Total Posts:5|Showing Posts:1-5
Jump to topic:

Leibniz's metaphysics

sdavio
Posts: 1,801
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/21/2016 1:17:35 PM
Posted: 9 months ago
I'd like to give a little summary here of Leibniz's system, hoping that it will work as an advertisement for more people to become interested in his works. (Also if anyone wants to correct / debate my interpretation..) Although he is rightfully and widely recognized as an important and influential historical philosopher, the seeming strangeness of his concepts, along with the difficult obscurity of his writings have, I believe, led people not to recognize how radical and interesting his system was, as well as how it reflects in interesting ways more modern philosophers such as Derrida.

Leibniz was, in the first place, a precursor to a kind of "process philosophy". This is because his "monads" (which are the units, the fundamental 'atoms', of his universe) are not made up of any timeless physical substance. In this sense, they are more like souls than like our usual concept of material objects, and they are indivisible since they are the ultimate first-level explanatory particles that make any understanding of the world possible.

Rather than being made of material, a monad is firstly an "active principle of unity". This means that a monad is completely autonomous, which implies that there can be no causal interaction between them. Each monad exercises this freedom upon what are called "perceptions". Every monad "perceives" every other monad in the universe, and it exercises its autonomous self-creation upon these perceptions.

What this means is that "all truths are analytic". In other words, it means that if I knew all possible information about a particular object (in Leibniz"s terms, this is called the monad"s "complete concept") then I would also know all possible information about the entire universe. Every monad is in this sense omniscient.

Here, Leibniz is a precursor to Quine's questioning of the analytic / synthetic distinction in "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". He used the common example of the Morning and Evening Star to demonstrate how truths that are traditionally seen as "merely analytic" actually contribute more to our knowledge than is generally acknowledged. Whereas it was originally thought that they were two different stars, the discovery that they were both actually one and the same constitutes an informative statement of definition.

As well as being omniscient, the monads are also omnipotent. We can understand why this must be the case by analysing Leibniz"s account of absolute autonomy, combined with the fact that the "complete concept" of a monad contains the totality of perceptions. If both these are true, then it necessarily follows that each monad is omnipotent, since it exercises its autonomy solely upon these perceptions of the rest of the universe, which are reflected in the actual events which take place in the universe as a whole. Because a monad has both omniscience and omnipotence, Leibniz says that a monad is made in the image of God.

But this seems to pose an obvious problem. How can an infinite multiplicity of entities all simultaneously exercise complete control? Wouldn"t the system fall apart at the first instance of contradiction, or disagreement; in other words, of "evil"? This is where we encounter perhaps Leibniz"s most controversial position: he totally does away with "evil" itself. Since all of the monads are actually exercising their fullest self-determination, there is no room for "imperfections" in this metaphysics, and therefore we always occupy what Leibniz poetically describes as the "best of all possible worlds".

Max Stirner is one example of someone who, although a much later and in some respects very different thinker, somehow formulates a system which comes to remarkably resemble Leibniz's conception in unexpected ways. For one example, he returns to similar themes of the "best of all possible worlds" in the 'Ego and its Own':

"Yes, "if men were what they should be, could be, if all men were rational, all loved each other as brothers," then it would be a paradisiacal life. All right, men are as they should be, can be. What should they be? Surely not more than they can be! And what can they be? Not more, again, than they - can, than they have the competence, the force, to be. But this they really are, because what they are not they are incapable of being; for to be capable means - really to be. One is not capable for anything that one really is not; one is not capable of anything that one does not really do. Could a man blinded by cataracts see? Oh, yes, if he had his cataracts successfully removed. But now he cannot see because he does not see. Possibility and reality always coincide. One can do nothing that one does not, as one does nothing that one cannot."

