Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Discourse on metaphysics, correspondence with Arnauld and monadology, with an introduction by Paul Janet ... tr. by George R. Montgomery online

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Online LibraryGottfried Wilhelm LeibnizDiscourse on metaphysics, correspondence with Arnauld and monadology, with an introduction by Paul Janet ... tr. by George R. Montgomery → online text (page 1 of 22)
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The present volume of Leibniz's writings, which now takes
its place in the "Philosophical Classics" alongside the works of
Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, and Immanuel Kant, is made up
of three separate treatises: (i) The Discourse on Meta-
physics, (2) Leibniz's Correspondence with Arnauld, and
(2) The Monadology. Together they form a composite and
logical whole, and afford an excellent survey of Leibniz's
thought. The first two, the Metaphysics and the Corre-
spondence with Arnauld, have never before been translated
into English, while the translation of the Monadology is new.
The thanks of the public for this translation are due to Dr.
George R. Montgomery, instructor in philosophy in Yale
University, and for the suggestion of making the translation
to Dr. G. M. Duncan, professor of philosophy in Yale Univer-
sity. The clear and admirable resume of the history of
philosophy in Libniz's time and of his own system from the
pen of the late Paul Janet, Member of the French Institute,
was added at the suggestion of the editor. Thus with the
index, all the necessary material has been furnished in this
volume for a comprehension of the thought of one of the most
versatile geniuses the world has produced.

"What a marvellously gifted man Leibniz was!" admirably
remarks Dr. Duncan. ' 'The king of Prussia truly said of him,
'He represents in himself a whole Academy' ; and George I. of
England was quite justified in saying, 'I count myself happy
in possessing two kingdoms, in one of which I have the honor
of reckoning a Leibniz, and in the other a Newton, among my
subjects. ' A brilliant mathematician, contesting with Newton
the honor of discovering the Calculus; a gifted psychologist
and epistemologist, equalling and surpassing, in his New
Essays, Locke's famous Essay; a profound theologian, writing
the most famous book on Theodicy which has ever been printed ;
a learned historian, producing a history of the House of
Brunswick commended by Gibbon himself; a far-sighted
statesman and diplomatist, honored at several of the most
powerful courts of Europe; a great philosopher, founder of


modern German speculative philosophy and worthy to be
named with Kant himself; and, withal, an eminent scientist,
'a man of science, in the modern sense, of the first rank,' as
Professor Huxley calls him, these are a few of his claims to
consideration. ' '

And the same author remarks as to the value of the present
selection from his writings:

"The profound and quickening thought of this most com-
prehensive thinker since Aristotle was never presented by him
in a more simple and untechnical form than in his Discourse
on Metaphysics and the correspondence with Arnauld relating
thereto. These together with the Monadology, the last sys-
tematic presentation of his philosophy written by him a quarter
of a century later, are here, at a nominal price, made accessible
to the general reading public and to university students. If
one will read these letters between Leibniz and Arnauld, and
then the Discourse on Metaphysics, and finally the Monad-
ology and that is the best order in which to read the book
one will be introduced in the simplest and the best possible
way to Leibniz's philosophy. The Discourse on Metaphysics
is probably the best account of his philosophy which he ever
wrote. His views underwent but little modification between
the writing of the Discourse of Metaphysics and the writing
of the Monadology. The only important difference is in the
introduction in the latter of a more artificial terminology."

In the present volume, therefore, The Open Court Pub-
lishing Company hopes to have rendered a considerable service
to the philosophical public.


August 20, 1902.




LEIPZIG ; Frontispiece






When Descartes, in the first half of the seventeenth century,
said that there are only two kinds of things or substances
in nature, namely, extended substances and thinking substances,
or bodies and spirits ; that, in bodies, everything is reducible to
extension with its modifications of form, divisibility, rest and
motion, while in the soul everything is reducible to thinking
with its various modes of pleasure, pain, affirmation, reason-
ing, will, etc. . . ; when he in fact reduced all nature to a
vast mechanism, outside of which there is nothing but the
soul which manifests to itself its existence and its independ-
ence through the consciousness of its thinking, he brought
about the most important revolution in modern philosophy. To
understand its significance however an account must be given
of the philosophical standpoint of the time.

