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A SHORT HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

ARCHIBALD B. D. ALEXANDER - 1922 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Voltaire.
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.

 

A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos
Fénelon

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

 

INTRODUCTION

Part I. GREEK PHILOSOPHY


Its origin and character

PHYSICAL PERIOD
MONASTIC THEORIES
PLURALISTIC THEORIES

MORAL PERIOD
THE SOPHISTS
SOCRATES. Cynics and Cyrenaics

SYSTEMATIC PERIOD
PLATO
ARISTOTLE

Part II. PHILOSOPHY IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD

ETHICAL THEORIES
Stoicism. Epicureanism
Scepticism

RELIGIOUS TENDENCIES
Roman Moralists: Seneca, Epictetus, M. Aurelius
Alexandrian Mystics: Philo, Plotinus, Proclus

Part III. PHILOSOPHY OF MIDDLE AGES

THE PATRISTIC PERIOD Augustine and Church Fathers

SCHOLASTIC PERIOD Nominalism and Realism

PLATONIC INFLUENCE
Anselm, Abelard, Peter Lombard

ARISTOTELIAN INFLUENCE
1. Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas
2. Duns Scotus, Francis of Assisi, William of Occam
 

Part IV. REVIVAL OF PHILOSOPHY

TRANSITION PERIOD
1. Revival of Learning
2. Reformation
3. Rise of Sciences
Bruno, Böhme, Montaigne

REALISTIC TENDENCY
Bacon
Gassendi
Hobbes

IDEALISTIC TENDENCY
Descartes

PANTHEISTIC TENDENCY
Geulinx, Occasionalism
Malebranche, Pantheism
Spinoza, Acosmism

Part V. PHILOSOPHY OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

[Introduction]

SECT. I. ENLIGHTENMENT IN BRITAIN
Empiricism-Locke
Development of empiricism-Berkeley
Sceptical Conclusion-Hume

THEOLOGICAL AND ETHICAL QUESTIONS
Natural Philosophy
Theological Controversy
Ethical Theories
Scottish Philosophy

SECT. 2. ENLIGHTENMENT IN FRANCE
Earlier Rationalism
Bossuet, Fontenelle, Bayle, Montesquieu, Condillac, Helvetius
Materialistic Tendencies
Voltaire, Diderot, D'Alembert,  La Mettrie, Holbach, Rousseau

SECT. 3. ENLIGHTENMENT IN GERMANY
INDIVIDUAL IDEALISM—LEIBNITZ

FOLLOWERS OF LEIBNITZ
Thomasius, Tschirnhausen, Wolff

POPULAR PHILOSOPHY
Mendelssohn, Nicolai
Lessing

Part VI. GERMAN IDEALISM


SECT. I. CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY—KANT
INTRODUCTION

KANT'S THEORETIC PHILOSOPHY

KANT'S MORAL PHILOSOPHY

PHILOSOPHY OF ART AND RELIGION

SECT. 2. DEVELOPMENT OF IDEALISM

PHILOSOPHY OF FEELING
Hamann, Herder, Jacobi
Schiller and Humboldt

SUBJECTIVE IDEALISM—FICHTE
1. Science of Knowledge
2. Its Theoretic Principles
3. Its Practical Sphere

OBJECTIVE IDEALISM—SCHELLING
1. Philosophy of Nature
2. Philosophy of Identity
3. Mythology and Revelation

ROMANTIC SCHOOL
1. Novalis and Schlegel
2. Baader and Krause
3. Schleiermacher

 

SECT. 3. ABSOLUTE IDEALISM—HEGELIANISM
CONCEPTION AND METHOD
STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT
REACTION AGAINST HEGELIANISM
1. Herbart
2. Beneke
3. Schopenhauer

Part VII. MOVEMENTS SINCE HEGEL TO THE PRESENT


GERMAN THOUGHT—AFTER HEGEL
1. Influence of Hegelianism
2. Materialistic Tendency—Haeckel
3. Idealistic Tendency
Fechner, Lotze, Hartmann, Wundt
4. Modern Psychology
5. Neo-Kantianism
Dühring, Schuppe, Ritschl
6. Eucken and Activist Tendency

FRENCH THOUGHT—FROM THE REVOLUTION
1. Cousin and Eclecticism
2. Comte and Positivism
3. Religious Philosophy
4. Philosophy of Development—Taine, Renan, Fouillée

BRITISH PHILOSOPHY IN THE VICTORIAN ERA
1. Utilitarianism—Bentham and Mill
2. Evolution—Darwin and Spencer. Maurice, Newman, Martineau
3. Influence of German Idealism. Caird, Green, Bradley, etc.

