Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

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The Monadology, New System of Nature, Principles of Nature and

of Grace, Letters to Clarke, Refutation of Spinoza, and his

other important philosophical opuscules, together

with the Abridgment of the Theodicy and

extracts from the New Essays on

Human Understanding.





Instructor in Mental and Moral philosophy, Yale University.





Copyright, 1890,


TuTTLE, Morehouse & Taylor.
^ 3 ^2-y,


This translation of the more important pliilosophical works of Leibnitz
furnishes much needed assistance to all teachers of philosophy and its
history, in this country or in England. Until recently no collection, at
once complete and trustworthy, of the writings of this great and versatile
thinker has ever been made. The magnificent edition of Gerhardt has now
rendered it possible for the translator to select, from all the recorded
philosophical utterances of Leibnitz (including his voluminous and elaborate
letters), those portions which will give the most satisfactory survey of his
system of thinking. The selections of the present volume appear judicious ;
they are sufficient to afford a tolerably comprehensive and circumstantial
account of this system.

It is not, however, to teachers of philosophy alone that I commend this
volume. The interests and scholarship of Leibnitz were unexampled as
respects range and variety. He was eminent in mathematics, physical
science, languages, history, theology, philosophy, and belles-lettres. Even
his more definitely philosophical writings are framed in accordance with
this varied eminence. They therefore contain much which appeals to any
person who is inclined at all to approach the problems of philosophy, from
whatever point of view. Their style is free from certain characteristics
which lovers of good literature often find repulsive in works of more
definitely pedagogical, or systematic and technical, character. Indeed, the
principal tenets of Leibnitz are all to be discovered, at least in their inchoate
form, in his interesting and instructive letters to various notable persons of
his day.

It has not been possible for me to compare any considerable portion of this
translation with the original. But my confidence in Mr. Duncan's compe-
tence and accuracy of scholarship is so great that I have no doubt of its

It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to welcome, and to aid in introduc-
ing this book. It certainly fills— and, I believe, it well fills— an important
gap in our philosophical literature.

George Trumbull Ladd.
Yale University, December, 1890.


Pag© ^
X— On the Philosophy of Descartes, 1679-1680, . . . . \^

II— Notes on Spinoza's ^^Tiics, c. 1679, ^rT ' .... 11

^11— Thoughts on Knowledge, Truth and Ideas, 1684, X . . . 27 n

IV— On a General Principle useful in the Explanation of the Laws of

Nature, 1687, . . . . . . . 33^"^

V— Statement of personal views on Metaphysics and Physics, 1690, . 37 >^y
YJ — Does the Essence of Body consist in extension? 1691, . . 41 ^

VII — Animadversions on Descartes' Principles of Philosophy, books 1 ,

■^ and 3, 1692, 46K

VIII — Reply of Leibnitz to the Extract of the Letter of Foucher, canon ^>»

x..,^^^ of Dijon, published in the Journal des Savans of March 16, 1693, 64

IX— On the Philosophy of Descartes, 1693, .... 66 /^

VX — On the reform of Metaphysics and of the Notion of Substance,

1694, . . . . . . . . .68

"-XI — A New System of Nature, and of the Interaction of Substances,
as well as of the Union which exists between the Soul and the
V Body, 1695, . . ." . . . . . 71 ^ "

XII — The Reply of Foucher to Leibnitz concerning his New System,

1695, "- -8l't-^

XIII— Explanation of the New System, 1695, .... 85 /

XIV— Second Explanation of the New System, 1696, . . . 90 ^

^V— Third Explanation of the New System, 1696, ... 92 '""'

^k^VI — Observations on Locke's Essay on Human Understanding, 1696, 94

^^VII- On the Ultimate Origin of Things, 1697, 100

2rVIII — On Certain Consequences of the Philosophy of Descartes, 1797, lOli^
XIX— On Nature in Itself, 1698, . . . . . .112

XX— Ethical Definitions, 1697-1698, 137

XXI — On the Cartesian Demonstration of the Existence of God, 1700- ^

1701, 133

^Xll — Considerations on the Doctrine of a Universal Spirit, 1702, . 139
^^XIII — On the Supersensible in Knowledge and on the Immaterial in t

Nature, 1702, 149^

XXIV — Explanation of Points in his Philosophy, 1704,
XXV -On the Principle of Life, 170o, ....
^^X VI— Necessity an^jContingeney, 1707, . . .

