Enlightenment Ideology

Note 7: Leibnitz: Monadology. 8/31/99 (trans Robert Latta, 1898)

A definitive direction taken by Enlightenment philosophers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was given over to the effort of transforming what had always been a religious ideology into a scientific one. Descartes's Method was concerned with providing rational scientific proof for the existence of God. Leibnitz, at least in some measure of ideological activity, focused his attention on creating a rational and scientific proof for the existence of the human soul. In Monadology, a term he acquired from Greek philosophy, since Euclid's definition of the point as "that which has no part" is the traditional definition of the monad, Leibnitz attempted to fuse the Christian conceptualization of the human soul, or the world soul, with the fundamental scientific ground of mathematical, and especially geometrical, discourse. The impulse to prove matters of faith scientifically, which may be a usable definition of Enlightenment philosophy in a superficial sense, grew out of the long and protracted history of enmity between Christian ideology and Greek philosophy that has been outlined in other sections of this document with regard to the disputation between early church Fathers and the various aspects of ancient philosophy that were being expressed by those people in the Mediterranean basin who refused to accept as rational the message of the Gospels as they were spread outward into Western Europe in the first and second centuries of the first millennium.

Leibnitz has a tendency, loosely speaking, to combine various aspects of religious and philosophical discourse into a synthesis of ideological expression without much regard for the traditional differences that mattered to early church Fathers, on the one hand, and to different schools of Greek philosophy, on the other. To begin, there was a fundamental distinction in Christian theology between the soul as a corporeal substance, as Aristotle argued, and as an incorporeal essence, as Plato believed. The early church Fathers, Tertullian specifically, came down on the side taken by Aristotle but for reasons that had little or nothing to do with Aristotle's perceptions of soul. Tertullian argued that reward and punishment in the afterlife would be essentially meaningless if the soul were an incorporeal essence because as such it would not be able to experience the bliss of reward or the pain of punishment unless it had corporeal substance. Leibnitz generally follows Aristotle and Tertullian in his definition of the monad when he notes that

"where there are no parts [in the monad], there can be neither extension nor form [figure] nor divisibility. These Monads are the real atoms of nature and, in a word, the elements of things."

He goes on to asserts that "simple substances" (monads) cannot be dissolved or destroyed by any natural means and "can come into being only by creation and come to an end only by annihilation." What this suggests, of course, is that the most basic "elements of things" are a created reality which depend upon a Creator for their existence. This is an important distinction to keep in mind because it plays into the notion of creationism and establishes in Liebnitz's philosophy a necessary expression of hierarchical structures in everything that follows in his discourse, as we shall see.

Leibnitz's clearest rejection of Plato's philosophy occurs when he argues that monads "have no windows" and that "neither substance nor accident can come into a Monad from outside." Monads, therefore, are immutable in the sense that they cannot suffer change in any of their qualities by either design or accident that comes into them from the outside world. In qualifying this statement, Leibnitz argues that monads possess an "internal principle" which changes them in a completely natural way: "the natural changes of the Monads come from an internal principle, since an external cause can have no influence upon their inner being." According to Plato, of course, in the Timaeus, the essence of the soul is its capacity for radical change from outside influences, that when the soul is first introduced into the body which possess it, the soul is buffeted and assaulted by sensations that turn it completely around from the harmonic courses which it is meant to follow and that the person who lives righteously by overcoming these ill-effects rises to a higher level of being than do the people who fail in this task. After that, and if a person continues to live unrighteously, the soul itself enters a hierarchically depressed stage of being that can spiral down to the very depths of degradation and pass into ever diminished forms of life and existence.

One problem with Leibnitz's position here is the difficulty which might arise over the issue of how to explain the obvious diversity that exists in the natural world. If the Monad cannot be changed or altered from the outside, and since all of them are defined as "simple substances," there does not seem to be much opportunity for a multiplicity among them to occur. In Plato, at least, it is possible to understand how one person can differ from another, since the soul which defines the essence of the individual, (where the term "individual" is much more significant a concern in Leibnitz's day certainly than it would have been in Plato's time) is affected and changed, even radically, by all the encounters it has with sensation over time. Since Leibnitz excludes the possibility that the Monad can be changed from the outside, the "internal principle" of change he posits in the individual Monad must exist in an infinite variety of kind if there is to be any hope of accounting for the obvious differences one experiences in nature. Leibnitz puts it this way: "all those who admit that the soul is a simple substance should admit [to a] multiplicity in the Monad," because each of us experiences multiplicity in our lives, in others, and in ourselves. This issue becomes important in his argument later on.

Leibnitz, like virtually all previous thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition, asserts that the soul is the seat of reason in (wo)man and accounts for the obvious distinction that exists, hierarchically speaking, between us and other animals and other forms of life:

"If we are to give the name of Soul to everything which has perceptions and desires [appetits] in the general sense which I have explained, then all simple substances or created Monads might be called souls; but . . . [I feel] that the name of Souls should be given only to those in which perception is more distinct, and is accompanied by memory."

The second parenthetical insertion here, "[I feel]," has been chosen deliberately, as opposed to "I think," for instance, because Leibnitz himself in this section of his discourse argues that feeling and emotion, when they fall well short of passion and/or irrationality, are precisely the kinds of attributes that enhance perceptions and make them more "distinct." Hence, without a kind of controlled emotion, (wo)man's soul would be the same as any other animal's Monad. He goes on to argue that "the soul is something more than a bare Monad." What he seems to mean by this statement is that the "bare" monad or soul possesses the qualities of perception and desire, but does not have emotion and memory to augment them to the level and status of a higher level of existence. He puts it this way:

"But it is the knowledge of necessary and eternal truths that distinguishes us from the mere animals and gives us Reason and the sciences, raising us to the knowledge of ourselves and of God. And it is this in us that is called the rational soul or mind [esprit]."

In saying this at all, of course, Leibnitz has followed the lead of every other Western philosopher, virtually without exception, in arguing that (wo)man, because she/he has knowledge of "eternal truths" and "God," and animals do not have that knowledge, (wo)man is necessarily on a higher plane of existence than are other living creatures. To this point, it should be noted that Leibnitz has not said a single word that varies much at all from standard and traditional accounts of orthodox Christianity, especially in the context of discussions about the relationship between creationism and hierarchy. In a subsequent note, I will deal with the issue of how Leibnitz gets around to the inevitable discussion of Eden as well.

Objections previously voiced to this ideology from a native American point of view stand as they have been expressed and do not need elaboration or repetition here.

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