The Monadology

Gottfried Leibniz's The Monadology (1714) is a brief, numbered text, of some ninety paragraphs. The style is similar to to Nietzsche's aphorisms or Wittgenstein's Tracatus Logico Philosophicus. The latter is a more accurate description as the content is meant in strictly logical sequence whereas Nietzsche was far more poetic in style and sequencing (Leibniz and Wittgenstein had their poetic moments of course). The two core metaphysical arguments in The Monadology refer the principle behind "the monad", the fundamental building block of universe, and an argument concerning theodicy, divine justice.

Leibniz describes monads as being without parts which exist singularly and in compound. Whilst at first glance this sounds like materialist atomism, "extension, shape, and divisibility" (§3) require parts. As atomism, it is extremely sophisticated as the description requires these monads exist only as eternal mathematical points which also co-exist in nature as well; this is a difficult concept, as a mathematical point is infinitely small - but Leibniz had a particular grasp of the infinite, and it's relationship to nothingness. Everything in existence comes down to monads which can only come through Creation, rather than aggregation. The activity of monads in mechanical, in accordance with the laws of Nature, as accord with the eternal rules of Creation. Further the monads are 'windowless', meaning that images do not enter and therefore do not receive sensory input (they *are* perception). They have unique qualities, internal principles, requisite for difference and motion, including change.

Monads exist as a hierarchy, rational spirits, animal sensations, and base matter; the latter only have "simple perceptions" where as the former have distinct perceptions with memory. Death is a period of a period of unconsciousness or incapacity to distinguish. The fact that monads as expressed as having multiple qualities without moving parts is considered acceptable as the soul is a simple substance. Monads have "a certain perfection" and "a certain self-sufficiency" (§18), and are "pregnant with the future" (§22).

Nature has given animals higher perception, through sense organs, and even memory. Reasoning, "knowledge of necessary and eternal truths... knowledge of ourselves and of God" (§29) is reserved for humans, including acts of reflection, grounded in the principles of contradiction and sufficient reason. This leads to the recognition that one Supreme Substance, God, is unique, universal, sufficient and necessary (§39-§40), whose truths are not arbitrary, but rather are based on harmony for continent truths and are therefore the best, and understanding for necessary truths (§46). God has a 'trinity' of power, knowledge and will (§48). The latter establishes the behaviour of the created monads, who act perfectly to the external world and are acted upon. Whilst there is an infinite number of possibilities of the universe only one of them can exist, although a Cathar heretic or a Manichaeist could possibly claim that the earthly condition is the worst of all possible worlds!

Monads belong to bodies, either an entelechy or a soul. If the former, it is a living being, if the latter, an animal. All organic beings are "a sort of divine machine ... infinitely superior to any manufactured automaton" (§64), as monads are infinitely small, unlike the cogs of a machine. A problem does arise here because an even an infinite number of points still takes up no space, although perhaps the monad is infinitely small but acts as container to the smallest quantum-scale objects.

The Monadology accepts the immortality of an indestructible soul but rejects theories of transmigration and the existence of the soul outside of the body, with the exception of God (§72). There is no such thing as complete death, only transformation, although "the chosen few" can pass "to a larger theatre" (§75). Whilst the body and soul follow their own laws (souls by "final causes... appetitions, ends, and means", bodies by "efficient causes, or motions") these coincide due to the pre-established harmony (§79). Rational souls, with human nature, have a special status, "souls in general are living mirrors or images of the universe of created things, but that spirits are also images of the divinity itself" (§84). As a community of spirits, they represent the City of God: " this truly universal monarchy, is a moral world within the natural world" (§86). As an amusing precursor to Hegel's discussion of the Master-Slave relationship, Leibniz proposes that the community of spirits exist because "..there would be no glory if his greatness and his goodness were not known and admired by spirits". Grace and Nature are reconciled and reward and punishment will occur with the end of the universe, a rather harsh judgement given the mechanistic universe that Leibniz proposes.

Leibniz's The Monadology is a highly sophisticated and dense text that seeks to provide an ontological and epistemological grounding to empiricism and rationalism simultaneously. It seeks to overcome the mind-body dualism with a monism that can initially be easily mistaken for an atomistic, mechanistic and deterministic materialism, but is actually ultimately grounded in an ideal Creator. In many ways it is very much a precursor to the agnostic inclinations in deistic theology; there is both a clockwork universe and a clockmaker, whose interventions are very occasional (Leibniz does not entirely discount the possibility of miracles) at best. More to the point, the rules of the universe are bound by natural reason, which the Creator will not break; there will be no triangles whose sum of angles are not 180 degrees, for example.

The logical consequence of Leibniz's monads is also an answer to the problem of evil. The issue of theodicy has been a serious problem for theologians on account of the contradiction between of the existence of natural suffering and moral evil and the supposition of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient deity. With Leibniz, the Creator omnipotentence is constrained by reason; the world is the best possible situation, and it can be added, with "necessary" suffering and evil. Although Leibniz's solution is consistent with the assumptions (which is an early advocacy of the physicalist argument of free will as an illusion), is not convincing to many and was famously parodied by Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss in Candide.

As an independent discoverer of infinitesimal calculus (along with Issac Newton) and a genuine polymath who contributed to several fields of study and civil engineering efforts, it is quite understandable that Leibniz's metaphysics is not exactly a theology for the many. Nevertheless it does seek to answer, in a extremely rigorous and philosophical manner, those universal issues of the substances of the universe, the nature of human knowledge and understanding, the relationship of free will and determinism and the ultimate questions of Creation. Leibniz's rational meditations are, for a certain type of person, at least as inspirational and generative of a sense of wonder as any prayer of the theologically inclined, the quest for understanding as important as the Al-Jihad-ul-Akbar, and the principle of sufficient reason capable of bringing the same level of solace as even the most sensitive and skilled pastoral carer.

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