THE TREND OF THOUGHT IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Anti-Conceptualism—Bergson
Pragmatism—Wm. James
Neo-Realism. Revival of Idealism in Italy. The Philosophy of the Gifford Lectures

 

CONCLUSION

 

BOOKS OF REFERENCE

 

Part V. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT
SECT. 3. GERMAN ENLIGHTENMENT

Chap. I. Individual Idealism. Leibnitz.

Germany also participated in the spirit of emancipation and rationalism which spread throughout Europe at the beginning of the eighteenth century. While the same individualism was there prominent, the movement was at first metaphysical rather than practical as in England and France, though later, under the influence of the literary gifts of Lessing and Herder, the dry intellectualism of Leibnitz and Wolff was transformed into the broader culture of the so-called "Popular Philosophy." Thus, through its connection with a rich national literature which sprang up, German thought of the eighteenth century, while maintaining its speculative character, did not degenerate into scepticism as in England, nor become dissipated by political controversy as in France. It is not without significance that while Realism should flourish in Britain, the land of practical movements, Idealism should find a congenial soil in Germany, the high place of intellectual effort. The Frenchman, it has been remarked, tends chiefly to acuteness; the Englishman to clearness; the German to profundity. France is the land of mathematical, England of practical, Germany of speculative thinkers. The first is the home of Scepticism, the second of Realism, the third of Idealism.

 

  Leibnitz may be regarded as the originator of German Enlightenment, as, indeed, he was the father of modern philosophy in Germany. He stands at the head of a fresh development of thought. While he gathers up the past, he prepares the way for the higher synthesis of the mind and the external world, which was attempted by Kant. In Leibnitz two great lines of speculation meet—that which goes out from Descartes and Spinoza, and that which proceeds from Bacon and Locke,—Pantheism and Individualism, Idealism and Sensationalism.

 His philosophy, while retaining something of each, is an attempt to reconcile both. As Idealist he stands on the side of Descartes against Locke; as Individualist he agrees rather with Locke than Spinoza. The extreme individualism to which he was at first inclined was corrected by his study of Spinoza, while the universalism of Spinoza was again modified by his examination of Locke's philosophy.

We have seen that the Empiricism of Locke was vitiated by a dualism which, on the one hand, led his English followers into sensationalism, and, on the other, drove his French disciples into sheer materialism. Leibnitz recognised the necessity of combining the two sides which Locke had left unreconciled—thought and matter, the thinking subject and the external world. He saw that to account for knowledge the individual mind must be capable of going beyond itself and coming into communion with the universe of which it forms a part. Possessed of the ideas at once of the individuality and universality of existence, he sought to unite the two by declaring that the individual substances or monads, as he calls the primal elements of the world, while really distinct, yet ideally imply each other and include the whole universe in themselves. It is only when we remember the two opposite influences to which Leibnitz was subject that we are enabled to understand the peculiar character of his philoysophy. It is a system of mediation, an effort to reconcile the individual mind with the external world, to combine the principles of Cartesianism with those of Locke.

