of the eyes, the rays of light are concentrated and act with more force), this can extend even to feeling (that is, even to a perception accompanied by memory, that is, one a certain echo of which remains a long time to make itself heard upon occasion). Such a living being is called an animal, as its monad is called a soul. When this soul is elevated to reason it is something more sublime and is reckoned among spirits, as will soon be explained.


Animals Transform into Other Animals after Death ("A New System", 1695)

7. But the most important question of all still remained: What do these souls or these forms become after the death of the animal or after the destruction of the individual of the organized substance? It is this question which is most embarrassing, all the more so as it seems unreasonable that souls should remain uselessly in a chaos of confused matter. This obliged me finally to believe that there was only one reasonable opinion to hold, namely, that not only the soul but also the animal itself and its organic machine were preserved, although the destruction of its gross parts had rendered it so small as to escape our senses now just as much as it did before it was born. Also there is no person who can accurately note the true time of death, which can be considered for a long time solely as a suspension of visible actions, and indeed is never anything else in mere animals. Witness the resuscitation of drowned flies after being buried under pulverized chalk, and other similar examples, which make it sufficiently clear that there would be many more resuscitations and of far more intricacy if men were in condition to set the machine going again. Apparently it was of something of this sort that the great Democritus, atomist as he was, spoke, although Pliny makes sport of the idea. It is then natural that the animal having, as people of great penetration begin to recognize, been always living and organized, should so remain always. Since, therefore, there is no first birth nor entirely new generation of the animal, it follows that there will be no final extinction nor complete death taken in its metaphysical rigor, and that in consequence instead of the transmigration of souls there is only a transformation of one and the same animal, according as its organs are folded differently and more or less developed.

8. Nevertheless, rational souls follow very much higher laws and are exempt from all that could make them lose the quality of being citizens in the society of spirits, God having planned for them so well, that all the changes in matter cannot make them lose the moral qualities of their personality.




Failure of Occasionalism leads to Hypothesis of Pre-established Harmony ("A New System")

12. I found no way of explaining how the body can cause anything to pass into the soul, or vice versa; nor how one substance can communicate with another created substance. Descartes gave up the attempt on that point, as far as can be learned from his writings, but his disciples seeing that the common view was inconceivable, were of the opinion that we perceive the qualities of bodies because God causes thoughts to arise in the soul on the occasion of movements of matter; and when the soul wished to move the body in its turn they judged that it was God who moved it for the soul. As the communication of motions again seemed to them inconceivable, they believed that God gave motion to a body on the occasion of the motion of another body. This is what they call the system of Occasional Causes which has been much in vogue on account of the beautiful remarks of the author of the Search after Truth. 

            13. It must be confessed that the difficulty has been well penetrated when the not-possible is stated, but it does not appear that it is done away with by explaining what actually takes place. It is indeed true that there is no real influence of one created substance upon another, speaking in metaphysical strictness, and that all things with all their realities are continually produced by the power of God; but in resolving problems it is not enough to employ a general cause and to call in what is called the Deus ex Machina. For when this is done and there is no other explanation which can be drawn from secondary causes, it is, properly, having recourse to miracle. In philosophy it is necessary to try to give reasons by making known in what way things are done by divine wisdom, in conformity to the idea of the subject concerned. 

            14. Being then obliged to admit that it is not possible for the soul or any true substance to receive any influence from without, if it is not by the divine omnipotence I was led insensibly to an opinion which surprised me but which appears inevitable and which has in truth great advantages and many beauties. It is this: it must then be said that God created the soul, or every other real unity, initially in such a way that everything with it comes into existence from its own substance through perfect spontaneity as regards itself and in perfect harmony with objects outside itself. That thus our internal feelings (i.e., those within the soul itself and not in the brain or finer parts of the body), being only phenomena consequent upon external objects, or true appearances, and like well-ordered dreams, it is necessary that these internal perceptions within the soul itself come to it by its own proper original constitution, i.e., by the representative nature (capable of expressing beings outside itself by relation to its organs), which has been given it at its creation and which constitutes its individual character. This brings it about that each of these substances in its own way and according to a certain point of view, represents exactly the entire universe, and perceptions or impressions of external things reach the soul at the proper point in virtue of its own laws, as if it were in a world apart, and as if there existed nothing but God and itself (to make use of the manner of speaking of a certain person of great elevation of mind, whose piety is well known); there is also perfect harmony among all these substances, producing the same effects as if they communicated with each other by a transmission of kinds or of qualities, as philosophers generally suppose. 

