Essays in Philosophy/Essay I
The lately republished philosophical writings of Leibnitz are the productions of a species of intellectual labour that is very rare in this country, but of which, in Germany. France, and America, the press is giving forth some original and many republished specimens. The amount of republished metaphysical literature of the higher kind which has appeared in foreign countries within the last thirty years, is worthy of remark. Some idea of it may be formed from any common catalogue of books recently issued from the press of Leipsic, Berlin, Paris, or Boston. The labours of the illustrious Cousin in this department are well known. The works, in whole or in part, of Plato, Proclus, Abelard, Des Cartes, André, and Pascal have reappeared under the superintendence of this eloquent founder of the modern eclectic school of France.
Containing as they do the results, and in many respects splendid results, of purely abstract thinking, the works of Leibnitz are singularly fitted for contributing to imbue the mind of an ardent student with comprehensive and lofty speculation. While his writings abound in daring hypotheses, they have, nevertheless, greatly advanced metaphysical science, by rendering current a multitude of new ideas; and the fact of the continued circulation of an amount of abstract thought so great, so peculiar in its kind, and so fitted to set other minds to work, as these books contain, can never be unworthy of the consideration of those who would observe and study literature in its higher relations. Besides their intrinsic value, they are connected with an important epoch in the history of modern speculation. This philosopher looms vast even in the distance, at the entrance of the labyrinth of recent German Philosophy.
Though a curious combination of circumstances has hitherto preserved the surface of the British mind, in a great measure, unruffled by an influence powerful enough to create so much commotion on the continent of Europe, there are signs in the literary horizon which betoken a change, for which society in this country would do well to be prepared. By the well-regulated study of these unwonted topics, we may not merely disarm the enemies of religion, of what in other times has been, and will continue to be, a favourite weapon of assault, but we may even convert that weapon into an instrument of use in the service of an enlightened Christianity. The interest lately revived elsewhere in the life and labours of Leibnitz, and indicated among other means by various recent publications, suggests some meditation upon the leading events in his biography, accompanied with a few historical and speculative notices, as an introduction to that great department of knowledge of which he was so distinguished a cultivator, viz., Metaphysical Philosophy.
Perhaps these two last words are fitted to excite feelings of repugnance in the minds of some readers, as relating to something that is conceived to be at best vague and unproductive. The tendencies of public opinion in Great Britain, in the former half of this century, have evidently been greatly averse from these speculations. The section of society given to abstract meditation has never in any age been a large one; and the recent wide extension of a certain measure of intelligence has perhaps helped to diminish it, by putting the current literature more under the control of a public for the most part necessarily busy with the affairs of practical life. If we except the rising symptoms of a coming change—indicated partly in the poetical contemplations of Coleridge and the logical philosophy and learning of Sir William Hamilton—no literary efforts are even contemplated which involve purely speculative research; and hardly any concern is manifested for the philosophical pursuits of other nations. Metaphysical Science cannot, from its peculiar nature, be made generally popular till the exercise of reflection has become more common; unless, indeed, as sometimes happens, the science itself is degraded, so that (while the name Metaphysic is retained) those who profess to be its votaries are conversant exclusively, not with the most subtle and evanescent, but with the simplest and most generally seductive class of the objects of thought.
The present is a remarkable, and, indeed, anomalous historical epoch. In these islands it is, and has been since the commencement of this century, a period of rapid physical and social progress. Men have gained an increased knowledge of the laws and processes of matter, and thus the world is becoming a more convenient place of habitation. The principle of commerce has been developed to an extent unknown in the ancient world. The present revolution in the means of social intercourse and communication seems to be preparing the way for other changes, about which it is hardly safe to speculate. All the increased "subjection of matter to mind" which the world, and especially this country, has witnessed since the principles of the Baconian philosophy have become popular, must be indeed gratifying to every lover of his race. And in the more sublime departments of Physical Science the same progress is visible. Geology is contributing the details of the past history of the-planet on which we live. The telescope is making magnificent disclosures of the distant regions of the material creation. Nor is public interest confined to what is merely physical. Society itself is undergoing fundamental changes; and the "science of society," under its twofold form of civil and ecclesiastical, is the theme of discussion and controversy.
An age in which controversy turns on first principles needs, and will soon demand, a Metaphysical Literature. That state of knowledge and of general opinion is not a hopeful one, in which the thoughts and energies of men are directed exclusively towards physical or economical science. And when the intellect is in a state of fermentation, bare facts, separated from principles, excite only a feeble interest. Men then feel that beneath the stir occasioned by incessant activity among the outward events of this passing world, there lie hid the invisible elements and springs of those external changes of which this strange and dangerous life is the scene. Within and immediately around that inner circle, is the domain peculiar to Philosophy. The more deeply thought is exerted on any subject, the further is it compelled to go within the dominions of this "science of sciences." The soul there casts about for its anchorage in the ocean of thought.
The need for a First Philosophy, of the kind we have indicated in the foregoing paragraph, is not indistinctly referred to by Lord Bacon:—"Because," says he, "the distributions and partitions of knowledge are not like several lines that meet in one angle, and so touch but in a point, but are like branches of a tree that meet in a stem, which hath a dimension and quantity of entireness and continuance, before it come to discontinue and break itself in arms and boughs; therefore, it is good to erect and constitute one universal science by the name of 'philosophia prima,' primitive or summary philosophy, as the main and common way, before we come where the ways part and divide themselves; which science, whether I should report deficient or no, I stand doubtful."