As another example, while Derrida did not extensively read Leibniz, he took interest in the ways that Leibniz's philosophy emphasized beings as embodying an inner life-force (akin to a 'will'), as opposed to a philosopher such as Descartes who reduced much of being into mere 'extension' over space. This aspect of his philosophy preempts (and perhaps was the motivating factor behind) similar concepts of a noumenal will, in Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Leibniz's philosophy is also similar to Derrida's in that both challenge the strict division between the "human" and the "animal"; in fact, Leibniz is one of the most radical in this respect, since monads are the common locus of objects at all levels, from rocks to cats, to humans and even to God.

There, we can see how the seemingly austere rationalist reflections of Leibniz's philosophy can actually play out in radical ways in their more modern forms. Thus, Leibniz"s conception of metaphysics and morality constitute in many ways a surprising break from other classical philosophical systems. The traditional metaphysics conceived of the material world as a series of inert, self-contained material entities which followed each other in a causal chain, and conceived the human soul as a force outside of this causal chain, who broke that chain and in exchange took on the burden of moral responsibility. On the other hand, Leibniz breaks this division between man and nature, not by "mechanising' man into another link in the causal chain, but by "ensouling" the universe, and simultaneously relieving man of his moral burden by giving each monad both the power of total self-creation, and turning moral evaluations into a secondary function of this.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
dylancatlow
Posts: 12,255
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/21/2016 5:14:46 PM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/21/2016 1:17:35 PM, sdavio wrote:
In other words, it means that if I knew all possible information about a particular object (in Leibniz"s terms, this is called the monad"s "complete concept") then I would also know all possible information about the entire universe. Every monad is in this sense omniscient...As well as being omniscient, the monads are also omnipotent. We can understand why this must be the case by analysing Leibniz"s account of absolute autonomy, combined with the fact that the "complete concept" of a monad contains the totality of perceptions. If both these are true, then it necessarily follows that each monad is omnipotent, since it exercises its autonomy solely upon these perceptions of the rest of the universe, which are reflected in the actual events which take place in the universe as a whole. Because a monad has both omniscience and omnipotence, Leibniz says that a monad is made in the image of God.

Langan was definitely influenced by Leibniz's thinking in this regard. The principle of Hology states that "the overall structure of the universe is everywhere distributed within it as accepting and transductive syntax, resulting in a homogeneous syntactic medium," and the "fundamental atoms" of his universe are identified with syntactic operators, self-processing bits of information. This results in a "'distributed subjectivization' in which everything occurs inside the objects; the objects are simply defined to consistently internalize their interactions, effectively putting every object "inside" every other one in a generalized way and thereby placing the contents of space on the same footing as that formerly occupied by the containing space itself. Vectors and tensors then become descriptors of the internal syntactic properties and states of objects. In effect, the universe becomes a "self-simulation" running inside its own contents."

I'm not sure I understand why Leibniz believed each "atom" was independently omnipotent. Was it because he thought each atom predicated its behavior on what the rest of reality was doing, or was it because he thought each atom's behavior was reflected in all other atoms throughout the universe. In either case, I don't see how he reaches the conclusion that the atoms are omnipotent.

But this seems to pose an obvious problem. How can an infinite multiplicity of entities all simultaneously exercise complete control? Wouldn"t the system fall apart at the first instance of contradiction, or disagreement; in other words, of "evil"? This is where we encounter perhaps Leibniz"s most controversial position: he totally does away with "evil" itself. Since all of the monads are actually exercising their fullest self-determination, there is no room for "imperfections" in this metaphysics, and therefore we always occupy what Leibniz poetically describes as the "best of all possible worlds".

This would require some kind of transcendent "perfect world description" that all monads have unconditional access to on an a priori basis. I don't see how such a description would have any ontological force with respect to the contents of reality unless it were decided by reality at its most fundamental level. If each monad has to independently come up with the universal moral framework, then what's to ensure that all the monads will agree unless there's only one possible way things could be, which doesn't seem to be the case.
sdavio
Posts: 1,801
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/21/2016 6:18:27 PM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/21/2016 5:14:46 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
At 2/21/2016 1:17:35 PM, sdavio wrote:
In other words, it means that if I knew all possible information about a particular object (in Leibniz"s terms, this is called the monad"s "complete concept") then I would also know all possible information about the entire universe. Every monad is in this sense omniscient...As well as being omniscient, the monads are also omnipotent. We can understand why this must be the case by analysing Leibniz"s account of absolute autonomy, combined with the fact that the "complete concept" of a monad contains the totality of perceptions. If both these are true, then it necessarily follows that each monad is omnipotent, since it exercises its autonomy solely upon these perceptions of the rest of the universe, which are reflected in the actual events which take place in the universe as a whole. Because a monad has both omniscience and omnipotence, Leibniz says that a monad is made in the image of God.