            Farther, the organized mass, within which is the point of view of the soul, being expressed more nearly by it, finds itself reciprocally ready to act of itself following the laws of corporeal machines, at the moment when the soul wills it, without either one troubling the laws of the other, the nerves and the blood having just at that time received the impulse which is necessary in order to make them respond to the passions and perceptions of the soul; it is this mutual relationship, regulated beforehand in every substance of the universe, which produces what we call their inter-communication and alone constitutes the union between the soul and body. We may understand from this how the soul has its seat in the body by an immediate presence which could not be greater, for it is there as the unit is in the complex of units, which is the multitude. 

            15. This hypothesis is very possible. For why could not God give to a substance in the beginning a nature or internal force which could produce in it to order (as in a spiritual or formal automaton, but free here since it has reason to its share), all that which should happen to it; that is to say all the appearances or expressions it should have, and that without the aid of any creature? All the more as the nature of the substance necessarily demands and essentially includes a progress or change, without which it would not have power to act. This nature of the soul, being representative, in a very exact (although more or less distinct) manner, of the universe, the series of representations which the soul will produce for itself will naturally correspond to the series of changes in the universe itself; as, in turn, the body has also been accommodated to the soul, for the encounters where it is conceived as acting from without. This is the more reasonable as bodies are only made for those spirits which are capable of entering into communion with God and of celebrating His glory. Thus from the moment the possibility of this hypothesis of harmonies is perceived, we perceive also that it is the most reasonable and that it gives a marvelous idea of the harmony of the universe and of the perfection of the works of God.


Mind-Body Parallel Each Other like Two Perfect Clocks (from “The New System,” Postscript, 1696)

You do not understand, you say, how I could prove that which I advanced concerning the communication or harmony of two substances so different as the soul and the body. It is true that I believe that I have found the means of doing so, and this is how I propose to satisfy you. Imagine two clocks or watches which agree perfectly. Now, this may take place in three ways. The first consists in a mutual influence; the second is to have a skillful workman attached to them who regulates them and keeps them always in accord; the third is to construct these two clocks with so much art and accuracy as to assure their future harmony. Put now the soul and the body in place of these two clocks; their accordance may be brought about by one of these three ways. The way of influence is that of common philosophy [i.e., Descartes], but as we cannot conceive of material particles which may pass from one of these substances into the other, this view must be abandoned. The way of the continual assistance of the creator is that of the system of occasional causes [i.e., Malebranche]; but I hold that this is to make a Deus ex Machina intervene in a natural and ordinary matter, in which, according to reason, he ought not to cooperate except in the way in winch he does in all other natural things. Thus there remains only my hypothesis; that is, the way of harmony. From the beginning God has made each of these two substances of such a nature that merely by following its own peculiar laws, received with its being, it nevertheless accords with the other, just as if there were a mutual influence or as if God always put his hand thereto in addition to his general cooperation.




God Creates in the most Perfect Manner (from Discourse on Metaphysics, 1686, 1)

The conception of God which is the most common and the most full of meaning is expressed well enough in the words: God is an absolutely perfect being. The implications, however, of these words fail to receive sufficient consideration. For instance, there are many different kinds of perfection, all of which God possesses, and each one of them pertains to him in the highest degree.

            We must also know what perfection is. One thing which can surely be affirmed about it is that those forms or natures which are not susceptible of it to the highest degree, say the nature of numbers or of figures, do not permit of perfection. This is because the number which is the greatest of all (that is, the sum of all the numbers), and likewise the greatest of all figures, imply contradictions. The greatest knowledge, however, and omnipotence contain no impossibility. Consequently power and knowledge do admit of perfection, and in so far as they pertain to God they have no limits.

            From this it follows that God who possesses supreme and infinite wisdom acts in the most perfect manner not only metaphysically, but also from the moral standpoint. With respect to ourselves it can be said that the more we are enlightened and informed in regard to the works of God the more will we be disposed to find them excellent and conforming entirely to that which we might desire.