^XVII — Refutation of Spinoza, c. 1708,
I^XV^n — Remarks on the Doctrine of Malebranche, 1708,
XXIX— On the Active Force of the Body, the Soul, and the Souls of

Brutes, 1710,

XXX— Abridgment of the Theodicy, 1710, .
XXXI— On Wisdom— the Art of Reasoning, etc., 1711,
i^XXII— The Principles of Nature and of Grace, 1714, .

XXXIII— The Monadology, f}'14, "^ .
^XXXIV— On the Doctrine of Malebranche, 1715, .
^ XXXV— Five Letters to Samuel Clarke, 1716,

XXXVI — Extracts from tik)3 Nouveaux Essais, 1704,







209 Un

218 ..^



Notes. . . 1 . . . . . . 363

"One day I happened to say that the Cartesian philosophy in so far as
it was true was but the ante-chamber of the true philosophy. A gentleman
of the company who frequented the Court, who was a man of some reading
and who even took part in discussion on the sciences, pushed the figure to
an allegory and perhaps a little too far ; for he asked me thereupon, if I did
not believe that it might be said that the ancients had shown us the stairs,
that the modem school had come as far as into the ante-chamber, and that
he should wish me the honor of introducing us into the cabinet of nature ?
This tirade of parallels made us all laugh, and I said to him ' You see, sir,
that your comparison has pleased the company ; but you have forgotten
that there is the audience chamber between the ante-chamber and the
cabinet, and that it will be enough if we obtain audience without pretending
to penetrate into the interior.'"

Leibnitz, Letter to a friend on Cartesianism, 1695.



On the Philosophy of Descartes. 1679-1680.
[From the French,]

As to the Philosoplij of Descartes, of wliich you ask my
opinion, I do not hesitate to say absolutely that it leads to atheism.
It is true that there are some things very suspicious to me who
have considered it attentively : for example, these two passages,
that final cause ought not to be considered in physics, and that
matter takes successively all the forms of which it is capable.
There is an admirable passage in the Phaedo of Plato which justly
blames Anaxagoras for the very thing which displeases me in
Descartes. For myself, I believe that the laws of mechanics which
serve as a basis for the whole system depend on final causes ; that
is to say, on the will of God determined to make what is most per-
fect, and that matter does not take all possible forms but only the
most perfect ; otherwise it would be necessary to say that there
will be a time when all will be evil in turn, which is far removed
from the perfection of the author of things. As for the rest, if
Descartes had been less given to imaginary hypotheses and if he
had been more attached to experiments, I think that his physics
would have been worthy of being followed. For it must be
admitted that he had great penetration. As for his geometry and
analysis they are far from being as perfect as those pretend who
are given but to the investigation of minor problems. There are
^veral errors in his metaphysics, and he has not known the true
source of truths nor that general analysis of notions which Jung,
in my opinion, has better understood than he.' Nevertheless, I
confess that the reading of Descartes is very useful and very

instructive, and that I like incomparably more to have to do with
a Cartesian than with a man from some other school. Finally, I
consider this philosophy as the ante-chamber of the true philos-
ophy. — Extract from a letter to Philipp^ 1679.