The Metaphysical spirit makes itself manifest in various forms; and this passage from Bacon in several respects illustrates the difference between the two great classes into which philosophers may conveniently be divided, according as they employ one or other of two modes of research that differ in their principles, methods, and results. One class includes those who would merely generalize from experience; and whose highest laws are in consequence only their most extensive generalizations. The other class assume their first principles as given in the very act of exercising observation, and by demonstration endeavour to reach the extreme results of philosophy. It is not easy to find a nomenclature sufficiently comprehensive, and yet distinctively characteristic, to admit of suitable application to these schools. Probably, that suggested by Sir James Mackintosh is sufficiently exact for our purpose; and we may term the former of the two classes we have referred to Observational, and the latter Speculative Metaphysicians.
Leibnitz is the type, in modern times, of an abstract thinker of the purely speculative school. It is curious to trace the connexion between the secluded and seemingly ineffective study of what Bacon calls the philosophia prima, in the form in which it appears in this school, and the great external and social changes in the world. The "Advancement of the Sciences" is obviously connected with the astronomy of Newton and Herschel. The "Wealth of Nations" is an acknowledged cause of many recent alterations in modern society. The "Essay on Human Understanding" has plainly influenced the subsequent current of British thought. Not less surely, though less obviously, has the more purely speculative philosophy of that school, in which Leibnitz is one of the most illustrious names, been connected, for good and evil, with important modifications of those minds by which public opinion must be formed. The intimate relation between the labours of men of this class, and that meditative style of Christianity which is displayed in the writings of some of the great names in the Christian Church, is also manifest. The influence of Idealism and the higher Metaphysics as operative forces in society, becomes more apparent when we observe how efficacious their spirit has been to neutralize a vulgar sensationalism.
The study of the systems of Philosophy in all their variety, and of the lives and labours of various philosophers, is to be encouraged for many reasons. It supplies curious and useful thoughts, which might never otherwise have been suggested, and it also stimulates reflection in the student. The history of the erratic course which the human spirit has taken in the experience even of profound thinkers, is besides fitted to moderate dogmatism. The men of mightiest genius are found often to have fallen into the most signal errors. It is morally useful to train the mind in the habit of calmly apprehending and appreciating new doctrines, however opposed to what one has previously been accustomed to entertain. "Man," says Pascal, "is made for thinking. To think as we ought is the sum of human duty." Habits of abstract meditation have, moreover, a use additional to their absolute value to the individual speculator; they accustom men to a kind of exercise which must always be closely connected with the great progress epochs of history; and by the lucid and comprehensive views which they foster, as well as by the invigorating effect of the act of self-inspection, they become a potent force among those at work in society.
Some knowledge of the personal history of Leibnitz is likely, besides its intrinsic use and interest, to be a valuable help to the reader who desires to understand and appreciate his writings. It is satisfactory to find that most of the materials collected by former biographers, eulogists, and commentators, along with some new information, have lately been condensed into a useful biography by Dr. Guhrauer, who has already laboriously edited several of the works of Leibnitz, and contributed to the revival of an interest in the philosopher. His monograph is well fitted to bring the reader into intercourse with the great German, and with those numerous contemporaries with whom he maintained a "literary commerce" during the grand period in which he lived.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz was born in Leipsic on the 21st of June 1646. He was descended of an ancient family, that had gained distinction in civil and ecclesiastical affairs. His grand-uncle, Paul Leibnitz, attracted notice in the wars in Hungary, and was highly honoured by the Emperor Rodolph II.
We must not omit a special allusion to the eventful epoch of the philosopher's birth. Just a hundred years before, Luther had rested from his earthly labours, during the excitement of the most memorable religious and social change which the world has witnessed since the introduction of Christianity. But soon after the Reformer's death, Christian doctrine, owing in a great measure to the want of Christian organization in the Church, became, especially in Germany, gradually separated more and more from the hearts of nominally Christian men. The coldness of mathematical demonstration represented Christianity in the pulpits and halls of the country of the Reformation, where, in the seventeenth century, the icy orthodoxy of Calixtus took the place of the fervid sermons of Luther.
The period of the Protestant Reformation was a time of much general excitement and progress in society, as well as the era of a great revolution in the Church. The modern reformation of Philosophy was, however, formally inaugurated at a later period. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the recovery and revived use of the remains of antiquity supplied, for the most part, sufficient materials for literary activity. The controversy between the Aristotelians and the Ramists in the sixteenth century had, moreover, diverted men's minds from the production of a Philosophy altogether modern and reformed. The birth of Leibnitz was just subsequent to the time when, the strength of the evangelical movement having unhappily abated in most countries, a movement towards a reform of Philosophy had succeeded. The mind is not likely at any time to be strongly stirred in a science like Theology, without being directed to "the science of sciences." A New Philosophy was making its appearance in England and France. Bacon's "Advancement of the Sciences" appeared in 1605, and the "Method" of Des Cartes in 1637. In each country thought and research had assumed a fundamentally different form. In England, the practical character of the people well agreed with the lessons of comprehensive sagacity that were given forth in the works of Bacon; and these naturally led to the solid and cautious, yet withal little imaginative form, which metaphysical science assumed afterwards in the works of Locke; and through Locke, generally, in British philosophy. In France, on the other hand, the philosophical writings of Des Cartes had awakened that style of speculation which cannot be wholly dormant while the spirit of Plato and St. Augustin attracts sympathy in the world, and which in France, subsequently to Des Cartes, was adorned and elevated by some of the noblest and worthiest spirits of modern times. Besides the lives of Malebranche and Fénelon, those of Pascal, and Arnauld, and Nicole, and the other recluses of Port-Royal, give to the Cartesian a more sacred interest than can be attached to any other modern school of Philosophy. Although this peculiar feature of its history is marred by that mystic quietism which the monastic genius of the Catholic Church tends to foster, it is encouraging to find even this imperfect illustration of the manner in which Christianity may be allied to general speculation.
