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(11/05/07 Update: Reflecting on this node months after I've written it makes me realize that it may contain nothing but a bunch of scatterbrained ramblings of questionable value. So, reader, take it as just that and nothing more.)

Gottfried Leibniz's philosophy is a clever mind-trick suitable for scam artists. If our little universe needed a marketer to sell it on its own merits, he would do well to read up on Leibniz's thought. Cause surely no one believes that our world is the best of all possible worlds, but even the most hardened optimists will be impressed by Leibniz's case that it is. Leibniz, a lover of mathematics, conceived of the perfection of the world in the abstract sense. God has willed the world to be perfect for higher minds who try to understand it. So basically all of the world's perfect hinges on the mental pleasure that it affords higher minds rather justice, fairness, or absence of suffering. To sum it up: God created the world for geeks.

The whole system of Leibniz's is dependent on two things: ever-changing substances called monads and their interrelation to each other. You see, monads are these eternal machines of change placed into the world by God. These little machines strive for harmony and attempt to achieve it by adjusting to all the other little machines. Now, monads are substances in general, whether living or merely clumps of matter. Lower monads that have no sentient perception nevertheless keep changing themselves: their conglomeration of particles detects the state of the external world and is driven to change its own internal configuration based on the external one. The higher monads that are alive and have sentient perception are called spirits, the human ones that can perform reflection and reason are referred to as souls. It is kind of ironic to notice that Leibniz has sort of placed human behavior into the realm of determinism.

Humans, like insentient monads such as rocks and sand pebbles, are also driven by unconscious metaphysical forces. The physical environment causes the human monad to undergo internal change just like it does to a rock. Thus a human monad's petites perceptions in Leibniz's terminology determine's this same person's actions - or his appetitions. Leibniz's theodicy - God's divine purpose for the Universe - hinges on the human organism's ability to perceive laws in nature and the harmony that persists among its various monads. That pleasure is supposed to make up for the suffering inherent in existence. The best concrete situation to illustrate Leibniz's meaning is a doctor's activity in the emergency room. While a doctor has to deal with many life-threatening injuries that include loss of limbs, agonizing scream-inducing pain, his ability to perceive the function of the human body's various organs, their natural attempts to restore themselves from injury as well as the possibility of applying external remedies to trigger the body's self-healing organisms is the embodiment of God's divine plan for the universe. The harmony of the human body, internally, as well as the harmony of nature-derived chemicals with it are all an illustration of God's divine order for the world and a human's being mental ability to access that order represents an experience of perfection.

Leibniz makes the point that God has created the world with a greatest possible good possible under the maximum harmony and variety of beings. The perfection of good and justice is obviously missing because to enable his creatures the greatest happiness, God would have to sacrifice their variety, their number, and the number of possible relations between them (harmony.) Happy creatures would have to have less complicated organisms that would be more protected against damage. The number of possible relations between monads, human or inhuman, would have to be reduced in order to prevent damage and injury and destruction. That of course would ruin the special pleasure that God has provided for the human mind by creating a maximally complicated, variety-filled world. All this leads me to conclude that Leibniz is a really selfish guy. A top notch egoist. You see, Leibniz thinks that God created the world for his own pleasure, more so than for anyone else's. He spends his days, sitting at his desk and describing the metaphysical properties of the universe. He perceives this perfect order that is the only pleasure supposedly offered by God in the universe, as justice, goodness, and lack of suffering hardly come into the picture.

No wonder that he has speculated that human ideas exist in the divine realm of God. Leibniz does not believe that our ideas of objects - the way we define them in terms of extension, motion, and cause - correspond to real entities that possess these properties. The objects actual properties transcend what we are able to perceive. Leibniz believes that the matter of the universe is infinitesimally tiny parts ad infinitum, so the human perception is not good enough to have access to matter in its full detail and is only privy to an abridged version. The ability to get this abridged version of objects via our "ideas" such as extension, motion, and cause is not to be taken for granted either. The fact that we have these ideas to turn the infinite details of matter into objects with clearly definable properties is due to God's generosity. The attribution of innate properties of perception that make knowledge of objects possible gives Leibniz an opportunity to sneak God into his philosophical system. Kant limited the perception of motion, extension, and cause to just mental properties and that's one of the reasons his philosophy is more palatable in our secular times than Leibniz's "fairy tale"

For all the intellectual pleasure and divine presence offered by Leibniz's "fairy tale", it turned out not to be not that magical. In this perfectly well-arranged system of monads, ideas, God, and the perfect order of the universe, the only thing that remains missing are justice, happiness, and lack of suffering. But who needs all of those? Perk up your minds and soak in the details of the universe as if it were a baroque cathedral with millions of finely etched details. Leibniz did come from the era where the baroque aesthetic was rather dominant.

P.S: The character Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide is a parody of Leibniz.


Rutherford, Donald. Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Mates, Beson. The Philosophy of Leibniz: Metaphysics and Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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