Enlightenment Ideology

Note 8: Leibnitz: An Enlightened View of Original Sin. 9/2/99

After establishing the existence of "necessary and eternal truth," Leibnitz goes on to assert that

"It is also through the knowledge of necessary truths, and through their abstract expression, that we rise to acts of reflexion, which make us think of what is called I, and observe that this or that is within us: and thus, thinking of ourselves, we think of being, of substance, of the simple and the compound, of the immaterial, and of God Himself, conceiving that what is limited in us is in Him without limits."

Precisely why thinking about God necessarily defines every term in its structure as falling into the context of limited, as opposed to unlimited, while completely consistent with Christian creationist ideology, is not addressed in specific detail by Leibnitz in Monadology but rather seems to be a given which no one would think to challenge or deny. An important point to recognize here too, since it so clearly differentiates this statement from pervious philosophical positions, is the insertion of the conceptualization of the individual "I am" which both guides and formalizes the constituent aspects of human reason and supplies it with a necessary list of content to be contemplated by the thinking individual. Leibnitz's "I" is essentially the same thing as Descartes's "cogito ergo sum"; that is, a point of departure in Enlightenment philosophy from which all other perceptions of reality spring. To say, as many Marxian theorists have done, that the "cult" of the individual, as opposed to the needs of the collective, has its roots in the bourgeois culture of Enlightenment ideology is simply to recognize the rise of the individual thinker as the center of the "reflexion" that defines natural reality.

Leibnitz goes on from this point to argue that there are two "great principles" upon which our "reasonings are grounded": "that of contradiction, in virtue of which we judge false that which involves a contradiction, and true that which is opposed or contradictory to the false." Here, of course, we come upon the notion that the only way to think rationally and logically is to reduce a determination of truth to the negative capability of being able to recognize contradiction, on the one hand, and to select, as true, that which stands in opposition to falsity, on the other. Coupled with the dialectical necessity of negation in this conceptualization of how "we" determine the truth, Leibnitz also posits the existence of "sufficient reason" as a means of perceiving which facts are real and existent and which ones are not. He says that it is necessary to have and ascertain

"sufficient reason, in virtue of which we hold that there can be no fact real or existing, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason, why it should be so and not otherwise, although these reasons usually cannot be known by us."

The idea that "these reasons cannot be known by us" plays backward and forward, so to speak, in Leibnitz's philosophy as a way of justifying God's superiority over His "created beings," since He clearly does know every "sufficient reason" behind every iota of universal truth, where "we" certainly do not, and makes it possible, at the same time, for Leibnitz to excuse himself from having to provide a "sufficient reason" in support of every statement he claims as being true. This same simple statement also supports the notion of (wo)man's fallibility in the fact of God's absolute perfection, as we shall see.

Leibnitz argues that there are two kinds if truth; ones of reasoning, which "are necessary and their opposite is impossible," and ones that "are contingent and their opposite is possible." It is in the realm of contingent truth that Leibnitz brings the notion of multiplicity back to full circle, since he argues that contingent truth or truth of fact must also each have a sufficient reason for its existence. This demands an infinite number of sufficient reasons "throughout the universe of created beings," because in the process of "analyzing" each contingent truth "into particular reasons" one might be forced to "go on into endless detail, because of the immense variety of things in nature and the infinite division of bodies" that exist in the universe. Confronted with an infinity of sufficient reasons for determining which things might be true and which false, Leibnitz asserts that the final reason, which must be outside of the sequence of contingent facts, "must be in a necessary substance, in which the variety of particular changes exists only eminently, as in its source; and this substance we call God." In other words, since God is the sufficient reason for all created beings, since God is the "source" of the universe, even in its infinite multiplictiy, and since God is incapable of lying, as it were, all one needs to do is find and articulate a contingent fact to know that it is true and without contradiction. Leibnitz establishes the "singularity" of God by asserting that "as this substance is a sufficient reason of all this variety of particulars, which are also connected together throughout; there is only one God, and this God is sufficient." Furthermore, because God is "illimitable and must contain as much reality as is possible," it follows that he is also absolutely perfect because being limited is a characteristic of all created beings who are clearly not perfect. Leibnitz puts it this way:

"it follows that God is absolutely perfect; for perfection is nothing but amount of positive reality, in the strict sense, leaving out of account the limits or bounds in things which are limited. And where there are no bounds, that is to say in God, perfection is absolutely infinite."

Another way of saying this same thing, of course, and using Leibnitz's structure of reasoning and argument, is to take note of the fact that there is only one God and since He is defined as "absolutely infinite" in His "perfection," it must necessarily follow, by virtue of Leibnitz's "law" of contradiction, that all other "created beings" are not, and cannot be, themselves perfect. The idea of having limits, which all "created beings" certainly do, in the face of God's "illimitable" perfection, can be said to take the place of (wo)man's original sin, since having limits is a necessary flaw in comparison to the "illimitable" perfection of God. While not exactly the same thing as arguing that (wo)man's disobedience in eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of aspiring to become God, as it were, constitutes the nature of original sin, as it is always put in Biblical and theological terms, Leibnitz's position, more rationally cast and logically argued, accomplishes precisely the same thing in making (wo)man less than, and necessarily subservient to, God's infinite wisdom and perfection. His position, as he states it himself, is considerably less judgmental than are most theological versions of the same thing; that is,

"It follows also that created beings derive their perfections from the influence of God, but that their imperfections come from their own nature, which is incapable of being without limits."

Being simply limited in intellectual capacity may not rise to the same level of culpability that is always implied in the notion that (wo)man willfully disobeyed God's commandment to avoid the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Finally, that Leibnitz also links this necessary hierarchical structure to the idea of creationism simply testifies to the fact that this complex of ideas in Western ideology is truly indissolvable.

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