In all the schools at that time the dominant theory was that
of the Peripatetics, altered by time and misunderstood, the
theory of substantial forms. It posited in each kind of sub-
stance a special entity which constituted the reality and the
specific difference of that substance independently of the rela-
tion of its parts. For example, according to a Peripatetic of the
time, "fire differs from water not only through the position of
its parts but through an entity which belongs to it quite dis-
tinct from the materials. When a body changes its condition,
there is no change in the parts, but one form is supplanted by
another."* Thus, when water becomes ice, the Peripatetics
claimed that a new form substituted itself in place of the pre-
ceding form to constitute a new body. Not only did they
admit primary or basal entities, or substantial forms to explain
the differences in substances, but for small changes also, and
for all the sensible qualities they had what were called acci-
dental forms: thus hardness, heat, light were beings quite
different from the bodies in which they were found.

*L- P. I/agrange, Les Principes de la Philosophie contre les Nouveaux
Philosophes. See Bouillier's Histoire de la Philosophie Cariesienne, Vol.
I. Chap. 26.



To avoid the difficulties inherent in this theory, the School-
men were led to adopt infinite divisions among the substantial
forms. In this way the Jesuits of Coimbre admitted three kinds
of these forms: first, the being which does not receive its exist-
ence from a superior being and is not received into an inferior
subject, this being is God ; second, the forces which receive
their being from elsewhere without being themselves received
into matter, these are the forms which are entirely free from
any corporeal concretion ; third, the forms dependent in every
respect, which obtain their being from a superior cause and
are received into a subject, these are the accidents and the
substantial forms which determine matter.

Other Schoolmen adopted divisions still more minute and
distinguished six classes of substantial forms, as follows: first,
the forms of primary matter or of the elements ; second, those
of inferior compounds, like stones ; third, those of higher com-
pounds, like drugs ; fourth those of living beings, like plants ;
fifth, those of sensible beings, like animals; sixth, above all
the rest, the reasoning (rationalis) substantial form which is
like the others in so far as it is the form of a body but which
does not derive from the body its special function of thinking.

Some have thought, perhaps, that Moliere, Nicole, Male-
branche and all those who in the seventeenth century ridiculed
the substantial forms, calumniated the Peripatetic Schoolmen
and gratuitously imputed absurdities to them. But they
should read the following explanation, given by Toletus, of
the production of fire: "The substantial form of fire," says
Toletus, "is an active principle by which fire with heat for an
instrument produces fire." Is not this explanation even more
absurd than the -virtus dormitivaf The author goes on to
raise an objection, that fire does not always come from fire.
To explain this he proceeds, "I reply that there is the great-
est difference between the accidental and the substantial forms.
The accidental forms have not only a repugnance but a
definite repugnance, as between white and black, while
between substantial forms there is a certain repugnance but it
is not definite, because the substantial form repels equally all
things. Therefore it follows that white which is an accidental
form results only from white and not from black, while fire
can result from all the substantial forms capable of producing it
in air, in water or in any other thing."


The theory of substantial or accidental forms did more than
to lead to nonsense like the above ; it introduced errors which
stood in the way of any clear investigation of real causes. For
example, since some bodies fell toward the earth while others
rose in the air, it was said that gravity was the substantial form
of the former and lightness of the latter. Thus heavy and
light bodies were distinguished as two classes of bodies having
properties essentially different, and they were kept from the
inquiry whether these apparently different phenomena did not
have an identical cause and could not be explained by the same
law. It was thus again that seeing water rise in an empty
tube, instead of inquiring under what more general fact this
phenomena could be subserved, they imagined a -virtue, an
occult quality, a hatred on the part of the vacuum, and this
not only concealed the ignorance under a word void of sense
but it made science impossible because a metaphor was taken
for an explanation.