Leibnitz has been called an eclectic. As he himself said, he desired "to reconcile Plato with Democritus, Aristotle with Descartes, the Scholastics with the moderns, theology and morals with the dictates of reason." But his philosophy is no mere patchwork of previous systems. His aim is rather to discover a new principle which will be deep and comprehensive enough to explain all the facts of consciousness and to embrace in a higher unity the best thoughts of his predecessors.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) was born at Leipzig, where his father was Professor of Moral Philosophy. He studied there and at Jena, and received his doctor's degree at the age of twenty. He was destined for the legal profession, and entered on the diplomatic service of the Elector of Mayence. In this capacity he travelled as member of an embassy to Paris and London. He paid a visit to Spinoza at the Hague, and afterwards became court-librarian at Hanover, which became his headquarters, though his manifold activities led him to make frequent excursions to Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and even into Italy. He lived on terms of intimate friendship with the Prussian Queen, Sophie Charlotte, a princess of great culture, and at her instigation he wrote his Theodicée. He instituted the Academy of Science of Berlin, and became its first president, while the similar academies of Vienna and St. Petersburg were also due to his influence. The Pope offered him the headship of the Vatican library, a position which, however, he declined, as its acceptance would have required him to become a Roman Catholic.

Leibnitz was not only one of the most learned men of his day, or indeed of any time, but he was also one of the most many-sided and energetic of men. He was not merely a great philosopher, but was equally at home in mathematics, law, and theology. He ranks as one of the greatest mathematical geniuses of the world, sharing with Newton the honour of inventing the Differential Calculus. He was not simply a thinker, like Spinoza, but a courtier and man of affairs, who took a leading part in the political life of the times. He was the friend and correspondent of many of the distinguished men of his day, and his name is connected with most of the important events and controversies of the age.

The mediating tendency of his philosophy is reflected in the spirit of conciliation which he evinced in practical life. He took a prominent part in the endeavour to reconcile the Protestant and Catholic churches, and he was also one of the leading spirits in attempting to effect a union between the Lutheran and Reformed Confession. Of untiring energy, he carried his projects into every sphere of thought and activity, and has enriched almost every department of learning with his original contributions. In the union of productive genius and universal knowledge Aristotle alone can be compared with him.

From the multiplicity of his engagements he was prevented from setting forth his philosophical views in any systematic way, and they are to be gathered chiefly from his voluminous correspondence and his isolated essays. His principal works are: Essais de Theodicée, published in 1710; his Monadologie, 1714; and his Nouveaux Essais sur l'Entendement Humain, which, though written in 1704, was not published till fifty years after his death, in 1765. His works have been collected in six volumes and edited by Erdmann.

There are two ideas with which the name of Leibnitz is inseparably associated, which are, indeed, the foci of his entire system. These are his doctrine of monads and his theory of pre-established harmony. While the latter has been discarded as an artificial evasion rather than a real solution of the difficulty it dealt with, the former, though fanciful and often contradictory, has been a fruitful factor in modern scientific progress. Only subordinate to these two ideas is his theory of cognition, which, in its attempted reconciliation of the innate ideas of Descartes with the impressions of Locke, foreshadowed the doctrine of Kant.

1. Monadology. The starting-point with Leibnitz is the question how are we to regard the manifold world as it is presented to us? What is the ultimate essence of things? Two answers suggested themselves from the past history of philosophy—the answer of Democritus and Hobbes and that of Descartes and Spinoza—individual atoms and one universal substance. But neither of these answers was satisfactory to him. While he agrees with Spinoza that a correct idea of substance is the key to philosophy, he agrees also with the atomists in their desire to reduce being to its most simple elements. But while the substance of Spinoza yields only an abstract idea of unity in which all individuality and reality are lost, the small bodies of the atomists being material must be, in thought at least, infinitely divisible, and, therefore, can never afford the ultimate essence of things. Il faut réunir Democrite et Spinoza. Two ideas must be preserved; indivisibility and reality. A mere unit or mathematical point is not sufficient, for while that indeed is indivisible, it has no reality. Nor is the idea of extension satisfactory, for while it has reality, it is infinitely divisible. That which alone can fulfil these conditions, according to Leibnitz, is "force," which is immaterial, yet real; indivisible, yet active; without parts, yet all-inclusive; intangible and unseen, yet the ground and essence of everything. These primal essences, or forces, which he calls "monads," constitute the whole of reality; they are the fundamental elements of the entire material and spiritual world. They are distinguished, on the one hand, from the substance of Spinoza in that they are individual, and, therefore, infinite in number; and, on the other hand, they are contrasted with mere atoms in that they are not dead, inert particles, but instinct with vitality and movement. They are not mere repetitions of one another, but are infinitely diverse in quality and action.