But Germany was thenceforward to be the European focus of Idealism, and of abstract thinking of every kind. In that country, previously to the rise of the Leibnitzian philosophy, there had been no manifestation of the new spirit of reform. The labours of Leibnitz virtually mark the commencement of the extraordinary course which metaphysic has since run in the native country of that celebrated thinker. Since then, the principle which at first separated the schools of Locke and Leibnitz has modified the currents of thought in Britain and Germany, and is thus connected with many of those characteristics by which the British is signally distinguished from the Continental mind. Since then, too, Germany has been the centre of European speculation, and has exhibited some of the most extraordinary phenomena in the history of human thought. There, amid the successive revolutions of more than a hundred years, every abstract question has been debated that the mind of man can entertain; and there has been added to preceding ones, perhaps the most remarkable and instructive of all the records of the clouded wanderings of human reason. The discussions raised by Leibnitz have given birth to the philosophical systems of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and so to the now enormously accumulated materials of the Teutonic metaphysics.
The father of Leibnitz was Professor of Morals in the ancient University of Leipsic. He died during the childhood of his son. By his pious mother, the thoughts of the young Gottfried Wilhelm were much directed to religion; and this guidance no doubt gave to his subsequent speculations much of that theological cast by which they are distinguished. Both his parents were Lutherans. The first twenty years of his life were spent chiefly in Leipsic. In the Nicolai School of that city, and also in the University, which he entered in 1661, he gave early evidence of his peculiar type of genius. His powers of mind were directed, in turn, to almost every object of knowledge. He eagerly studied history and the classics, in which his reading extended far out of the beaten track in which the ill-judged exertions of his narrow-minded teachers would fain have restrained him. It was, however, when he was introduced to Logic and Philosophy, that the strength of his genius, and the special direction of his mind, were fully shown. He read Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus, and revelled in the subtleties of the scholastic metaphysics—that stimulant of the human intellect for so many hundred years. In his father's richly-stored library, he read, almost during the years of childhood, Scotus, and Fonseca, and Rubius, and Suarez, and Zabarella, and other schoolmen, with special delight. To the literature of theology he was no stranger, even at this early period. His thoughts were directed to the/ deep controversies about election and grace, by the works of St. Augustin and Luther, the reformed theology, and the writings of Antony Arnauld. The amount of learning accumulated by this precocious student before he entered the University appears to have been prodigious. Soon after his entrance on academical life, Des Cartes fell into his hands. His tendency towards eclecticism, afterwards more fully displayed, was even then shown in endeavours to harmonize Plato and Aristotle, Des Cartes and the schoolmen. The scholastic logic and philosophy was then dominant in Leipsic, as it was in most of the other universities of Germany. The formal spirit, as well as the mechanical style of instruction then generally prevalent in Germany, harmonized ill with the fire of speculation that was already kindled in the bosom of the youthful Leibnitz. A thousand chimeras of speculation floated through his brain. He started a thousand difficulties with his teachers and associates. Even Bacon, and Des Cartes, and the later Philosophy, served to awaken rather than to convince him. His mind was too independent to be moulded by others. His intellect revolted from the authority of his masters. In solitude, he cherished the most ardent views of the advancement of knowledge and the progress of man.
The whole history of the early years of Leibnitz forms a precious record of what we might call speculative experience. It reveals the self-educating genius of the really original mind, and shows a singular development of abstract thought at an age when the attention is usually engrossed with the objects of sense. In his recorded experience, at the age of sixteen, are to be found the dim forms of those problems which agitated his thoughts during the most active years of his life. For days together, as he tells us, he was wont to pursue his walks alone in the woods of Rosenthal, near Leipsic, revolving in his soul the first principles of that mysterious life, to a consciousness of which he had become awake. Before he had studied mathematics, physics, or morals, he was led to the conception of the higher Philosophy. He felt, what can be felt only by the true metaphysician,—the need for a scheme of eternal first principles on which all knowledge must depend. This was the theme of his earliest writings. His speculations on a universal language, grounded on what he calls the alphabet of thought, and his treatise De principio individui, published when under twenty, display the metaphysician capable of going back to first principles, and of following consequences intrepidly to their issues. In these labours of this early period, we have a fair specimen of the whole intellectual life of Leibnitz. They are, moreover, eminently characteristic of the National Philosophy which he originated.