Langan was definitely influenced by Leibniz's thinking in this regard. The principle of Hology states that "the overall structure of the universe is everywhere distributed within it as accepting and transductive syntax, resulting in a homogeneous syntactic medium," and the "fundamental atoms" of his universe are identified with syntactic operators, self-processing bits of information. This results in a "'distributed subjectivization' in which everything occurs inside the objects; the objects are simply defined to consistently internalize their interactions, effectively putting every object "inside" every other one in a generalized way and thereby placing the contents of space on the same footing as that formerly occupied by the containing space itself. Vectors and tensors then become descriptors of the internal syntactic properties and states of objects. In effect, the universe becomes a "self-simulation" running inside its own contents."

Interesting, I didn't know Langan was influenced by him.

I'm not sure I understand why Leibniz believed each "atom" was independently omnipotent. Was it because he thought each atom predicated its behavior on what the rest of reality was doing, or was it because he thought each atom's behavior was reflected in all other atoms throughout the universe. In either case, I don't see how he reaches the conclusion that the atoms are omnipotent.

It's important to keep in mind that there is no 'substance' to the monads; they are their perceptions, organized by a principle of autonomy. And they are not just perceiving 'some' monads, but every monad. If a perception of something is a 'real' perception (not a hallucination), then it would make no sense to say that there is a change in the perception without there being a change in the object perceived. Therefore the autonomous action of an individual monad is synonymous with a change in the entire system (God).

But this seems to pose an obvious problem. How can an infinite multiplicity of entities all simultaneously exercise complete control? Wouldn"t the system fall apart at the first instance of contradiction, or disagreement; in other words, of "evil"? This is where we encounter perhaps Leibniz"s most controversial position: he totally does away with "evil" itself. Since all of the monads are actually exercising their fullest self-determination, there is no room for "imperfections" in this metaphysics, and therefore we always occupy what Leibniz poetically describes as the "best of all possible worlds".

This would require some kind of transcendent "perfect world description" that all monads have unconditional access to on an a priori basis. I don't see how such a description would have any ontological force with respect to the contents of reality unless it were decided by reality at its most fundamental level.

Yes, I believe that what you're talking about as an apriori world-description corresponds to what Leibniz calls a monad's "complete concept". And yes, it's decided by reality from the beginning; in other words, even though actions are free, Leibniz still holds that God knows the 'script' in advance.

If each monad has to independently come up with the universal moral framework, then what's to ensure that all the monads will agree unless there's only one possible way things could be, which doesn't seem to be the case.

This is certainly, I think, one of the weaker parts of Leibniz's system, at least under some interpretations, in that Leibniz tends to say things to the effect that God just "created" a "pre-established harmony". However, I think that the system can work in a less artificial way than that would seem to suggest.

I think this more charitable interpretation must rest on seeing 'free action' as something other than simply an action which 'could be otherwise'. The whole list of my past and future actions is contained in the 'mind of God', and since I am a 'mirror of God' according to Leibniz, those actions are already contained in my nature, so in that sense I could not do otherwise.

