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GOTTFRIED WILHELM VON LEIBNIZ. References: Russell, Bertrand. 1945. The History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster. Stumpf, Samuel Enoch. 1982. Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy. 3 rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. Life and Works.

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gottfried wilhelm von leibniz



Russell, Bertrand. 1945. The History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Stumpf, Samuel Enoch. 1982. Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy. 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

life and works
Life and Works
  • Born: Leipzig, 1646.
  • Entered the University at age 13.
  • Leipzig, studied philosophy.
  • Jena, studied mathematics.
  • Altdorf, jurisprudence and doctorate in law, aged 21.
  • Lived actively in the two world of thought and action.
  • Significant works:
    • New essays in human understanding
    • Essays in theodicy
    • Discourse on metaphysics
    • New system of nature and the interaction of substances
    • Monadology
  • Died: 1716
  • Dissatisfied with Descartes and Spinoza’s description of the nature of SUBSTANCE.
    • Reason: They had distorted our understanding of HUMAN NATURE, FREEDOM, and the nature of GOD.
    • Descartes’ dualism: (2 independent substances, thought and extension)
      • Produced the impossible dilemma of trying to explain how those two substances could interact as body and mind either in man or in god.
substance 2
Substance 2
  • Spinoza: tried to solve the dilemma by saying that there is only one substance with two knowable attributes, thought and extension.
    • Implication: losing the distinction between the various elements in nature.
    • But: the world consists of many modes, in which the attributes of thought and extension appear.
    • Still: his monism is a pantheism in which God was everything and everything was part of everything else.
  • Leibniz: theirs blurred the distinction between God, man, and nature which he wanted to keep.
    • Nonetheless: accepted Spinoza’s single-substance theory and mechanical model of the universe.
      • But: presented a unique theory of one substance that he was able to speak of the individuality of persons, the transcendence of God, and the reality of purpose and freedom in the universe.
extension versus force
Extension versus force
  • Challenged Descartes and Spinoza’s theory of substance that believes on extension as implying actual size and shape.
    • For Descartes:
      • Extension refers to a material substance that is extended in space and is not divisible into something more primary.
    • For Spinoza:
      • Extension is an irreducible material attribute of God or Nature.
extension versus force 2
Extension versus force 2
  • For Leibniz:
    • Extension is divisible into smaller parts as the bodies or things are seen with our senses.
      • Question: Why can we not assume that all things are compound or aggregates?
      • “There must be simple substances, since there are compound substances, for the compound is only a collection or aggregatum of simple substances.”
    • Is he referring to Democritus’ small atoms? No.
      • Reason: Democritus had described these atoms as extended bodies, as irreducible bits of matter.
        • Implication: must be lifeless or inert and would have to get its from something outside itself.
    • Monads: the truly simple substances.
      • “the true atoms of nature… the elements of things.
monads versus atoms
Monads versus atoms
  • Atoms: extended bodies
  • Monads: force or energy
  • Implication:
    • Matter: not the primary ingredient of things
    • Monads: the primary ingredient of things with their element of force constituting the essential substance of things.
  • For emphasis: Substance must contain life or a dynamic force.
    • Democritus’ atoms: would have to be acted upon from outside itself in order to move or become part of a large cluster.
    • For Leibniz:
      • the simple substance, the monad: must be “capable of action”
      • Compound substance: the collection of monads.
  • Etymology:
    • Greek, Monas: unity, or that which is one….
    • Implication: Simple substances, lives, souls, spirits are unities. “All nature is full of life.”
  • Characteristics:
    • Unextended, they have no shape or size.
    • A point, not a mathematical or physical point but a metaphysically existent point (akin to the 20th century’s energy).
    • Independent of other monads, do not have causal relation to each other.
    • Logically prior to any corporeal forms.
      • True substances are monads called souls (to emphasize their nonmaterial nature).
    • Each monad is different from the others, each possesses its own principle of action, its own force.
      • “There is a certain sufficiency which makes them the source of their internal actions, and so to speak, incorporeal automata.
    • Independent and different plus containing the source of their activity within themselves.
    • Windowless, to emphasize that the rest of the universe does not affect their behavior.
      • Nonetheless, their orderly actions are due to some preestablished harmony.
preestablished harmony
Preestablished harmony
  • Each monad behaves in accordance with its own created purpose.
    • These windowless monads, each following its own purpose, form a unity or the ordered universe.
    • Even though each is isolated from the other, their separate purposes form a large-scale harmony.
    • Analogy: an orchestra
  • Each monad is a separate world whose activity occurs in harmony with the others.
  • Implication:
    • Each monad mirrors the whole universe in the sense that if anything “were taken away or supposed different, all things in the world would have been different” from what they are like at present.
  • Further implication:
    • Their activities are result of God’s activity, whereby this harmony is preestablished.
god s existence
God’s existence
  • Proof: the fact of a universal harmony of all things
    • Fact that impressed him: “this perfect harmony of so many substances which have no communication with each other”, saying that this harmony pointed to the existence of God with “surprising clearness,” because a harmony of many windowless substances “can only come from a common cause”.
      • Resembles the argument from design and from a first cause.
        • Leibniz modified however the argument from cause with is principle of sufficient reason.
principle of sufficient reason
Principle of sufficient reason
  • Any event can be explained by referring to a prior cause.
    • But that prior cause must itself be explained by a still earlier cause.
      • If all the causes we refer to a re alike in that hey must be caused, we could never truly explain the reason for any event.
        • It is not sufficient to point to the immediate or proximate cause, for we are left with the problem of explaining its existence.