So great had become the abuse of the substantial forms, the
occult qualities, the sympathetic virtues, etc., that it was a
true deliverance when Gassendi on the one hand and Descartes
on the other founded a new physics on the principle that there
is nothing in the body which is not contained in the mere
conception of bodies, namely extension. According to these
new philosopners all the phenomena of bodies are only modi-
fications of extension and should be explained by the proper-
ties inherent in extension, namely, form, position, and motion.
Upon this principle nothing happens in bodies of which the
understanding is not able to form a clear and distinct idea.
Modern physics seems to have partially confirmed this theory,
when it explains sound and light by movements (vibrations,
undulations, oscillations, etc.), either of air or of ether

It has often been said that the march of modern science has
been in the opposite direction from the Cartesian philosophy,
in that the latter conceives of matter as a dead and inert sub-
stance while the former represents it as animated by forces,
activities and energies of every kind. This it seems to me is
to confuse two wholly different points of view, that is the phys-
ical and the metaphysical points of view. The fact seems to
be that from the physical point of view, science has rather
followed the line of Descartes, reducing the number of occult
qualities and as far as possible explaining all the phenomena


in terms of motion. In this way all the problems tend to
become problems of mechanics ; change of position, change of
form, change of motion these are the principles to which our
physicists and our chemists have recourse whenever they can.
It is therefore wrong to say that the Cartesian line of
thought has completely failed and that modern science has
been moving away from it more and more. On the contrary
we are witnessing the daily extension of mechanicalism in the
science of our time. The question takes on a different phase
when it is asked whether mechanicalism is the final word of
nature, whether it is self-sufficient, in fact whether the princi-
ples of mechanicalism are themselves mechanical. This is a
wholly metaphysical question and does not at all affect positive
science ; for the phenomena will be explained in the same way
whether matter is thought of as inert, composed of little par-
ticles which are moved and combined by invisible hands, or
whether an interior activity and a sort of spontaneity is
attributed to them. For the physicist and for the chemist,
forces are only words representing unknown causes. For the
metaphysician they are real activities. It is metaphysics,
therefore, and not physics which is rising above mechanicalism.
It is in metaphysics that mechanicalism has found, not its
contradiction, but its completion through the doctrine of dyn-
amism. It is this latter direction that philosophy has mainly
taken since Descartes and in this the prime mover was

* We give here in a note the resume of Leibniz's life and the names of
his principal works. Leibniz (Gottfried Wilhelm) was born at Leipzig in
1646. He lost his father at the age of six years. From his very infancy he
gave evidence of remarkable ability. At fifteen years of age he was ad-
mitted to the higher branches of study (philosophy and mathematics) which
he pursued first at Leipzig and then at Jena. An intrigue not very well
understood prevented his obtaining his doctor's degree at Leipzig and he
obtained it from the small university of Altdorf near Nuremberg, where he
made the acquaintance of Baron von Boineburg, who became one of his
most intimate friends and who took him to Frankfort. Here he was named
as a councillor of the supreme court in the electorate of Mainz, and wrote
his first two works on j urisprudence. The Study of Law and The Reform of
the Corpus Juris. At Frankfort also were written his first literary and
philosophical works and notably his two treatises on motion: Abstract Mo-
tion, addressed to the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and Concrete Motion,
addressed to the Royal Society at London. He remained with the Elector
till the year 1672, when he began his journeys. He first went to Paris and
then to London, where he was made a member of the Royal Society. Re-
turning to Paris he remained till 1677, when he made a trip through Hol-
land, and finally took up his residence at Hanover, where he was appointed
director of the library. At Hanover he lived for ten years, leading a very


In order to understand Leibniz's system we must not forget a
point to which sufficient attention has not been paid, namely,
that Leibniz never gave up or rejected the mechanicalism of
Decartes. He always affirmed that everything in nature
could be explained mechanically ; that, in the explanation of
phenomena, recourse must never be had to occult causes ; so
far indeed did he press this position that he refused to admit
Newton's attraction of gravitation, suspecting it of being an
occult quality : while, however, Leibniz admitted with Descartes
the application of mechanicalism he differed from him in regard
to the basis of it and he is continually repeating that if every-
thing in nature is mechanical, geometrical and mathematical
the source of mechanicalism is in metaphysics.*