However, in order to exist at all, there must be something about each monad which asserts itself independently and is not simply an epiphenomena of other monads. For instance, this view would not allow for a strict determinist position, since if Y is totally determined by X, then Y doesn't actually have any unique existence outside of X. That's basically another version of the identity of indiscernibles: any two things which are different must each be genuinely unique. In this way I see the autonomy Leibniz is talking about as a kind of minimum substrate of independence which each monad must separately assert in order to have its own existence.
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx
dylancatlow
Posts: 12,255
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/23/2016 7:08:25 PM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/21/2016 6:18:27 PM, sdavio wrote:
At 2/21/2016 5:14:46 PM, dylancatlow wrote:

I'm not sure I understand why Leibniz believed each "atom" was independently omnipotent. Was it because he thought each atom predicated its behavior on what the rest of reality was doing, or was it because he thought each atom's behavior was reflected in all other atoms throughout the universe. In either case, I don't see how he reaches the conclusion that the atoms are omnipotent.

It's important to keep in mind that there is no 'substance' to the monads; they are their perceptions, organized by a principle of autonomy. And they are not just perceiving 'some' monads, but every monad. If a perception of something is a 'real' perception (not a hallucination), then it would make no sense to say that there is a change in the perception without there being a change in the object perceived. Therefore the autonomous action of an individual monad is synonymous with a change in the entire system (God).

So in other words, each monad is able to directly influence the rest of reality. Unless each monad is able to determine reality's definition in any way it wishes, I don't see how this makes them all omnipotent. One monad's omnipotence would seem to deprive the rest of the monads of complete control. If one monad wants to do X, and another wants to do Y, and if X and Y conflict with each other, then obviously one has to yield to the actions of the other against its own will. If it's then argued that the monads would never think to act in a way that conflicts with the wishes of another, then they're more or less deterministic in their behavior, which would mean their behavior would be limited by underlying constraints imposed *on them* rather then imposed *by them*.

But this seems to pose an obvious problem. How can an infinite multiplicity of entities all simultaneously exercise complete control? Wouldn"t the system fall apart at the first instance of contradiction, or disagreement; in other words, of "evil"? This is where we encounter perhaps Leibniz"s most controversial position: he totally does away with "evil" itself. Since all of the monads are actually exercising their fullest self-determination, there is no room for "imperfections" in this metaphysics, and therefore we always occupy what Leibniz poetically describes as the "best of all possible worlds".

This would require some kind of transcendent "perfect world description" that all monads have unconditional access to on an a priori basis. I don't see how such a description would have any ontological force with respect to the contents of reality unless it were decided by reality at its most fundamental level.

Yes, I believe that what you're talking about as an apriori world-description corresponds to what Leibniz calls a monad's "complete concept". And yes, it's decided by reality from the beginning; in other words, even though actions are free, Leibniz still holds that God knows the 'script' in advance.

If that's the case, then the monads are not "first movers" in any meaningful sense, in which case I fail to see how each monad is independently omnipotent. Rather, they would be agents mindlessly carrying out the will of something more fundamental.

However, in order to exist at all, there must be something about each monad which asserts itself independently and is not simply an epiphenomena of other monads. For instance, this view would not allow for a strict determinist position, since if Y is totally determined by X, then Y doesn't actually have any unique existence outside of X. That's basically another version of the identity of indiscernibles: any two things which are different must each be genuinely unique. In this way I see the autonomy Leibniz is talking about as a kind of minimum substrate of independence which each monad must separately assert in order to have its own existence.

Very interesting. I don't see why the deterministic aspects of the monad - the aspects that are basically implicated by other monads - would achieve existence along with the " internally generated aspects". Is the justification simply that such aspects are basically part of the definition of the "freely created event" associated with the monad. In other words, the "creative event" is defined with physical laws in mind, so the deterministic aspects are not separable from the freely generated aspects of the creative event?
sdavio
Posts: 1,801
Add as Friend
Challenge to a Debate
Send a Message
2/25/2016 12:01:58 PM
Posted: 9 months ago
At 2/23/2016 7:08:25 PM, dylancatlow wrote:
Very interesting. I don't see why the deterministic aspects of the monad - the aspects that are basically implicated by other monads - would achieve existence along with the " internally generated aspects".

I just realised that it's very misleading that I talked about a "substrate of independence" as if there is some substantial material element beneath all of its accidents. This is just the kind of matter / form distinction which I read Leibniz as providing a challenge to.

