Gottfried Leibniz was born in Leipzig Germany in 1646. Leibniz contributed much to mathematics; so much that he actually discovered calculus independently of Isaac Newton. He also created his own calculator. Along with contributing to math, Leibniz contributed a great deal to philosophy (Thomson 80). His Christianity influenced him to construct arguments for the existence of God. One of the more interesting philosophical ideas he formulated were his metaphysics. He was heavily influenced by Spinoza. He differs from Spinoza because he accepts an infinite amount of separate substances thus making him a pluralist (as opposed to monism). Also, Spinoza was a pantheist and Leibniz was obviously not.
Leibniz’s metaphysics is quite different from Descartes’. Leibniz was an idealist; he did not believe matter actually existed, but only immaterial things to which he called monads. “The monad, of which we will speak here, is nothing but a simple substance which enters into compounds; simple, that is to say, without parts” (Kolak 168). Everything is really comprised of these simple substances. These substances can also be immaterial minds. Things with parts depend on their reality based on their parts.
If we keep on breaking things down into simples, then we end up with something that’s immaterial (non-matter). The house was continually broken down into smaller and smaller parts. The house’s reality depended on the simples.
Leibniz’s argument goes something like this:
1. A compound is nothing but a collection of simples.
2. Anything with parts depends for its reality on those parts.
3. Therefore, any compound depends for its reality on simples.
4. Substances do not depend for their reality on anything else (except God).
5. Therefore, anything with parts is not a substance.
I was really wondering something. How does this view of reality fit in with the Christian faith? Was the incarnation actually real? Did Jesus actually take on flesh, or was it just an illusion? Is Leibniz’s metaphysics orthodox? Feel free to leave a comment.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman standard history of philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006.
Thomson, Garrett. Bacon to Kant: An Introduction to Modern Philosophy. 2nd ed. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland P, Inc., 2002.