Descartes explained everything geometrically and mechani-

busy life. He contributed to the founding of the Ada Eruditorum, a sort of
journalof learning. From 168710 1691,31 the request ofhis patron, Duke
Ernst-Augustus, he was engaged in searching various archives in Ger-
many and Italy for the writing of the history of the house of Brunswick. To
him the Academy of Berlin, of which he was the first president, owes its
foundation. The last fifteen years of his life were given up principally to
philosophy. In this period must be placed the New Essays, the "Theodicy,
the Monadology, and also his correspondence with Clarke, which was
interrupted by his death November 14, 1716. For fuller details, see
Guhrauer's learned and complete biography, 2 yols, Breslau, 1846. During
the life-time of Leibniz, aside from the articles in journals, only some five
of his writings were published, including his doctor's thesis, De Principle
Individui (1663), and the Theodicee (1710). After his death (1716) all his papers
were deposited in the library at Hanover, where they are to-day, a great
part of them (15,000 letters) still unpublished. In 1717-1719 appeared the
Correspondence with Locke; in 1720 a German translation of the Mon-
adology; in 1765 his Oeuvres Philosophiques, etc., includingthe New Essays on
the Human understanding; in 1768 Duten's edition of his works in six vol-
umes; in 1840 appeared Erdmann's edition of his works, including among
other unpublished writings the original French of the Monadology. The
Correspondence with Arnauld and the Treatise on Metaphysics were first
published by Grotefend in 1840. Gerhardt published Leibniz's math-
ematical works 1843 to 1863, and the Philosophical Works (seven volumes),
1875-1890. In 1900 Paul Janet, who had already published the Philosophical
Works (1866) in two volumes, brought out a second edition, revised and en-
larged. The first English translation of Leibniz's works was made by
Professor G. M. Duncan, who included in one volume all of the better
known shorter works (1890). This was followed in 1896 with a translation
of the New Essays by A. G. Langley. Latta's translation of some of the
shorter works, including the Monadology, has earned a well-merited reputa-
tion, and Russell's work on Leibniz's philosophy contains much that is
suggestive to a translator.

'Letter to Schulemburg (Dutens, T. Ill, p. 332): "The Cartesians rightly
felt that all particular phenomena of bodies are produced mechanically, but
they failed to see that the sources of mechanicalism in turn arise in some
other cause." Letter to Reniond de Montmort (Erdman, Opera Philo-
sophica,^. 702): "When I seek for the ultimate reasons of mechanicalism
and the laws of motion I am surprised to discover that they are not to be
found in mathematics and that we must turn to metaphysics." See also:
De Natura Ipsa, 3; De Origine Radicali; Animadversiones in Cartesiunt
Guhrauer, p. 80), etc.


cally, that is by extension, form, and motion, just as Democritus
had done before ; but he did not go farther, finding in exten-
sion the very essence of corporeal substance. Leibniz's genius
showed itself when he pointed out that extension does not
suffice to explain phenomena and that it has need itself of an
explanation. Brought up in the scholastic and peripatetic
philosophy, he was naturally predisposed to accord more of
reality to the corporeal substance, and his own reflections soon
carried him much farther along the same line.

It is also worth noticing, as Guhrauer has said in his Life of
Leibniz, that it was a theological problem which put Leibniz
upon the track of reforming the conception of substance. The
question was rife as to the real presence in transubstantia-
tion. This problem seemed inexplicable upon the Cartesian
hypothesis, for if the essence of a body is its extension, it is a
contradiction that the same body can be found in several places
at the same time. Leibniz, writing to Arnauld in 1671, says
he thinks he has found the solution to this great problem, since
he has discovered ' 'that the essence of a body does not consist
in extension, that the corporeal substance, even taken by
itself, is not extension and is not subject to the conditions of
extension. This would have been evident if the real character
of substance had been discovered sooner."