Granted, I'm doing a very Derridian or 'postmodern' reading of Leibniz here, but I think it helps to make sense of what seem to be very deep and irreconcilable contradictions in his system.

In traditional metaphysics an object would consist fundamentally of its "substance", and then of its "predicates" or "accidents" which do not form part of its definition but 'happen' to be correlated with it. Those accidents belong to other substances, but provide a kind of 'referring' or 'standing-in' / 'representational' relationship with the substance itself. It is this kind of metaphysical distinction, along with all ones which run parallel to it, which I read Leibnizian philosophy (and subsequently Derridian) as attempting to radically forgo.

The autonomy exercised by a monad, is not some 'presence' which underlies its accidents, and the monad's 'perceptions' of other monads are not some secondary layer which then 'represents' the monad itself. The autonomy of each monad its only a process of the perceptions, and the 'objects' which those perceptions refer off to are only more bundles of perceptions.

This makes it seem that 'true' autonomy is impossible, since a monad always 'refers' off to something else; it can never engage in a free creation of substances or monads. This even applies to God for Leibniz; he describes God as simply 'maintaining' certain monads, rather than being able to 'causally create' anything. However, I believe that this is where it's important to carefully avoid overlaying any kind of traditional / Aristotelian metaphysical logic over this new, radically anti-Platonic Leibnizian / Nietzschian / Derridian metaphysic. For all of the latter thinkers, autonomy (or "self-creation") is not an arbitrary free-creation from a completely blank slate. All three use the language of "repetition" as the form of freedom, as opposed to the logic of self-identity, representation and causation. In this framework, self-creation is a kind of repetition of a latent potentiality.

This logic of mutual self-creation is only self-contradictory if we impose on it the opposed logic of causation and representation. The latter, traditional model we can also think of as being kind of like a traditional justice system. If someone steals something, we call them "responsible" for that action, even though, if their parents had raised them differently, they might have acted differently. If we granted the idea that this meant that the parents had to bear responsibility, then according to the logic of traditional justice, we'd be faced with an infinite regress of responsibility, since each person's parents would bear the responsibility for their actions, ad infinitum.

That traditional framework cannot bear a form of judgment where both the thief and their parents bear 100% responsibility. The 'causal' form of reasoning needs every causal relationship to be traceable back to a pure essence, which created that action from nowhere.

If one monad wants to do X, and another wants to do Y, and if X and Y conflict with each other, then obviously one has to yield to the actions of the other against its own will. If it's then argued that the monads would never think to act in a way that conflicts with the wishes of another, then they're more or less deterministic in their behavior, which would mean their behavior would be limited by underlying constraints imposed *on them* rather then imposed *by them*.

The idea that there could be two opposed values, 'X' and 'Y', in the way you're suggesting, presupposes a particular paradigm of how free choices come about. It would be that I, in a purely personal / self-identical zone of decision-making, come to some value, which the other monad does the same. In other words, both monads exist in some fundamental self-contained consciousness, in which they decide upon their values 'from nowhere', and then 'emerge' into the 'secondary' world of representations in order to enact them.

The basic difference in this mode of thinking, as I see it, as formulated by Derrida, is that the medium in which we make our decisions is essentially 'always already secondary'. What this means is that, since (for Leibniz) I cannot escape the realm of 'secondary' perceptions (since they are what I'm 'composed' of) they, rather, form the 'material' of my own unifying, autonomous activity. If I decide to pick up my phone, the 'different' self-creation of the phone which maintains itself as a unified entity 'other than me', is part of my enacting that decision.

This basically is to say that, since I am 'within' the universe, it forms the 'material' of my decision-making in the first place, so I cannot engage in any kind of willing which is radically opposed to the universe (it is this kind of radical opposition which your criticism would entail or presuppose). My decision making is a selective repetition of certain elements, not a self-contained free improvisation.

"I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation."

"Supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength (and barbarism!!)..."
- Nietzsche
"Logic is the money of the mind." - Karl Marx