These active substances have two peculiarities; they are at once exclusive and inclusive. As simple units they exclude all influence from without. As Leibnitz says, "they have no windows through which anything might come into them or go out of them." They can neither be produced nor destroyed except by God. They are self-contained and absolutely self-determined. Each is a little world developing under its own laws as if there was nothing in existence but God and itself. But in another sense they are all-inclusive. While each monad is self-contained and self-determined, it has the power of reflecting or representing all the other monads. Each reflects the whole universe, and is, indeed, a little microcosm in itself, so that if we could understand it fully we should understand the whole universe. Thus the many are in the one, and every individual carries in its bosom all the past and the future of the world. The monad is a mirror which reflects the whole universe. But it is a living mirror (miroir vivant), by which Leibnitz means that the world is brought forth from a germ within by its own inner activity. Leibnitz expresses this feature of the monads by the word "perception," indicating that each monad has a perception of the world peculiar to itself and more or less distinct. By the use of this word we are not, however, to understand a conscious activity of the soul. He distinguishes between "perception and apperception"; apperception being the higher conscious knowledge belonging to thinking beings, perception being the lower subconscious feeling or state possessed by those monads which have not reached the stage of consciousness. Thus there are infinite degrees of perception. While in one sense Leibnitz vitalizes matter, on the other hand he enlarges the idea of mind. Mere lifeless matter does not exist. Down to the lowest stages of being there is everywhere not merely activity, but life and implicit thought. Below the threshold of clear consciousness there are throughout the world dim confused states which he calls "petites perceptions." He illustrates the existence of these lesser perceptions by the noise of the waves which we hear when near the shore. The general roar of the sea is made up of a number of separate smaller sounds, which of themselves would be too slight to affect our hearing. Yet each must make some impression, though unperceived, upon us. Each must add something to the general sound. Each, in other words, is perceived though not apperceived.

Each monad reflects the whole, but each in its own degree and after its own fashion. Some are clearer, some more confused. The clearer the perception of a monad the more active it is. It is the property of God alone to have perfectly clear perceptions. He alone is pure activity. All others, from man downwards in varying degree, are partly active and partly passive. That which constitutes the passivity of a monad is what may be called the material element in it. Leibnitz distinguishes between two kinds of matter; materia prima, which is a kind of abstract quality everywhere diffused, and which is wholly passive; and materia secunda, which is actual or concrete, and endowed with activity. It is the presence of the passive matter in a monad which acts as an impediment to its clearness of perception. In other words, the more the spiritual vital element predominates over the inert material element the less confused is the perception and the nearer does the individual approach to conscious active life.

The whole world is filled and penetrated with these perceptive immaterial substances. But while each is independent and self-contained, there is no break or gap in the universe. By what Leibnitz calls the "law of continuity," the one shades into the other. From matter up to mind the world is one. There is a continuous series from the lowest to the highest. Nowhere in nature or life is there interruption or repetition. There are no abrupt contrasts or violent contradictions. Rest and motion, action and reaction, good and evil, plant, animal, human being,—all pass by imperceptible gradations into one another. There is no overlapping or superfluity. There are no two things alike in the universe. Every single leaf or blade of grass is distinct. Everything has its separate place and purpose in the world.

At the same time, Leibnitz indicates three outstanding stages of development. The monads of the lowest rank, minerals and plants, just perceive and no more. They are like beings in a slumber or swoon, whose perceptions have not attained to consciousness. Higher are the monads of the animal world, which possess feeling and memory, but have not attained to reason. These he calls souls. They live, as it were, in a world of confused dreams. Higher still are human beings, endowed with reason and self-consciousness. These he names spirits. God may be regarded as the highest of all, and is distinguished from others in that while their perceptions are more or less confused His are perfectly clear. Thus from the lowest to the highest we have a series of reflections of the whole world, each individual reflecting and being reflected in turn.