Owing to a difference with the University authorities, Leibnitz left Leipsic, and his native country of Saxony, and in 1666 went to the University of Altdorf. There he received his degree in law the same year. He thus belongs to that class of distinguished philosophers who have been bred to the legal profession. The philosophy of law naturally attracted his thoughts. At the age of twenty-one, he published a tract on jurisprudence, which forms an epoch in that science. "There was only one man in the world," says Hallam, "who could have left so noble a science as philosophical jurisprudence for pursuits of a still more exalted nature, and for which he was still more gifted; and that man was Leibnitz. He passed onwards to reap the golden harvests of other fields."
After leaving the University, he led a somewhat desultory life for several years. During the interval between 1666 and 1676, he visited several of the German universities, which must have served to confirm his academical tendencies. A professorial chair was soon within his reach, but was declined by one whose projects of Reform in Philosophy were too comprehensive to be confined within the narrow limits of a University. In 1667 he removed to Frankfort, where he became Secretary to the Baron von Boineburg, and was patronized and employed by the Elector of Mentz. During his residence in the Electorate, he was much engaged in public, legal, and diplomatic labours, as well as in literary pursuits. Yet his mind was all the time pervaded by the great idea of his life. He found time to edit the Antibarbarus of the Italian Nizolius, and, besides, was active in theological controversy. The Baron, who was born in the Lutheran Church, had joined the communion of Rome, and was much interested in a scheme for the union of the Romish and Lutheran Churches. This eclectic movement was not forgotten by Leibnitz at a later period in his life.
His speculations about this time are marked by the vagueness naturally characteristic of one who had cast off the authority of others, and had not resolved a system for himself. It was the transition-period in his life, during which his recorded thoughts teem with the germs of those ideas that are found in a matured form, and in profuse variety, in the Nouveaux Essais and the Théodicée.
These years are still more marked as the period of the commencement of that literary intercourse which afterwards accumulated so enormously, and in which Leibnitz always appears in the centre of the thinking spirits of his age. It commenced, and was maintained, among others, with kindred minds in the Cartesian school—with Malebranche, the recluse author of the Recherche de la Vérité, of whom we have the interesting records that his genius lay dormant, till it was kindled by contact with the speculations of Des Cartes, and that his controversy about Idealism with Berkeley, on the only occasion they ever met, so roused the ardour of the then aged philosopher, that his death is recorded a few days afterwards—and with Arnauld, the pious, contemplative Jansenist of Port-Royal, the theological and philosophical antagonist of Malebranche. Leibnitz visited Arnauld at Paris in 1672, and remained in that brilliant metropolis during the greater part of the few following years. In 1673, he went for a short time to London, and came in contact with many of the English savans—among others, with Collins and Sir Isaac Newton. Shortly before his death, for the first and last time, Spinoza,—that type of the demonstrative metaphysician, received a visit at the Hague from the now rising Saxon philosopher. From the wonderful logical concatenation of the system of Spinoza, his mind must have received a powerful impression. From about 1674, his intercourse with Hobbes may be dated. The sceptical Bayle seems to have been the useful instrument of the more full development of his ideas—an indirect benefit which the cause of truth has often received from the labours of scepticism.
The year 1676 is an era in the life of Leibnitz. Death had taken away his patrons the Elector of Mentz and Von Boineburg. He was himself in Paris. But his reputation in Germany was now of the highest. He accepted an offer, tendered for the third time, to reside at the brilliant literary court of Hanover. Thus commenced a connexion which lasted during the remaining forty years of his life, and in which he held a succession of legal and literary offices, under the Duke John Frederic and his successors, the Electors Ernest Augustus, and George Louis,—the latter of whom became George I. of England two years before the death of Leibnitz. The additional means enjoyed by him at Hanover for gratifying the peculiarities of his genius, were used with his characteristic ardour. The variety of his aims during these forty years is marvellous. The development of his speculative genius continued to advance, and his thoughts, stirred from their lowest depths by the cycle of the sciences during that whole period, would present an exceedingly curious spectacle, if we could have these changes in the current of the soul represented to the senses. History, languages, geology, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, politics, and theology, in turn secured his attention, and his busy spirit collected the various learning of each department. His almost superhuman versatility of mind secured for Leibnitz the highest distinction in most of the sciences which come within the range of human thought. In history he laboured for years on the antiquities of the house of Brunswick, and the early annals of Germany. An experience of the extreme difficulty of historical researches suggested to him what may be styled the comparative anatomy of languages as an instrument for facilitating his efforts to travel backwards into the past. To the study of languages he accordingly applied himself with incredible zeal. He laid ambassadors and Jesuit missionaries under contribution for philological facts. In prosecuting this one department of investigation, he maintained a vast correspondence. Facts gathered from China and the Eastern tongues served to animate his exertions, and added new materials for speculation. Not content with the records and memorials of the past, contained in the words and works of man, he interrogated the globe itself. In his speculations on the physical vestiges of its early history, we find curious anticipations of recent geological hypotheses. These may be seen in a small tract entitled Protogea.Leibnitz was able, in an unusual degree, to combine the external and the contemplative life. A great part of his time was busied with the conduct of civil and ecclesiastical negotiations. His correspondence regarding the unity of the Church, with the Landgrave of Hesse-Rheinfels, with Arnauld, with Spinola, and with Bossuet, which occupied more or less of his time during twenty years, deserves some distinct notice. The reunion of the Protestants with the Church of Home was then placed by Leibnitz in the first rank of those questions on a settlement of which his heart was set. By his philosophic mind this adjustment was felt to be nearly related to his previously ascertained speculative doctrine of the theocracy, and a universal hierarchy. His veneration for the Romish theory of a living infallible authority, supplementary to, and expository of, the written word of Scripture, was indeed coupled with a protest against the existing corruptions of the Church, and an expression of his fear that a formal adherence to Rome on his own part might, from (the practical intolerance of the Romish theologians, cramp the freedom of his philosophical speculations. Though he thus firmly resisted all solicitations to join the outward communion of Rome, yet his heart, and perhaps his conviction, was accorded to the system of the hierarchy. His love for scholastic learning may have biassed his inclinations in this direction, and his comprehensive genius, like that of many other kindred spirits, found gratification in the vast unity and completeness of the ideal Catholic Church, with its ritual, and its organization, apparently so suited for all the various characters and circumstances of those whom it desires to embrace within its ample fold, and all bearing so much the semblance of a fitting picture of that still vaster organization wherein he loved to contemplate the whole universe reclaimed into the harmony of the government of the All-holy and the All-wise. Yet this part of the life of Leibnitz is not one that can be studied with unmixed satisfaction. The source of those oscillations of opinion which are sometimes the consequence, in honest and devout minds, of a many-sided view of an extremely comprehensive subject, seems hardly sufficient to account for the inconsistencies of Leibnitz in his negotiations with the representatives of the Church of Rome.