I esteem Descartes almost as highly as it is possible to esteem a
man, and although there are among his opinions some which
appear to me false and even dangerous, I do not hesitate to say
that we owe almost as much to Galileo and to him in matters
of philosophy'"as to all antiquity. I remember at present but
one of the two dangerous propositions of which you wish me to
indicate the place, viz : Principiorum Philosophicorum Part. 3^
Articulo ^7, his verbis : " Atque omnino parum refert, quid hoc
pacto supponatur, quia postea jnsta leges naturae est mutandnm.
Et vix aliquid supponi potest ex quo non idem effectus, quanquam
fortasse operosius, deduci possit. Cum enim. illarum ope materia
formas omnes quarum est capax successive assumat, si f ormas istas
ordine consideremus, tandem ad illam quae est hujus mundi pote-
rimus devenire, adeo ut hie nihil erroris ex falsa hypothesi sit
timendum." 1 do not think that it is possible. to form a more dan-
gerous proposition than this. For if matter receive successively
all possible forms it would follow that nothing so absurd, so strange
and contrary to what we call justice, could be imagined, which has
not occurred or would not some day occur. These are exactly the
opinions which Spinoza has more clearly explained, namely, that
justice, beanty, order belong only to things in relation to us, but
that the perfection of God consists in a fullness of action such that
nothing can be possible or conceivable which he does not actually
produce. This is also the opinion of Hobbes who maintains that
all that is possible is past, or present, or future, and that there will
be no room for relying on providence if God produces all and
makes^ no choice among possible beings. Descartes took care not
to speak so plainly, but he could not help revealing his opinions in
passing, with such address that he would not be understood save by
those who examine profoundly these kinds of subjects. This, in
my opinion, is the npajzov i[;€udo^, the foundation of atheistic
philosophy, which does not cease to say things beautiful in appear-
ance of God. But the true philosophy ought to give us an entirely
different notion of the perfection of God which could serve us

both in physics- and in morals ; and I, for my part, hold that f£^r
from -.excluding fijaal_causes from the consideration of physic^ as
Descartes pretends, Part 1, Article 28, it is rather by them that all ^
should be determined, since the efficient cause .oithingsis intelli-
gent, havmg~alwTirand consequently tending toward the Good, that
which is still farlrcm the opinion of Descartes who holds that
goodness, truth and justice are so simply because God by a free act
of his will has established them, which is very strange. For if
things are not good or bad, save by an effect of the will of God,
tlii^OTjd will"ff6Tl)e a motive of his will since it is subsequent to
the will. And his will would be a certain absolute decree, with-
out reason; here are his own words, Ites'p. ad object, sext. n. 8:
" Attendenti ad Dei immensitatem manifestum est, nihil omnino
esse posse quod ad ipso nor pendeat, non modo nihil subsistens, sed "
etiam nullum ordinem, nu.lam legam, nuUamve rationem Veri et
l)oni, alioqui enim, ut pailo ante dicebatur, non fuisset plane
indifferens ad ea creanda qi ae creavit [he was then indifferent as
^"(^gards tij^e things which A'e call just an^. unjust, and if it had
(eased him to create a world in which th**^ffood had been forever
nhappy and the wicked (diat is to sayv^tho^e who seek only to
-istroy the others) happy, that would be^just. Thus we cannot
letennine anything as to the justice of God, and it may be that he
has made things in a way which ^^e call jinjust, since there is no
notion of justice as respects him, and turns out that we are
unhappy in spite of our p ety, or that the soul perishes with the
body, this will also be just.— -He continues] : jS"am si quae ratio
l)oni ejus per ordinationen antecessisset, ilia ipsum determinasset
• n it qiiod optimum est faciendum [without doubt, and this is the
of providence and of all our hopes; namely, that there is
•juiething good and just n itseK, and that God, being Wisdom
-iself, does not fail to choose the best]. Sed contra quod se deter-
minavit"ad ea jam sunt ficienda, idcirco, ut habetur in Genesi,
imt valde bona [this is cros.^ reasoning. If things are not good by
ny idea or notion of goodness in themselves, but because God
rills them, God, in Genesis-, had but to consider them when they
ere made and to be sajfsded with his work, saying that all was
good ; it would have sufficed for liim to say, T will it, or to have
remembered that he willed them, if there is no formal difference
I'etween the two things, to be willed by Gp^vand to be good. But