        • Only by referring to some cause outside the series of causes, or outside the complex organization of the universe, can the solution be found for the existence of any particular thing.
      • The final reason, or the sufficient reason, for all things is found in a substance whose own existence is necessary, whose existence requires no cause or further explanation, a Being “whose essence involves existence, for this is what is meant by a necessary being”.
      • The sufficient reason for the ordinary things we experience in the world of fact lies therefore in a Being outside the series of obvious causes, in a Being whose very nature or essence is a sufficient reason for its own existence, requiring no prior cause, and this Being is God.
evil and the best of all possible worlds
Evil and the best of all possible worlds
  • The harmony of the world led Leibniz to argue not only that God had preestablished it but also that in doing this God has created the best of all possible worlds.
    • Leibniz was aware of the fact of evil and disorder but considered it compatible with the notion of a benevolent Creator.
    • The source of evil is not God but rather the very nature of things God creates, for as these things are finite or limited, they are imperfect.
    • Evil is not something substantial but merely the absence of perfection.
      • Evil is privation.
        • “God wills antecedently the good and consequently the best,” since the most that God can do, in spite of his goodness, is to create the best possible world.
      • He agrees that we cannot rightly appraise evil if we consider only the particular evil thing or event.
      • Some things that in themselves appear to be evil turn out to be prerequisites of good.
      • Events in our lives, taken by themselves, lose their true perspective.
  • Question: How can there be freedom in the determined world where God preestablishes an orderly arrangement by infusing specific purposes into the several monads?
  • To be free is when our potentialities become actual, we see things as they really are.
    • Freedom is not volition, the power of choice, but rather SELF-DEVELOPMENT, so that although one is determined to act in specific ways, it is his own internal nature that determines his acts and not outside forces.
  • Freedom means the ability to become what one is destined to be without obstructions.
    • It also means a quality of existence whereby one’s knowledge has passed from confusion to clarity.
  • The free man is one who knows why he does what he does.
knowledge and nature
Knowledge and nature
  • His deterministic view of nature is supported by his theory of knowledge.
    • A person is similar to a subject in the grammatical sense.
    • Reason: For any true statement or proposition, the predicate is already contained in the subject.
      • Thus, to know the subject is already to know certain predicates.
      • Example: “All men are mortal.” This is true because the predicate mortal is already contained in the notion of men.
    • Meaning: In any true proposition, “I find that every predicate, necessary or contingent, past, present, or future, is comprised in the notion of the subject…”
    • Similarly, in the nature of things, all substances are subjects, and the things they do are their predicates.
  • He patterned his theory of substance or metaphysics after his epistemology or theory of knowledge.
    • At the center of this argument is his notion of TRUTH.
  • Truths of reason vs. truths of fact
  • Truths of reason: purely by logic = truths of facts: experience
  • Test:
    • Truths of reason: law of contradiction = truths of facts: law of sufficient reason
  • Truth of reasons: necessary truth
    • To deny it is to involve a contradiction.
    • The very meaning of the terms used and the mode of human understanding require that certain things be true.
  • Truth of facts: contingent truth
    • Their opposite is possible without contradiction.
    • The very meaning of the terms used are known through experience.
truths of fact
Truths of fact
  • Truths of facts imply a principle of limitation.
  • The universe of facts is only a collection of certain kinds of compossibles, that is, the collection of all the existent possibles.
    • Meaning: There could be other combinations of possibles than the ones our actual universe contains.
    • Implication: The relation of the various possibles to each other requires us to understand the SUFFICIENT REASON that connects each event to another event.
    • The LAW OF SUFFICIENT REASON, which governs truths of fact, requires that these truths be verified.
      • But this verification is always partial since each preceding event in the causal chain of events must also be verified.
the first fact of the universe
The first fact of the universe
  • What about the universe?
    • How do we account for its first fact?
  • The first fact about the universe is like any other fact; it does not contain, so far as the power of human analysis is capable of discovering, any clearly necessary predicate.
    • To know its truth requires that we discover the SUFFICIENT RESON for its being what it is.
  • The final explanation of the world is that “the true cause why certain things exist rather than others is to be derived from the free decrees of the divine will….”
    • Things are as they are because God willed them to be that way.
    • Having willed some things to be what they are, He limited the number of other possibilities and determined which events can be compossible.
    • God could have willed other universes, other combination of possibilities.
    • But having willed this universe, there now exist certain necessary connections between specific events.
synthetic and analytic propositions the world of facts
Synthetic and analytic propositions: the world of facts
  • Propositions concerning the world of facts:
    • From Human reason: synthetic, require experience and verification, if we are to know their truth
    • From God: analytic, the subject already contains the predicate.
      • Only God can deduce all the predicates of any substance.
      • Implication: Only our ignorance prevents us from being able to see in any particular person all the predicate that are connected with him.
    • In the end, all truths of facts are ANALYTIC.
      • A person does already contain his predicates, so that if we really comprehend the complete notion of a person, we could deduce these predicates.
  • Logic is a key to metaphysics.
    • From the grammar of propositions, he inferred conclusions about the real world.
    • In the end, all true propositions are analytic.
    • For this reason, substances and persons are equivalent to subjects of an analytic proposition; they really contain all their predicates.
  • Ultimately, the human mind contains certain innate ideas, self-evident truths.