During the later years of his life he was much engaged with another project of ecclesiastical union. A scheme was promoted by him about the year 1697, (under the auspices of the Courts of Hanover and Berlin,) for a general union of the Protestants against Rome, and especially of the two great sections of Protestantism,—the Lutheran and the Reformed. It was quite suited to the eclectic genius of the philosopher, and was long pressed by him on the attention of Europe. He laboured to destroy what he called the "idle phantoms" by which the Protestant Churches were separated. But the defects which marked his other scheme of universal Christian communion, marred this project of Protestant union. Both were essentially political and philosophical. They fail to recognise Religion and the Church as independent powers, whose liberties are essential for the accomplishment of the ends of the Christian society. Even this philosopher seems not to have felt, that when religion becomes the slave of merely human authority, it ceases to be either the great instrument of civilisation, or the means of preparing men for full union in the City of God. The pious Spener, who had personally experienced its supernatural force, predicted the ill issue of the Conference for Union held in Hanover in 1698, at which Leibnitz, Jablonski, and Molanus were present. The result justified his sagacity. A scheme for ecclesiastical union or co-operation, in order to be successful, should be able to assume the spirit of hearty and supreme devotion to religion on the part of those who are to be united. The progress of the great spiritual commonwealth, and not the political arrangements of nations, must be its ruling principle.
The general doctrine of toleration, and the laws which regulate the attainment of truth, were frequently the subjects of incidental speculation on the part of Leibnitz, connected as they are with ecclesiastical unity, and, indeed, with the discussion of whatever relates to the social or individual good estate of man. His disposition was naturally tolerant. In his works we have repeated glimpses of those doctrines which have now become much more widely diffused through society, and which were so admirably enforced by his great contemporary Locke. He appreciates with cordiality the value of the prevalence of mild sentiments, and an unsectarian spirit, as means for the discovery and diffusion of truth—habits of mind, which, we are glad to believe, are becoming now of more generally recognised moral obligation.
Even the speculative discussion of this class of subjects has not yet been exhausted. There is room for an investigation into those general relations among men considered as members of society, in regard to individual belief or opinion, which the moral law demands, and which reason and experience approve, as best fitted to secure the most extensive diffusion of truth; and in subordination to which all special social organization, civil and ecclesiastical, ought to be regulated. The full solution of this great problem is still among those left to exercise the minds of the men of this or of some future age.
Throughout the forty years of his connexion with the Court of Hanover, Leibnitz maintained his literary intercourse with unabated energy. In this period he settled and extended the foundations of the literary republic of Europe. In 1687, he travelled up the Rhine, ransacked the libraries and archives of Bavaria, Bohemia, and Vienna, and promoted his acquaintance with learned men. In 1689, he went to Italy, and gained free access to the Vatican and Barberini libraries. His intercourse with the Jesuits and other religious Orders, was all turned to the account of adding to his stores of learning. After visiting Rome, he travelled through Italy, and returned to Hanover in 1690, only to resume his labours in the Royal library, of which he had been appointed keeper. In 1700, he was the means of founding the famous Berlin Academy of Sciences, meant by him to be a centre of German literary and scientific intercourse and effort. He was unfortunately unsuccessful in his endeavour to establish at Vienna another institute of the same kind, and on a still more comprehensive plan. He was much interested in the civilisation of the rising Russian empire, and had personal conferences on the subject with Peter the Great. He busied himself with the progress of education and missionary exertion in Russia, and also in the German States, where he was anxious that the schools and colleges should be seminaries of Protestant missions.