One other feature of the monads remains to be mentioned. As each is more or less active force, it is endowed with the property of effort or striving to rise to a higher stage of perception. The law which governs this appetition to pass from one state to another is the law of final causes, the law according to which everything in the world seeks to fulfil its highest being. As the will in human beings is always directed towards the good, so the appetition of the lower monad is always an effort towards a more perfect state. Everything in the universe is consciously or unconsciously striving to fulfil its highest end and ever seeking to realize the best that is possible for it.

We live in a thought-world which is instinct with soul and permeated throughout with life. "There is," says Leibnitz, "a world of creation, of living things, animals, entelechies, souls, in the minutest particles of matter. Every part of matter may be considered as a garden full of plants, or a tank full of fishes. But every branch of the plant, every member of the animal, every drop of its juices, is again a similar garden and a similar tank. There is nothing uncultivated, nothing unfruitful, nothing dead in the universe; no chaos, no disorder. Every living body has a central monad or ruling entelechy, but the members of the living body are full of living things, each of which again has its own soul."

2. Pre-established Harmony. But, now, it may be asked, if the monads which make up the whole universe are little worlds apart, neither influenced by, nor exerting influence upon others, how are they related? How are we to account for the harmony and order which exist? The answer of Leibnitz is by pre-established harmony. The monads have been so constituted from the beginning that the life of each runs parallel with the life of all the other monads. While each exists apart and develops wholly according to the laws of his own being, they all act in such strict agreement as to be apparently dependent on one another. They are, indeed, absolutely isolated and independent, yet by means of their separate obedience to a higher common law in the mind of God they act in unison and fulfil the order of the universe. "This combination of independence and harmony may be compared," says Leibnitz, "to different choirs of musicians playing their parts separately, and so situated that they do not see or even hear one another. Nevertheless they keep perfectly together, by each following their own notes, in such a way that one who hears them all finds in them a harmony that is wonderful and much more perfect than if there had been any connection between them."

According to Leibnitz the mutual relation of mind and matter, or soul and body, is satisfactorily explained by this theory. The soul obeys its own laws, and so does the body, and yet without the one acting on the other they agree in virtue of the harmony which has been established between all substances. The correspondence between the two is so unfailingly exact that every thought or act of will is attended by a modification of material substance answering to it, as if the relation were actually that of cause and effect. There are three alternative explanations of this agreement which Leibnitz illustrates by his well-known figure of the two clocks which keep the same time. The same mechanism might regulate the motion of both. Or some one might from time to time readjust their works so as to bring them into agreement. Or, lastly, both clocks might be so perfectly constructed as to make divergence impossible. The first is inadmissible, since it is inconceivable that mind should act on matter or matter on mind. The second explanation corresponds to the occasional causes of Malebranche and Geulinx, and presupposes continuous divine intervention. The third hypothesis, Leibnitz thinks, is alone worthy of the deity—the doctrine of Pre-established Harmony. It will thus be seen that Leibnitz simply substitutes an all-embracing miracle in place of a continuous miracle, and thus resorts, like so many of his predecessors, to a Deus ex machina.

If the question be asked, what is the relation of God to the monads? the answer is that He is the supreme perfect monad, the ground or reason of all, from whom all proceed, as radiations or emanations, and in whom all things are united. God, in a word, is the harmony of the world. Dieu seul fait la liaison et communication des substans.

But when Leibnitz endeavours to explain how the soul becomes conscious of God he is not quite consistent with himself. If each monad is confined to itself we can only know our relations with others through the knowledge of God. Yet how can a being who is simply an individual substance obtain a knowledge of the world or of God unless he transcend the limits of his own individuality? Hence we find that Leibnitz, when speaking of the relation of spirits to God and to each other, departs from the idea of mere harmony and brings in the idea of communion. Spirits differ from ordinary souls in that, while souls are simply images of the universe, spirits are also conscious images of the deity, and are, therefore, capable of knowing and imitating Him, and through him of knowing the whole world. It is this higher knowledge "which enables spirits to enter into a kind of fellowship with God and brings it about that, in relation to them, He is not only what an inventor is to his machine, but also what a prince is to his subjects, or indeed, what a father is to his children. Whence it is easy to conclude that the totality of all spirits must compose the city of God, that is to say, the most perfect state possible under the most perfect of all monarchs" (Monad, par. 83). In other words, in dealing with the nature of God and His relation to men, the idea of the self-contained monad is lost and God alone becomes, as with Spinoza, the one supreme substance, of which the individual spirits are but modes or expressions. The truth is, Leibnitz' idea of monads and his theory of harmony hang badly together. If he had been faithful to his notion of perception with which he endows the individual, there would have been no need for his hypothesis of a superimposed agreement among the souls of the world. But if, on the other hand, he had consistently followed up all that is implied in the idea of each soul being a representation of the whole world and of God, he would have been carried far beyond his doctrine of monads and would have had to find refuge either in pure Spinozism or in some such theory as Fichte later propounded.

