maanantai 13. helmikuuta 2012

The man of monads

When I was just beginning the blog, I was suggested to include Leibniz. In the very first post I strictly stated that I would skip him altogether, but I also said I might do some backtracking – and when I learned even Leibniz had written some German texts, I started to reconsider my stance. I still won't do a detailed analysis of all the works of Leibniz – that would set back my progress with another decade. Instead, I shall make one special article on his philosophy. Luckily I received as a PhD gift from Markku Roinila, one of the leading Leibniz-scholars of Finland, a recent Finnish translation of a number of Leibnizian texts, so suitable material was readily available.

I shall probably have to say something about the translation itself. It is a collection of writings of very diverse sort, containing in addition to more philosophical writings also religious texts, physical investigations, papers on logic and even a plan for making money with science. The only connecting element, in addition to the author, is the relative shortness of the texts. Thus, the collection includes mere excerpts of such larger writings as Theodicy and New essays of human understanding. As I don't know the originals, I cannot really say whether the translations are faithful to them, but I am at least convinced that the translating team has consisted of capable persons.

What becomes quite clear after reading this mixed bunch of writings is the multifariousness of Leibniz's talents and the variety of his interests – when Leibniz is not engaged in a philosophical or scientific discussion with other luminaries of the time or busy with yet another system of logic, he is probably spending his free time for the unification of all Christian churches. A good example of the ingenuity of Leibniz is the attempt to wed science with money, where the philosopher suggests a sort of scientific circus in which innovations are used as an entertainment – and which includes also a casino using the theory of probability for making profit (all the money is, of course, meant for further scientific endeavours).

What interests us here is the more metaphysical part of the Leibnizian ouvre and especially its connection to Wolff's metaphysics that we have just finished. I am sure that most of you know at least some rudiments of Leibnizian theory of monads – and those who don't can surely find some text book to study – so I will just skip the details of this theory. What is really fascinating is that Leibnizian philosophy can blend the new scientific innovations of the 18th century with the traditional religious world view – observations of the microscopic world become evidence for the capacity of God to create an infinite abundance of life.

Many of the details of the Wolffian metaphysics we have investigated derive obviously from Leibniz: the two principles of contradiction and sufficient reason, the division of the substances into simple and complex, the division of concepts according to the different levels of clarity, the relational theory of space and time, the pre-established harmony and the choice of the best possible world by God. That is not to say that Wolff himself wasn't original. Yet, the originality lies more in details than in the big picture, and some innovations of Wolff were far from true improvements: witness, for instance, Wolff's attempt to base the principle of sufficient reason on the principle of contradiction.

The most substantial difference between the two philosophers lies in the difference of Wolffian elements and Leibnizian monads: while former are units of force, latter are units of perception. Yet, here Wolff is actually preferring earlier works of Leibniz to his monadology. That is, Leibniz does suggest in some texts that the ultimate elements of world are essentially forces, but in later works the more famous idea of monads as perspectives to the whole world becomes more apparent.

Still, the true novelty in the Wolffian philosophy was its systematic form, which was the ideal that many philosophers of the time tried to achieve – and which haunted even the later German idealists. Of course, this systematicity was also the reason why Wolff became so scorned by later philosophers- it is easy to see the gaps in the argumentation and unwarranted presuppositions, when the ideas are at least presented in the form of an axiomatic system. Similar faults in Leibniz are more difficult to uncover, due to the fractured nature of his philosophy – although they do surface in his letters to other philosophers, such as Samuel Clarke, who dare to question the ultimate presuppositions of Leibnizian philosophy.

Still, it is probably this fragmentary character that has kept the name of Leibniz alive through the ages – everyone can find something to appreciate in his philosophy. In the days of German enlightenment he was seen as a mediator between atheistic materialism and irrational fideism. Although Kant was against traditional metaphysics, he still appreciated Leibnizian ideas on the capacities and limits of human knowledge. German idealists became fascinated by his insistence on life and consciousness constituting the fundamental essence of the world. Although Russell bewared grandiose philosophical theories, he could still praise Leibniz's logical works. And if philosophy for philosophy's sake loses the remnants of its former glory, I am sure someone will get excited of the idea of scientific circus.

So much for the digression on Leibniz. In next post, the regular schedule will continue with yet another book of Wolff, this time on ethics.

2 kommenttia:

  1. Someone should find out what Leibniz-texts Wolff read as only a few of them was published at the time...

  2. At least the correspondence between Leibniz and Wolff concentrated mainly on mathematical issues. I'd wager Wolff must have read at least Theodicy and Clarke-Leibniz -correspondence - at least his own metaphysics shows clear influence of these writings.