Amid all his diversified projects, and stupendous literary activity, the metaphysical tendency ever preserved the ascendency in the genius of Leibnitz. His philosophical principles were gradually matured soon after his settlement in Hanover. The doctrine of Monads was developed in a succession of publications subsequent to l680. Some of his most valuable contributions to Philosophy are due to the publication of the celebrated "Essay on Human Understanding," which appeared in 1690, and at once attracted his attention. There could be little mutual sympathy between two philosophers so completely antagonist as the author of the "Essay" and himself. Locke despised what he called the "chimeras" of Leibnitz. The Teutonic philosopher accorded to his English contemporary the praise of perspicuity, but proclaimed his utter ignorance of the "demonstrative metaphysics." In 1703, Leibnitz being disengaged, undertook a formal reply to Locke, which he completed in the following year. The death of Locke caused an indefinite postponement of the publication of this work, which did not appear till long after the death of the author. In 1765, it was given to the world by the industrious Raspe. This work, published under the title of "Nouveaux Essais sur l'Entendement Humain," is his philosophical masterpiece, and contains the substance of all that has been advanced by him on behalf of his speculative system, against the school of Locke.
The manner of publication adopted by Leibnitz was, for the most part, fragmentary. His "Système de l'Harmonie Préétablie" is developed in various small treatises. There is, however, one great work, which is more popular and practical in its style, and therefore more generally known than almost any of his other writings, the preparation of which occupied much part of many years in his life. We refer to the Théodicée—a book which holds a front rank in the very small class of works specially conversant with the philosophy of religion. The design of the Théodicée is to reconcile the existence and continuance of evil in the universe with the character of God—to remove the difficulty that has been raised in all ages, and in all religions, and that may be reckoned the fundamental metaphysical problem of the Christian philosophy. It has already been indicated that the thoughts of Leibnitz were directed to these subjects from the time of his decided intellectual development. In 1671 he wrote a tract on Free Will and Predestination. The negotiations about Church union perhaps led him to take a greater interest in these speculations, in as far as the circulation of doctrines fitted to harmonize with the dark phenomena of the moral world the biblical view of the character of God, might facilitate the peace of the Church. The avowed purpose of the Théodicée is to refute the sceptical principle of Bayle, who denied the consistency of faith and reason, and thus laid a foundation for universal doubt. The public appearance of the book in 1710, produced a profound sensation. It was received with applause by most of the continental universities, but the prevalence of Locke's Philosophy in England disposed the public mind in this country to receive it with distaste.
The current of speculation, in the mind of Leibnitz, continued to flow during the later years of the philosopher's life. In 1714, he drew up a scheme of his Philosophy for the use of Prince Eugene of Savoy, (La monadologie.) This period of his life was also signalized by his correspondence with Des Bosses. The close of 1715 is memorable as the commencement of a still more interesting correspondence. In a letter to the Princess of Wales, he assailed the philosophical and religious principles of the school of Locke and Newton. This called forth Samuel Clarke in their defence. The replies of Leibnitz, and the rejoinders of Clarke contain as large an amount of curious speculation as any work of modern times. The manner of God's relation to the universe—the nature of miracles —the laws of the divine and human will—the ideas of space and time—and the character and limits of the material world, are among the stores of this magazine of speculative discussion. The controversy was continued with increasing zeal on both sides. Inferior in power of generalization and originality to his antagonist, the intellect of Clarke was possessed of an acuteness and logical force which rendered him one of the most skilful of philosophical disputants, and demanded a full display of the comprehensiveness and grandeur of mind of his German rival.
But that mighty spirit was now to close his connexion with this mysterious scene of existence. Leibnitz had suffered from occasional illness during several preceding years. These attacks, however, passed away, and the philosopher resumed his speculations with renewed energy. In November 1716, when he had to prepare his reply to Clarke's fifth letter, his illness returned with great violence. We have no distinct record indicating that the moral sensibilities of the Philosopher were rightly alive to the decisive nature of the awful change. His seventy years are ended, and the lightning seems lost among dark clouds. During the last day of his life, we are told he was busied in conversation with his physician on the nature of his disease, and on the doctrines of alchymy. Towards evening his servant asked him if he would receive the Eucharist. "Let me alone," said he; "I have done ill to no one. I have nothing to confess. All must die." He raised himself on the bed and tried to write. The darkness of death was gathering around him. He found himself unable to read what he had written. He tore the paper, and lying down, covered his face with his hands. A few minutes after nine o'clock on the evening of the 14th November 1716, Leibnitz ceased to breathe. It is affecting to the imagination to contemplate a human spirit, whose course of thought throughout life was unsurpassed for power of speculation, and daring range of mind among the higher objects of knowledge, and who, at the very period of its departure, was in the depths of a controversy about the mysteries of the supersensible world,—thus summoned into that world, to become conversant in his final relations with the Being who had intrusted him with mental power, and whose nature and attributes had so often tasked his speculative energies.
The effect, upon many minds, of the record of the life of this Philosopher, may be, perhaps, akin to a confused amazement at the spectacle of continued mental exercises so unparalleled in kind and variety. Yet a vague impression of this sort ought not to be the predominant one. A grand unity pervades the seeming confusion in which this man's life seems enveloped. A reigning idea which diffuses a community of principle through the whole cycle of his works, we have traced back in the earliest operations of his reflecting powers. Conversant through his life with those mysteries in proof of which no reason can be given, and with real or seeming demonstrations founded on these "first principles," we find in Leibnitz the type or model of the speculative metaphysician. The present seems a fit occasion for bestowing the notice of a short discussion on this suggested subject, which is connected with an important contribution made by Leibnitz to philosophy. The consideration of it may, besides, make us advantageously familiar with some of the properties of that atmosphere in which has been gathered the cloud that has darkened subsequent German speculations, and rendered metaphysical science, in one aspect of it, retrograde in that country.