 

  3. Theory of Knowledge. Closely connected with Leibnitz' doctrine of monads is his theory of knowledge, which he develops in his Nouveaux Essais. This work, which was not published till fifty years after his death, contains a thorough examination of Locke's empiricism, and opposes that writer's contention that all our knowledge comes from without and that the mind is merely a passive recipient of impressions.

"The question between us," says Leibnitz, "is whether the soul in itself is entirely empty like tablets on which nothing has been written, according to Aristotle and the writer of this essay; and whether all that is traced there comes wholly from the senses and experience, or whether the soul originally contains the principles of several notions and doctrines which the external objects only awaken on occasion, as I believe with Plato." From this passage it will be seen that Leibnitz attributes to the mind innate ideas, but, at the same time, he seeks to rectify the imperfect statement of it as it appears in the writings of Descartes. Here, as so often elsewhere, Leibnitz exhibits his spirit of mediation, and endeavours to reconcile the positions of Locke and Descartes. As against Locke, he maintains that the mind has a groundwork of knowledge, without which cognition would be altogether impossible. This knowledge, it is true, lies only potentially in the mind, and not till sensation awakes it does it attain to consciousness. We come into the world with a faculty for truth which is prior to all experience. Locke's doctrine, therefore, that there is nothing in the intellect but what the senses give, must be supplemented by the clause—"except the intellect itself." On the other hand, Descartes' theory of Innate ideas is also inadequate, for while we have certain ground principles in the mind, they are not at first clear and distinct as he held, but lie there only in a dim unconscious way awaiting experience to call them forth. Leibnitz' theory is based on his notion of "petites perceptions." The mind has many ideas which exist in a confused undeveloped way of which we are not conscious. Only by the contact of the mind with the world of sense do its virtual possessions become actual possessions. The life of the mind is, therefore, a continuous process from confused to more distinct perceptions. It is not a tabula rasa, as Locke held it to be; it resembles rather a block of marble, the veins of which prefigure the statue which experience will ultimately carve out. So far from our having no innate ideas, there is a sense in which it may be said that all our ideas are innate, for all our knowledge lies virtually and potentially in the mind awaiting the occasion that will call it forth. The soul is the ultimate and exclusive source of our perceptions, and experience is only the channel or expression of their development.

At the same time, while Leibnitz traces back all our knowledge to the mind itself, he distinguishes two kinds of conclusions or judgments, one drawn from reason and the other deduced from experience, corresponding to which he indicates two classes of truths—necessary truths and contingent truths. Necessary truths are such as are not derived from particular instances or evidences of the senses, but directly from the innate principles of the mind itself. They prevail in mathematics, logic, metaphysics, and morals, and all such departments of knowledge which carry their proofs within themselves. The laws which these subjects express are, in other words, self-evident and necessary, as their denial would involve a contradiction. Contingent truths, on the other hand, are those which are true as matters of fact, but whose contrary would involve no contradiction. They are actually so, but there is no necessity in the reason of things why they should be thus and not otherwise. To these two kinds of truths correspond two great laws of the human mind: the law of Contradiction and the law of Sufficient Reason.