Leaving aside this point, however, the following are the
different considerations which led Leibniz to admit non-
mechanical principles as above corporeal mechanicalism, and to
reduce the idea of the body to the idea of active indivisible sub-
stances, entelechies or monads, having innate within them-
selves the reason for all their determinations.

i. The first and principal reason which Leibniz brings up
against Descartes is that, "If all that there is in bodies is
extension and the position of the parts, then when two bodies
come into contact and move on together after the contact,
that one which was in motion will carry along the body at rest
without losing any of its velocity, and the difference in the sizes
of the bodies will effect no change," which is contrary to expe-
rience. A body in motion which comes in contact with one at
rest loses some of its velocity and its direction is modified,
which would not happen if the body were purely passive.
"Higher conceptions must therefore be added to extension,
namely, the conceptions of substance, action and force ; these


latter carry the idea that that which suffers action, acts recipro-
cally and that that which acts is reacted upon." *

2. Extension cannot serve to give the reason for the
changes which take place in bodies, for extension with its
various modifications constitutes what is called in the school
terminology extrinsic characteristics, whence nothing can result
for the being itself ; whether a body be round or square does
not affect its interior condition, nor can any particular change
result for it. f Furthermore every philosophy which is exclu-
sively mechanical is obliged to deny change and to hold that
everything is changeless and that there are only modifications
of position or displacements in space or motion. Who does
not see, however, that motion itself is a change, and should
have its reason in the being which moves or which is moved,
for even passive motion must correspond to something in the
essence of the body moved? Besides if corporeal elements
differ from one another through form, why have they one form
rather than any other? Epicurus talks to us of round and
hooked atoms. Why is a certain atom round and another
hooked? Should not the reason be in the very substance of the
atom? Therefore form, position, motion and all the extrinsic
modifications of bodies should emanate from an internal
principle analogous to that which Aristotle calls nature or
entelechy. \

3. Extension cannot be substance. On the contrary it pre-
supposes substance. "Aside from extension there must be a
subject which is extended, that is, a substance to which con-
tinuity appertains. For extension signifies only a continued
repetition or multiplication of that which is expanded, a plu-
rality, a continuity or co-existence of parts and consequently it
does not suffice to explain the real nature of expanded or repeated
substance whose conception precedes that of repetition."

4. Another reason given by Leibniz is that the conception of

* Letter, Whether the essence of bodies consists in extension, 1691 (Erd-
maim, Vol. 27, p. 112).

&uur>iiiui_c aiiuuiu. ivClici LU .ni uduiu*

\Confessio Naturae Contra Artheista, 1668, Erdm., p. 45. Leibniz in
this little treatise proves: ist, that bodies and indeed atoms have not in
themselves the reason for their forms; 2d, that they have not the reason for
their motion: 3d, that they have not the reason for their coherence.

Extract from a letter (Erdmann, Vol. 28, p. 115): Examination of the
principles of Malebranche (Erdmanu, p. 692).


substance necessarily implies the idea of unity. No one thinks
that two stones very far apart form a single substance. If now
we imagine them joined and soldered together, will this juxta-
position change the nature of things? Of course not; there
will always be two stones and not a single one. If now we
imagine them attached by an irresistible force, the 'impossibility
of separating them will not prevent the mind from distin-
guishing them and will not prevent their remaining two and
not one. In a word every compound is no more a single sub-
stance than is a pile of sand or a sack of wheat. We might
as well say that the employees of the India Company formed
a single substance.* It is evident therefore that a compound
is never a substance and in order to find the real substance we
must attain unity or the indivisible. To say that there are no

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Online LibraryGottfried Wilhelm LeibnizDiscourse on metaphysics, correspondence with Arnauld and monadology, with an introduction by Paul Janet ... tr. by George R. Montgomery → online text (page 1 of 22)