Des Cartes, the reviver and reformer of Speculative Philosophy in modern times, commenced his philosophical career with the practice of universal doubt, as the means of reaching the elements of knowledge. Thus set loose in the microcosm of thought, he found the consciousness of self-existence inseparable from the act of thinking. "Cogito, ergo sum" was accordingly his first principle. Involved in the rudiments of self-consciousness, he found the idea of an all-perfect Being, whose attributes require the certainty of all that is clearly and distinctly recognised by us. With the help of these assumptions, he thought himself prepared to defend knowledge against the assaults of scepticism. But the supposed foundation was too narrow. The tests proposed for its extension were too vague. The effects soon became apparent. The disciples and admirers of Des Cartes maintained doctrines the most various. Malebranche could not, without the infallible Church, retain an external world. The Egoists, whose existence as a sect is, however, somewhat problematical, having declared their inability to rise beyond the first axiom of their master, rested there amid the fluctuations of a merely subjective universe. Spinoza, unable to defend, by reasoning, our faith in finite substances, absorbed mind and matter in one all-pervading Existence. Des Cartes had, in truth, proposed to the thinking world an insoluble problem, when he sought to reach the extreme theory of knowledge, self-consciousness alone being given.
Leibnitz saw the insufficiency of the Cartesian principle. He longed to solve the hitherto unsolved difficulty of a First Philosophy. Des Cartes, by directing him to the mind itself, through which we reflect, had, for the first time, clearly shown the quarter in which, those results of which he was in quest are to be found. The maxim of the school of Locke was "nihil est in intellectu nisi quod prius in sensu." The famous addition, "nisi intellectus ipse" expresses the distinctive peculiarity of Leibnitz. But how is the "intellectus ipse" to be distinguished from the "quod prius in sensu?" The discovery of a test for marking this distinction, is an important addition made by him to the common stock of philosophical principle. He has expressed its nature, among other places, in a letter to Bieling, in which, speaking of Locke, he asserts that he has "no idea of the demonstrative metaphysics. Could he have made the distinction between necessary truth, which we obtain by intuition, and those other truths which we reach by experience, he would have found that the senses teach us only what takes place, not what must take place." All those ideas which we are compelled to think, accordingly, belong to the very structure of the soul itself, and are to be included as articles of our original Faith. The critical philosophy of Kant is an attempt, by the application of this principle, to collect the several truths with which the soul is at first furnished, and to view them in their relation to the added facts of experience.
Philosophy has ever been a struggle between the spirit of doubt and the spirit of dogmatism—of which the one declines to admit as true any conclusion that is not the result of logical deduction, and the other assumes, in whole or in part, the principles which the sceptic assails. Men in all ages have been oscillating between these extremes. The many, in whom the love of order and simplicity naturally predominates, and who are likely to be aiming at a philosophy in which every assumption and conclusion is capable of being conceived and explained by the understanding, may find, in the singularly acute " Treatise" of Hume, the results of such shallow metaphysics. A more profound view of what is revealed to reflection, finds an infinity of things which the understanding cannot solve, and which, while not contrary to sense, are yet above sense. A love for the mystic obscurity in which this principle involves the higher truths of knowledge, may confine an enthusiastic thinker exclusively within that region of abstraction, and conduct him altogether away from sense and experience, till, lost in the supersensible forms of thought, he resolves the actual into the ideal; and thence, in a different direction, reaches practically the very scepticism from which his previous course was a seeming divergence. Faith is, on the one side, lost in the dark abyss of doubt: on the other, it evaporates in the sunny haze of the empyrean of transcendentalism. In either case, a pretended philosophy, instead of guiding the perplexed labourers who are pressing on with their work below, only adds to the fogs which already darken their atmosphere.
