The Monadology (French: La Monadologie, 1714) is one of Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads.
During his last stay in Vienna from 1712 to September 1714, Leibniz wrote two short texts in French which were meant as concise expositions of his philosophy. After his death Principes de la nature et de la grâce fondé en raison, which was intended for prince Eugene of Savoy, appeared in French in the Netherlands. Christian Wolff and collaborators published translations in German and Latin of the second text which came to be known as The Monadology. Without having seen the Dutch publication of the Principes they had assumed that it was the French original of the Monadology, which in fact remained unpublished until 1840.
The German translation appeared in 1720 as Lehrsätze über die Monadologie and the following year the Acta Eruditorum printed the Latin version as Principia philosophiae. There are three original manuscripts of the text: the first written by Leibniz and overcharged with corrections and two further emended copies with some corrections appearing in one but not the other. Leibniz himself inserted references to the paragraphs of his Théodicée ("Theodicy", i.e. a justification of God), sending the interested reader there for more details.
The metaphysics of The Monadology
The monad, the word and the idea, belongs to the western philosophical tradition and has been used by various authors. Leibniz, who was exceptionally well read, could not have ignored this, but he did not use it himself until mid-1696 when he was sending for print his New System. Apparently he found with it a convenient way to expose his own philosophy as it was elaborated in this period. What he proposed can be seen as a modification of occasionalism developed by latter-day Cartesians. Leibniz surmised that there are indefinitely many substances individually 'programmed' to act in a predetermined way, each substance being coordinated with all the others. This is the pre-established harmony which solved the mind body problem, but at the cost of declaring any interaction between substances a mere appearance.
The rhetorical strategy adopted by Leibniz in The Monadology is fairly obvious as the text
- begins with a description of monads (proceeding from simple to complicated instances),
- then it turns to their principle or creator and
- finishes by using both to explain the world.
(I) As far as Leibniz allows just one type of element in the building of the universe his system is monistic. The unique element has been 'given the general name monad or entelechy' and described as 'a simple substance' (§§1, 19). When Leibniz says that monads are 'simple,' he means that monads do not have parts. Relying on the Greek etymology of the word entelechie (§18), Leibniz posits quantitative differences in perfection between monads which leads to a hierarchical ordering. The basic order is three-tiered: (1) entelechies or created monads (§48), (2) souls or entelechies with perception and memory (§19), and (3) spirits or rational souls (§82). Whatever is said about the lower ones (entelechies) is valid for the higher (souls and spirits) but not vice versa. As none of them is without a body (§72), there is a corresponding hierarchy of (1) living beings and animals (2), the latter being either (2) non-reasonable or (3) reasonable. The degree of perfection in each case corresponds to cognitive abilities and only spirits or reasonable animals are able to grasp the ideas of both the world and its creator.
(II) God is also said to be a simple substance (§47) but it is the only one which is necessary (§§38-9) and without a body attached (§72). Creation is a permanent state, thus "[monads] are generated, so to speak, by continual fulgurations of the Divinity" (§47). Any perfection comes from being created while imperfection is a limitation of nature (§42).
(III) Composite substances or matter are "actually sub-divided without end" and have the properties of their infinitesimal parts (§65). A notorious passage (§67) explains that "each portion of matter can be conceived as like a garden full of plants, or like a pond full of fish. But each branch of a plant, each organ of an animal, each drop of its bodily fluids is also a similar garden or a similar pond". There are no interactions between different monads nor between entelechies and their bodies but everything is regulated by the pre-established harmony (§§78-9). Leibniz concludes that "if we could understand the order of the universe well enough, we would find that it surpasses all the wishes of the wisest people, and that it is impossible to make it better than it is — not merely in respect of the whole in general, but also in respect of ourselves in particular" (§90).
||This article possibly contains original research. (March 2009)|
Controversy in rationalism
When it was written, the Monadology tried to answer a two huge philosophical questions--both studied by Descartes--from a monist point of view: the first about the nature of reality, and the second about the problem of communication of substances. The second is related to a common objection mind-body dualism, namely, the body-soul interaction problem. Thus, Leibniz offered a new solution to the mind-matter interaction problem by positing a pre-established harmony between substances: the body is mere perceptions, which are all contained in a soul's complete concept. The soul and body interact and agree in virtue of the pre-established harmony, maintained by God. Leibniz also drew the relationship between “the kingdom of final causes”, or teleological ones, and “the kingdom of efficient causes”, or mechanical ones, which was not causal, but synchronous. So, monads and matter are only apparently linked, and there is not even any communication between different monads; there is only the pre-established harmony, which is established and maintained by God.
Leibniz fought against the Cartesian dualist system in his Monadology and instead opted for a monist idealism (since substances are all unextended). However, Leibniz was a pluralist in the sense that substances are disseminated in the world in an infinite number. For that reason the monad is an irreducible force, which makes it possible for the bodies to have the characteristics of inertia and impenetrability, and which contains in itself the source of all its actions. Monads are the first elements of every composed thing.
This theory leads to:
1. Idealism, since it denies things in themselves (besides monads) and multiplies them in different points of view. Monads are “perpetual living mirrors of the universe.”
2. Metaphysical optimism, through the principle of sufficient reason, developed as follows:
a) Everything exists according to a reason (by the axiom "Nothing arises from nothing");
b) Everything which exists has a sufficient reason to exist;
c) Everything which exists is better than anything non-existent (by the first point: since it is more rational, it also has more reality), and, consequently, it is the best possible being in the best of all possible worlds (by the axiom: "That which contains more reality is better than that which contains less reality").
- Lamarra A., Contexte Génétique et Première Réception de la Monadologie, Revue de Synthese 128 (2007) 311-323
- Leibniz G.W., La Monadologie, edition établie par E. Boutroux, Paris LGF 1991
- There is no indication that Leibniz has 'borrowed' it from a particular author, e.g. Giordano Bruno or John Dee, to mention just two popular sources
- Woolhouse R. and Francks R., Leibniz's "New System" and associated contemporary texts, Cambridge Univ. Press 1997
- On pourrait donner le nom d’entéléchies à toutes les substances simples ou Monades créées, car elles ont en elles une certaine perfection (ἔχουσι τὸ ἐντελές)
- trans. Hedge. "Leibniz's vestige view of God's creative act is employed to support his view of substance as an inherently active being possessed of its own dynamic force" Scott D., Leibniz model of creation and his doctrine of substance, Animus 3 (1998) 
- Nicholas Rescher N., G. W. Leibniz's Monadology, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8229-5449-4, ISBN 978-0-8229-5449-1
- Savile A., Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Leibniz and the Monadology, Routledge (2000), ISBN 0-415-17113-X, ISBN 978-0-415-17113-7
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- The Monadology, English translation, links, scalable text and printable version. Downloadable as pdf, doc or djvu files.
- English translation (1898), by Robert Latta
- Monadology public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- English translation and commentary (1999), by George MacDonald Ross
- A version of this work, lightly edited for easier reading
- French, Latin and Spanish edition (1981), with facsimil of Leibniz's manuscript, and introduction by Gustavo Bueno
- "Monad". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.