The law of contradiction governs what may be called rational knowledge and applies to the possible. The law of sufficient reason relates to contingent truths or actual events which become intelligible and reasonable as soon as we are conscious of the reasons or causes why and how the real exists. In God's mind we may imagine there is an infinite number of possible things, all of which, however, do not attain to actuality. God only chooses the best or most suitable. Each individual thing may not be absolutely the best, but relatively to the whole it is the best, and in the general result the maximum of perfection is attained. The law of the best possible is thus a particular application of the principle of sufficient reason. This law rules throughout all the actual world, and is the explanation of all created things. The law of sufficient reason, however, ultimately rests on the law of final causes. The world as it actually exists is and must be the best possible, for it is the expression of the mind and purpose of God.

4. Relation of God to the World. We are thus led to a consideration of Leibnitz' theological views, which he has most fully expressed in his Essais de Theodicée, a work written to accommodate his philosophy with the accepted dogmas of the church. Here Leibnitz seeks to demonstrate the purposefulness of God in creation, and to vindicate His permission of evil in the world. And here he elaborates his famous theory of the "best of all possible worlds." When we examine the constitution of the world, we are led to ask why it should assume exactly the form it does. There seems no apparent reason why it should just be as it is. Yet when we consider the nature and character of God, the proofs of whose existence Leibnitz first reviews, we are led to the conclusion that this world is the best possible. For if a better had been possible the wisdom of God had discerned it and His power and goodness created it. This has been called the doctrine of Optimism, of which Leibnitz is the chief representative. "God is the first reason or cause of things." He must be "absolutely perfect in power, in wisdom, and in goodness." The supreme wisdom joined to infinite goodness could not fail to choose the best. For if this were not the best of all possible worlds God would not have chosen any world, since He never acts but in accordance with supreme reason. This theory of optimism is based on the principle of Sufficient reason, which, as we have seen, plays an important part in Leibnitz' system. God cannot act without some reason, and since He is perfection, this reason can only be the choice of the best; "for if He had chosen one less good there would be something which might be improved in His work." Voltaire becomes merry over Leibnitz' reasoning, and declares that as far as his experience goes it is the worst possible world. Hegel remarks that Leibnitz has made a statement, but has by no means proved it. I send to the market for an article; what is offered me, I am told, is not perfect, but it is the best that there is. It is perhaps a sufficient ground for being pleased with what I have got, but it is no reason why it is the best. I am just where I was. Nothing more is told me than that the world is good, but there is evil in it too. It is simply a matter of arbitrary choice. How and why the finite is evolved from the absolute Leibnitz does not attempt to show. Leibnitz acknowledges that the presence of evil in the world would seem at first sight to contradict his theory. But he says that if sin and pain were abolished this would not be the best possible world. All things are really connected. An evil is frequently the cause of a good. "A little bitter is often more pleasing than sugar." He proceeds, therefore, to examine the origin of evil in the world. Si Deus est, unde malum? The primary cause of evil is to be found in the essential limits of the creature. It is a condition of man's material existence, to overcome the passivity of which is the aim of the appetition or striving which is inherent in every monad. Evil, therefore, is merely a privation, a deficiency, or limitation. It has no efficient reason, and is only permitted for the sake of a higher good. Leibnitz distinguishes three kinds of evil,— metaphysical, physical, and moral.

Metaphysical evil is inseparable from finite existence, and is conditioned by the very nature of the world. Physical evil is either punitive or disciplinary, and is, therefore, a means of healing and educating man. Moral evil or sin is permitted by God, but not willed by Him; for without its possibility there could be no freedom, and without freedom no goodness or virtue.

Evil is, in short, simply a conditio sine qua non. It is not, indeed, anything real or positive. It exists as a foil to the good. It plays the part of the shading of a picture or of discord in music, which, by contrast, enhances and heightens the general effect. A world without variety would be a less perfect world than one in which contradiction and difference are harmonized. While God is the cause of all that is positive in His creatures, He cannot be regarded as the cause of their limitations. In his treatment of the problem of evil Leibnitz never gets beyond statement and metaphor. That the laws of nature are the best according to the wisdom of God we must accept. But no reason is offered why they are so. To affirm that God has once and for all made them so may seem the utterance, says Hegel, of pious feeling, but it is not a sufficient answer for philosophy.