Evil accompanied by a Greater Good (Theodicy, 1710, summary)

The best course is not always that one which tends towards avoiding evil, since it is possible that the evil may be accompanied by a greater good. For example, the general of an army will prefer a great victory with a slight wound to a state of affairs without wound and without victory. I have proved this in further detail in this work [i.e., in the Theodicy] by pointing out, through instances taken from mathematics and elsewhere, that an imperfection in the part may be required for a greater perfection in the whole. I have followed therein the opinion of St. Augustine, who said a hundred times that God permitted evil in order to derive from it a good, that is to say, a greater good; and Thomas Aquinas says (in libr. 2, Sent. Dist. 32, qu. 1, art. 1) that the permission of evil tends towards the good of the universe. I have shown that among older writers the fall of Adam was termed felix culpa, a fortunate sin, because it had been expiated with immense benefit by the incarnation of the Son of God: for he gave to the universe something more noble than anything there would otherwise have been amongst created beings. For the better understanding of the matter I added, following the example of many good authors, that it was consistent with order and the general good for God to grant to certain of his creatures the opportunity to exercise their freedom, even when he foresaw that they would turn to evil: for God could easily correct the evil, and it was not fitting that in order to prevent sin he should always act in an extraordinary way. It will therefore sufficiently refute the objection to show that a world with evil may be better than a world without evil. But I have gone still further in the work, and have even shown that this universe must be indeed better than every other possible universe.




Miracles Conform to God's General Order but Contrary to Subordinate Natural Operations ("Discourse on Metaphysics," 1686)

7. Now since nothing is done which is not orderly, we may say that miracles are quite within the order of natural operations. We use the term "natural" of these operations because they conform to certain subordinate regulations which we call the nature of things. For it can be said that this nature is only a custom of God's which he can change on the occasion of a stronger reason than that which moved him to use these regulations. As regards general and particular intentions, according to the way in which we understand the matter, it may be said on the one hand that everything is in accordance with his most general intention, or that which best conforms to the most perfect order he has chosen. On the other hand, however, it is also possible to say that he has particular intentions which are exceptions to the subordinate regulations above mentioned. Of God's laws, however, the most universal, i.e., that which rules the whole course of the universe, is without exceptions.


We Understand Natural Operations, but not God's General Order which includes Miracles ("Discourse on Metaphysics," 1686)

16. There remains for us at present only to explain how it is possible that God has influence at times upon men or upon other substances by an extraordinary or miraculous intervention, since it seems that nothing is able to happen which is extraordinary or supernatural in as much as all the events which occur to the other substances are only the consequences of their natures. We must recall what was said above in regard to the miracles in the universe. These always conform to the universal law of the general order, although they may contravene the subordinate regulations. Since every person or substance is like a little world which expresses the great world, we can say that this extraordinary action of God upon this substance is nevertheless miraculous, although it is comprised in the general order of the universe insofar as it is expressed by the individual essence or concept of this substance. This is why, if we understand in our natures all that they express, nothing is supernatural in them, because they reach out to everything, an effect always expressing its cause, and God being the veritable cause of the substances. But as that which our natures express the most perfectly pertains to them in a particular manner, that being their special power, and since they are limited, as I have just explained, many things there are which surpass the powers of our natures and even of all limited natures As a consequence, to speak more clearly, I say that the miracles and the extraordinary interventions of God have this peculiarity that they cannot be foreseen by any created mind however enlightened. This is because the distinct comprehension of the fundamental order surpasses them all. On the other hand, that which is called natural depends upon less fundamental regulations which the creatures are able to understand. In order then that my words may be as irreprehensible as the meaning I am trying to convey, it will be well to associate certain words with certain significations. We may call our "essence" that which includes everything that we express and which expresses our union with God himself, nothing going beyond it. But that which is limited in us may be designated as our "nature" or our "power". In accordance with this terminology, that which goes beyond the natures of all created substances is supernatural.


Types of Miracles (Leibniz fourth letter to Clarke)

            43. I am afraid the author [i.e., Samuel Clarke], by altering the sense commonly put upon the word miracle, will fall into an inconvenient opinion. The nature of a miracle does not at all consist in usualness or unusualness, for then monsters would be miracles.

            44. There are miracles of an inferior sort, which an angel can work. He can, for instance, make a man walk upon the water without sinking. But there are miracles, which none but God can work; they exceeding all natural powers. Of which kind, are creating and annihilating.

            45. It is also a supernatural thing, that bodies should attract one another at a distance, without any intermediate means; and that a body should move round, without receding in the tangent, though nothing hinder it from so receding. For these effects cannot be explained by the nature of things.

            46. Why should it be impossible to explain the motion of animals by natural forces? Though indeed, the beginning of animals is no less inexplicable by natural forces, than the beginning of the world.


Questions for Review

1. In the section titled "Descartes not so great," why, according to Leibniz, is Descartes' view of God merely that of a natural power and immortality merely altered souls without memory?

2. In the section titled "Innate Ideas and Certainty," what innate ideas does Leibniz think that we have?

3. In Monadology 1-7, what are some of the key features of monads?

4. In Monadology 8-13, how do natural changes of differing monads take place?

5. In Monadology 14-16, what is the quality of “appetition” in a monad?

6. In Monadology 17-28, what types of human perception most closely resemble the kind of perception which monads exhibit?

