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The Pre-Kantian Modern Philosophy Witch Project

René Descartes
Thomas Hobbes
John Locke
Gottfried Leibniz
George Berkeley
David Hume

The Gottfried Leibniz Project


Gottfried Leibniz

THE PROJECT: To show there is no logical difficulty with maintaining God's omnipotence and the presence of evil.

This man put the "fried" in "Gottfried."

Endeavoring to solve the Problem of Evil, Leibniz argues that this really is the best of all possible worlds. To make this work, Leibniz invents Monads. For class, we read from the Theodicy and the Monadology.

Theodicy: Leibniz wants to show that there's no contradicition between God being all good and all powerful, yet evil and suffering exist in the world. Admirably, he does not take the "Free Will Defense" (God chooses to not be in control of everything). Instead, he argues that it's really for the best that evil and suffering exist, even though it may not appear that way to us.

Rather than set forth a thesis, Leibniz takes objections to a sovereign, good God and an evil world and answers them. The keystone of his argument is that this world, complete with evil and suffering, is the best world. There are a number of other, interesting side notes (like the fact that "good" animals may outweigh the evil of "evil" humans), but the best of all possible worlds argument is the Mac Daddy.

The argument goes that evil and suffering in the world actually can produce greater good that we may not be able to perceive. A world with no evil and suffering would not be as adequate as this one. Central to the debate on this question is: Is Leibniz suggesting that God was forced to make the world this way in order for it to be "the best," or does the fact that God chose to make this world this way automatically make it "the best" regardless of how we might evaluate it with our limited understanding?

This defense relies on several concepts: the Principle of Sufficient Reason, God's perfect freedom and perfect rationality in creating and ordering the world, the theoretical existence of other possible worlds, a mathematical conception of perfection, and a distinction between absolute and hypothetical necessity (this is how he tries to maintain that God is sovereign, but not responsible for man's sin (man's actions are hypothetically necessary because they come to be through an operation of man's will).

Still, Leibniz needs to work out the problem of how God can be in complete control of everything and still not be responsible for evil. Enter...

Monadology:This work provides the necessary metaphysics to make the Theodicy work.

To allow God to be sovereign and creatures to be responsible, Leibniz envisions that the world is made up of Monads -- indivisible units that are completely programmed by God in creation, but act out their programming in history as an exercise of will. Stay with me.

Mike grimaces after getting kicked in the monads.

If we momentarily suspend our shock at the finished product and start from the ground up, Monads are not as weird an idea as they first appear. First, if we decide that matter is infinitely divisible, we have a problem because, theoretically, you could subdivide matter into nothingness (NOTE: This does not necessarily follow, but Leibniz thinks it does). In order for matter to exist, there has to be a point at which you can no longer subdivide it. Ergo, indivisible units that compose substances.

Consciousness cannot arise from unconsciousness. No matter how many unthinking building blocks you put together, this will not create thought. Therefore, these building blocks must be thinking.

Therefore, all matter must be composed of indivisible, conscious units.

Even though we may not agree with all this, it is not logically far fetched. In fact, except for the "thinking units" part, Leibniz's theory is quite similar to modern atomic theory.

Monads actually exist, as opposed to being perceptions or theoretical, and they compose all matter. Monads are "windowless" which means that they are completely self-contained: nothing actually interacts with a monad; all such interactions are merely what we perceive. Monads differ from other monads in their point of view and how clearly they perceive themselves and other monads.

Monads are special creations by God (it is uncertain whether God, to Leibniz, is not a monad or if He is some sort of Übermonad), indestructible and pre-programmed. It has its own "individual notion" which is every true thing about that monad and its relation to all other monads. Monads are very unmatterlike in that they do not occupy space; space is what we perceive as we view other monads.

Monads are grouped together in different levels. Level 1, Delusions, are where there is no real unity between groups of monads despite appearances. Level 2, Disjoint Aggregates, are loosely unified monads such as a herd or a dust cloud. Level 3, Unified Aggregates, are unified groups that don't perceive other monads very clearly, such as a rock or chair. Finally, Level 4 is Structured Aggregates -- unified groups of monads with a high degree of perception such as plants, animals, and humans.

It is important to note that monads are organized according to perception and not actual cause and effect relationships. To have a high degree of unity, there must be a dominant monad which very clearly perceives the other monads in the group. For humans, the mind/soul is the dominant monad.

The subtle disjuncture between the actual "world of monads" and the way we perceive this world creates a distinction between Monadworld, the REAL world studied and articulated by metaphysics, and the world we experience, the PHENOMENAL world which is studied and articulated by Physics. We'll see this structure again.

Descartes | Hobbes | Locke | Leibniz | Berkeley | Hume | What Happened to Those Students?