it is apparent that the author of Genesis was of another opinion,
introducing a God who would not be content with having niadt
them unless he found further that, he had made them well.] hoc
est ratio eorum bonitatis ex eo pendet, quod voluerit ipsa sic facere.''
This is as distinct an expression as one could desire. But after
this it is useless to speak of the goodness and justice of God, and
providence will be but a chimera. It is evident that even the will
of God will be but a fiction employed to daz5:le those who do not
sufficiently strive to fathom these things. For what kind of a will
(good God!) is that which has not the Good as object or motive?
What is more this God will not even have understanding. For if
truth itself depends only on the will of God and not on the nature
of things, and the understanding being necessarily .before the will
(I speak de jprioritate naturae^ non ternjporis), the understanding of
God will be before the truth of things and consequently will not
have truth for its object. Such an understanding is undoubtedly
nothing but a chimera, and consequently it will be necessary to
conceive God, after the manner of Spinoza, as a being who has
neither understanding nor will, but who produces quite indiffer-
ently good or bad, and who is indifferent respecting things t.nd
dShsequently inclined by no reason toward one rather than the
other. Thus, he will either do nothing or he will do all. But to saV
that such a God has made things, or to say that they have been pro-
duced by a blind necessity, the one, it seems to me, is as good as the
other. I have been sorry myself to find these things in Descartes,
but I have seen no means of excusing them. I wish he could clear
himself from these, as well as from some other imputations with
which Morus and Parker have charged him. For to wish to
explain everything mechanically in physics is not a crime nor
impiety, since God has made all things according to the laws of
mathematics ; that is, according to the eternal truths which are the
object of wisdom.

There are still many other things in the works of Descartes
which I consider erroneous and by which I judge that he has not
penetrated so far in advance as is imagined. For example, in
geometry, I do not really believe that he has made any paralogism
(as you inform me that some one has said to you) ; he was a suffi-
ciently skillful man to avoid that, and you see by this that I judge
him equitably: but hf^ Iirk pweA thrmurh t/>n much presumption,

holding all for impossible at which he saw no means of arriving ;
for example, he believed it was impossible to find a proportion
between a curved line and a straight line. Here are his own
words : Lib. ^, Geom., articnlo 9 fin. editionis Schotenianae de
cmno, 1659^ jp. 39 : cum ratio quae inter rectas et curvas existit,
non cognita sit nee etiam ah hominihus ut arhitror cognosci queat.
In which, estimating the powers of all posterity by his own, he
was very mnch mistaken. For a little while after his death a
method was found of giving an infinity of curved lines to which
could be geometrically assigned equal straight lines. He would
have perceived it himself if he had considered sufficiently the dex-
terity of Archimedes. He is persuaded that all problems may be
reduced to equations {quo modo per inethodum qua utor, inquit,
p. 96, lib. 3, Geom., id omne quod sub Geometricam contempla-
tioneiYh cadit^ ad uhum idemque genus jproblematum reducatur^
quod est ut quaeratur valor radicum alicujus aequationis). This
is wholly false, as Huygens, Hudde and others who thoroughly
understand Descartes' geometry, have frankly avowed to me.
This is why there is need of much before algebra can do all that is
promised for her. I do not speak lightly and there are few people
who have examined the matter with as much care as I.

The physics of Descartes has a great defect ; this is that his rules
of motion or laws of nature, which should serve as its foundation,
are for the most part false. There is demonstration of th^. His
great principle also that the same quantity of motion is preserved
in the world is an error. What I say here is acknowledged by the
ablest men of France and England.