7. In Monadology 29-35, what are the two principles of reasoning and the two kinds of truth?

8. In Monadology 36-42, from where do humans get their perfection and imperfection?

9. In Monadology 43-46, what was Descartes’ view about eternal truths (such as mathematics) and what is Leibniz’s response?

10. In Monadology 47-52, what makes one object more perfect than another?

11. In Monadology 53-55, how is it that God’s attributes direct him to create the best of all possible worlds?

12. In Monadology 56-59, what aspect of Leibniz’s theory did Bayle object to?

13. In Monadology 60-63, what is the connection between filled space and mirroring the universe?

14. In Monadology 64-71, what is the basis of the apparent chaos or confusion which we might see?

15. In Monadology 72-77, how are birth and death in animals gradual?

16. In Monadology 78-81, what are the laws which govern bodies and souls respectively?

17. In Monadology 82-83, in what ways do we mirror the image of God?

18. In Monadology 84-90, what are some of the reasons that suffering might occur from natural (i.e., “mechanical”) means, and what should our attitudes be toward instances of suffering which we do not fully understand?

19. In the section titled "no vacuum", why, according to Leibniz, was God compelled to fill all empty space?

20. In the section titled "evil accompanied by a greater good", what are some of Leibniz's examples to show that evil is accompanied by a greater good?


Questions for Analysis

1. Compare and contrast Locke's and Leibniz's respective views of innate ideas and discuss which if either is most plausible.

2. Malebranche argues that God acts in the simplest way, whereas Leibniz argues oppositely that God maximizes his creative abilities. Discuss how these two assumptions shape their respective philosophes, and discuss whether there is any merit to basing philosophical theories on either of these assumptions.

3. Spinoza and Leibniz both defend the view of mind-body parallelism. Compare and contrast their respective views and discuss which if either is most plausible.

4. Pascal and Leibniz both discuss fractal cosmology. Compare and contrast their two views and discuss whether their theories are viable either as a scientific hypothesis or a thought experiment.

5. Thomas Reid makes the following criticism of Leibniz's theory of monads: "To suppose bodies organized or unorganized to be made up of indivisible monads which have no parts, is contrary to all that we know of body. It is essential to a body to have parts; and every part of a body is a body, and has parts also. No number of parts, without extension or figure, not even an infinite number, if we may use that expression, can, by being put together, make a whole that has extension and figure, which all bodies have" (Essays on the Intellectual Powers, 2.15). Discuss Reid's criticism and how Leibniz might respond.

6. Thomas Reid makes the following criticism of Leibniz's theory of monads: "Leibnitz supposed monads and a preestablished harmony; and these monads being creatures of his own making, he is at liberty to give them what properties and powers his fancy may suggest. Such suppositions, while there is no proof of them offered, are nothing but the fictions of human fancy; and if they were true, would solve no difficulty, but raise many new ones. It is therefore more agreeable to good sense, and to sound philosophy, to rest satisfied with what our consciousness and attentive reflection discover to us of the nature of perception, than, by inventing hypotheses, to attempt to explain things which are above the reach of human understanding" (Essays on the Intellectual Powers, 2.15). Discuss Reid's criticism and how Leibniz might respond.

7. Hume makes the following criticism of Leibniz's cosmological argument: " In such a chain too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the whole, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole (like the uniting of several distinct countries into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body) is performed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts." Explain Hume's point and discuss how Leibniz might respond to Hume?

8. In Paragraph 7 of "A New System" Leibniz says the following about animal souls: "Since, therefore, there is no first birth nor entirely new generation of the animal, it follows that there will be no final extinction nor complete death taken in its metaphysical rigor, and that in consequence instead of the transmigration of souls there is only a transformation of one and the same animal, according as its organs are folded differently and more or less developed." Explain and evaluate his point.

9. John Stuart Mill argued that many errors in modern philosophy result from a fallacy that "causes must necessarily resemble their effects, and that like could only be produced by like." For example, red rose petals can cure blood disease, and things in motion can only be caused by other things in motion. According to Mill, “The same conception of impossibility led the ingenious and subtle mind of Leibnitz to his celebrated doctrine of a pre-established harmony. He, too, thought that mind could not act upon matter, nor matter upon mind, and that the two, therefore, must have been arranged by their Maker like two clocks, which, though unconnected with each other, strike simultaneously, and always point to the same hour.”(System of Logic, 1843, 5.3.8). Explain Mill’s criticism and how Leibniz might reply.