5. Views of Freedom and Morality. The ethical system of Leibnitz is based on his metaphysical optimism. Because this is the best of all worlds, life itself must be good. Everywhere we find harmony, and everything is making for supreme happiness, which in the end is one with supreme goodness. All things are fulfilling God's will, but at the same time working out their own ends. Leibnitz, like Spinoza, regards perfection as the end of morality, and reason as the principle of perfection. But Leibnitz refuses to be classed with Spinoza in his view of determinism. For while Spinoza places the determining cause of action outside of the individual, Leibnitz represents the will as determined only by its own perceptions. It is true we are often unconscious of the inward impulse that actuates us, but even in our dim confused sensations we are seeking our good. The will is never neutral. We are always influenced by the strongest motives. To act without motives is impossible. In virtue of the quality of striving which is inherent in all monads man always chooses that which he regards as the best, and the action of the will is nothing else than the natural outcome of his individuality, the result of his own inner nature.

In the lowest exercise of will we are actuated by instinct, which consists in a dim feeling of uneasiness. In the higher stage of will we are influenced by objects which we set before us productive of pleasure or pain. Above these two stages there arises the rational exercise of will, which is determined by distinct perceptions. Here we are guided by the eternal truths, which have their seat in the mind. Where the will is thus determined by reason it may be said to be free, and the more rational it is the more freedom it has. Moral good, therefore, is the striving after knowledge, the cultivation of reason, progress from confused to distinct perceptions. Happiness and blessedness are really identical. To seek perfection, the end of our being, is to find ultimate happiness. Our instincts even point to our moral good, and the progress of life consists in rising from instinct to reason, from nature to conscious action. But reason not only deepens our nature, it also broadens it. As we obey it, it teaches us not only to find joy in our own satisfaction, but to seek the happiness of others. The more we become conscious of our own good the more do we realize our mutual relations. Hence, according as we advance towards the perfection of our being, the more shall we rejoice in the perfection of others. The whole moral law is fulfilled in the virtue of philanthropy, which, in its three stages of justice, equity, piety, constitute the moral harmony of the world. Finally, to love God is to rise to a conception of His goodness and to an understanding that the world is governed by Him for wise and good ends. Freedom consists in the attainment of divine wisdom. To see all things as they are in the mind of God and to fulfil the law of our inner life is the highest aim of a spiritual being.

One cannot but admire the high tone of moral earnestness which pervades the writings of Leibnitz, but it must be admitted that he has failed in solving the dualism which he set out to reconcile. He never succeeds in getting beyond the individualism, which he opposed to the universalism of Spinoza. If Spinoza represents the world as if there were no individuals, Leibnitz regards it as if there were no universals. If Spinoza's doctrine may be described as an extreme universalism, that of Leibnitz may be regarded as a no less extreme individualism. Spinoza merges the many in the one; Leibnitz exalts the many but misses the one. His theory of a Pre-established Harmony is but an artificial expedient to account for the co-existence and interaction of the independent existences which he had assumed. He delights in bringing together opposite views, but he never succeeds in reconciling them. He abounds in ingenious distinctions, but never attains to a higher unity in which the differences disappear. "The unity of reality and ideality, of the finite and the infinite, of efficient and final causes, of the principle of identity and the principle of sufficient reason, is never completely achieved."

At the same time, his philosophy contains many hints and suggestions which have not been without their influence on later thought. In his theory of knowledge, for example, Leibnitz dimly foreshadows the Kantian doctrine of à priori elements in cognition. We cannot but feel that in his contention that mere experience cannot reveal necessary truths and that to all our knowledge the mind itself must contribute, Leibnitz is the forerunner of Kant. Again, in his conception of nature as instinct with life, and in his emphasis of the idea of force as the abiding principle in matter and motion, Leibnitz prepared the way for the enunciation of the law of the conservation and indestructibility of energy which has become the leading idea of modern physics. And, once more, in his statement of the law of Continuity, according to which there are no breaks in nature but everywhere a continuous gradual transition and imperceptible development from lower to higher forms of life, Leibnitz approaches a formulation of the Darwinian theory and almost anticipates the doctrine of the Descent of man.

French Enlightenment. Materialistic Rationalism                 Enlightenment in Germany. Followers of Leibnitz

 

 

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