Judge from this, sir, whether there is reason for taking the opin-
ions of Descartes for oracles. But this does not hinder me from con-
sidering him an admirable man, and for saying between ourselves
that if he still lived perhaps he alone would advance farther in
physics than a great number of others, although very able men. That
befalls me here which ordinarily befalls moderate men. The Peripa-
tetics regard me as a Cartesian, and the Cartesians are surprised
that I do not yield to all their pretended lights. For when I speak
to prepossessed men of th^ school who treat Descartes with scorn, I
extol the brilliancy of his qualities ; but when I have to do with a
too zealous Cartesian I find myself obliged to change my note in
order to modify a little the too high opinion which they have of their


master. The greatest men of the time in these matters are not Car-
tesians, or if they have been in their youth they have gotten over it,
and I notice among the people who make a profession of philos-
ophy and of mathematics, that those who are properly Cartesians
ordinarily remain among the mediocre and invent nothing of
importance, being but commentators of their master, although for
the rest they may be more able than the man of the school. —
Letter to Philipp, Jan., 1680.

[The following is an extract from a letter of about the same date as the
preceding and on the same subject, written to an unknown correspondent.]

Sir, since you desire very much that I express freely my
thoughts on Cartesianism, I shall not conceal aught of what I think
of it, and which I can say in few words ; and I shall advance noth-
ing 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 sus-
pected 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 iDelongs
only to small minds who have not the force or the leisure to medi-
tate 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 trans-
mitted it to them.

Descartes himself had a sufiiciently 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 abstracfj
like his metaphysics and his geometry, or too imaginary, like his prin-
ciples of natural philosophy. The only thing of use which he be-
lieved he had given was his telescope, made according to the hyper-
bolic line, with which he promised^to make us see animals, or parts as
small as animals, in the moon. Unfortunately he was never able to
find workmen capable of executing his design, and since then it
has even been demonstrated that the advantage of the hyperbolic
line is not so great as he believed. It is true that. Descartes was a
great genius and that the sciences are under great obligations to
him, but notin^the way the Cartesians believe. I must therefore
Tenter 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 com-
pound of the opinions of the Stoics and of the Epicureans,
something not very difficult, for Seneca had already reconciled
them very well. He wishes us to follow reason, or the nature of
things as the Stoics said, with which everybody will agree. He
adds that we ought not to be disturbed by the things which are not
in our power. This is exactly the dogma of the Portico which
established the greatness and liberty of their "sage, so praised for
the strength of mind which he had in resolving to do without the
things which do not depend upon us and to endure them when
they come in spite of us. It is for this reason that I am wont to
call this ethics the art of patience. The Sovereign Good, accord-
ing to the Stoics and according to Aristotle himself, was to act in
accordance with virtue or prudence, and the pleasure resulting
therefrom together with the resolution mentioned above is prop-
erly that tranquility of the soul, or indolence, which the Stoics and
Epicureans sought and equally recommended under different
names. One has only to examine the incomparable Manual of
Epictetus and the Epiottrus of Laertius to acknowledge that
Descartes has not advanced the practice of morals. But it seems
to me that this art of patience in which he makes the art of living
consist, is yet not the whole. A patience without hope does not
endure and does not console, and it is here that Plato, in my
opinion, surpasses the others, for by good arguments he makes us

hope for a better life and approaches nearest to Christianity. It is
sufficient to read the excellent dialogue on the Immortality of the
Soul or the Death of Socrates^ which Theophile has translated into
French, to conceive a high idea of it. I think that Pythagoras
did the same, and that his metempsychosis was merely to accom-
modate himself to the range of common people, but that among his
disciples he reasoned quite differently. Also Ocellus Lucanus, who
was one of them, and from whom we have a small but excellent
fragment on the universe, says not a word of it. 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 powder or primitive
nature which sets everything in action and does everything which
is feasible. The God of Descartes has neither will nor under-
standing^ since according to Descartes he has not the Good as the
object of the will nor the True as object of the understanding.
Also he does not wish that his God should act according to some

Online LibraryGottfried Wilhelm LeibnizThe philosophical works of Leibnitz ... → online text (page 1 of 38)