It is, notwithstanding, evident that the perfect philosophy must recognise and include a body of first principles, resting on faith, by which all knowledge of things divine and human must be regulated. As, in the material world, the lever needs a fulcrum before it can work, so, in the world of thought, these mysteries are the indispensable fulcrum of intellectual exertion. To obtain a refuge from doubt, and a sure and rational foundation on which knowledge and action may be based, must always be the aim of the higher philosophy. The tendency of men of earnestness and reflection in this direction, depends on the maxim involved in the very act of reflecting; for the root of reflex thinking is the consciousness which we feel, that in rigorous search for truth or decisive controversy, we are called to labour for the attainment of an ultimate principle which shall either itself explain that about which we speculate, or else supply a self-evident reason that to us it is inexplicable. Reason would be interminable, if it did not find its ultimate limit in truths which it cannot prove. Every principle must be either resolvable by the understanding, or must rest on faith; and as every conceivable question may be thus carried down to faith, all knowledge runs into mystery. An adjustment of the fact of this realm of mystery, from which no effort can disconnect us, has ever been the profound difficulty with men of contemplative minds, and one which the labours of thinking men of all ages have advanced only a very few steps towards a solution. Its mal-adjustment in the philosophical system has already wrought havoc with the highest and most solemn interests of men. Along the borders of this shaded land, have arisen the miasmata of the schools of Elis and Alexandria, of Spinoza and the new German philosophy, and of eastern mysticism. Hitherto, Scottish thinkers, with a very few exceptions, have tried practically to substitute an analysis of mental phenomena, in place of the real difficulties of metaphysical speculation. But abstract reflection, if legitimately pursued, must in the end place us in contact with these difficulties. If in some minds the floodgates of universal doubt are thus opened, this is a discipline we cannot avoid. Mysteries are needed as means to the attainment of knowledge. They are, moreover, suggested to the soul by all its most prominent objects of thought—by the starry heavens—by the infinite space in which we and they are included—by the awful eternity through which we are passing—by the consciousness of our own existence—by the revelation of Him "in whom we live and move and have our being"—by the sublime realities of a moral law, and a responsible because personal agency—and by the dark shades of guilt in which a portion, at least, of that created personal agency is involved. Of mysteries like these we cannot rid ourselves. They rise in a thousand forms, and in them all knowledge merges. The question here reverts to deep-thinking minds, How are we to deal with them, and what place is to be assigned to them? We may still "report deficient" the Philosophia Prima of Bacon; but with the instructive lesson of the extravagancies of Continental speculation before our eyes, and the sober Christian discipline of the Scottish mind for an additional sedative, we may yet become better prepared for the calm discussion and settlement (as far as man can settle them) of these lofty questions, and for an encounter with the hydra of a perverted speculation, which already shews signs of being within our borders, in the distorted theology of would-be metaphysical theologians, and in the atheism and socialism of our corrupted masses.
We fear we may not have succeeded in rendering very intelligible, and far less in rendering attractive, the nature and scope of the most comprehensive question in philosophy. After any attempted statement of it, the consequent experience of the insufficiency of the words of ordinary language for these refined purposes, must invest with interest the splendid project by Leibnitz himself of a universal language, of which the alphabet should indicate the few original ideas with which all the rest of our knowledge is connected; while overlooking, perhaps, the wide difference of the matter of metaphysical and mathematical science, he held that out of these simple characters formulas might be constructed, expressive of the various relations between thoughts, and that through them inferences might be deduced, with the same freedom from error, as by the processes of geometry and algebra. But we must leave for the mind of the reflecting reader the entire subject, so imperfectly touched upon in the preceding paragraphs, and return to the books before us.
The philosophical works of Leibnitz are, in bulk, only a small part of the literary productions of a life devoted to almost the whole sphere of possible knowledge. Professor Erdmann has rendered good service to the thinking world by his edition (the most valuable of those referred to at the commencement of this Essay) of this class of the writings of the father of German speculation. While Leibnitz could on no subject write unphilosophically, yet there are sections of his works which may be extracted and combined for publication as more exclusively and profoundly philosophical, indicating not ripples, extended widely, perhaps, over the surface of thought, but the ocean-swell of an agitation that is far below. This department of his writings is scattered, without much attention to order, through the voluminous publication of Dutens, and is partly contained in the rare edition of his posthumous philosophical works by Raspe. Accordingly, while the life of Leibnitz is an epoch in the history of speculation, his speculative writings have been seldom and superficially studied. Besides the materials collected in former editions, Professor Erdmann has enriched his republication with no fewer than twenty-three original documents of Leibnitz, not before published, and which this able and industrious editor has recovered, during an active search in 1836, among the accumulation of manuscripts in the Royal Library of Hanover. Most of these added works relate to that theme, on the subject of which we have already alluded to as the central one of the intellectual life of Leibnitz. It increases the convenience of this edition, that the several works which it includes, 101 in number, have been arranged, as nearly as possible, in the order in which they were written. In this extensive collection, we are glad to recognise the Nouveaux Essais and the Théodicée.
It is not easy to give even a brief exposition of the very miscellaneous contents of these works. The system and manner of thinking of Leibnitz, is to be gathered from his philosophical works studied collectively, rather than from any separate publication. These collected writings bear throughout one very marked characteristic of inventive genius; for they are crowded with richly suggestive germs of thought, cast forth often in disorder, as it were with intent to exercise the generalizing powers of others. From out of this stimulating variety, there may, however, be extracted two or three more prominent ideas, united, as far as possible, by demonstration, with his assumed first principles; for the main purpose of this metaphysician was to give to philosophy a mathematical strictness and certainty, and to reconcile its doctrines with those of theology. The universe is contemplated by him in the threefold relation of—1. Its elements; 2. Their manner of connexion; and, 3. The end of their combination. The doctrine of elements, he calls monadologie. The mutual relations of these elements, he held to be developed in a pre-established harmony. The final end of creation, he represented as an optimism. Let us accompany him at a distance, as he is constructing this system of a priori universal philosophy, in order to have before us a specimen of a class of systems, foreign, indeed, to Britain, but which may be compared with the doctrines of the Eleatics, the Alexandrians, or Spinoza, in respect of its boldness and comprehension.Through experience, Leibnitz finds himself surrounded by compound or material bodies of amazing variety. This implies the existence of elements, of which these compounds are the results, and the nature of these elements is to be ascertained according to the laws of thought. An application of the principle of the Sufficient Reason, demonstrates that matter can consist neither of parts which are infinitely divisible, nor of atoms possessed of figure and extension. Its elements must, therefore, be simple, unextended forces, or Monads, in which we obtain the a priori idea of substance. The individuality of these monads must consist in the different series of internal changes through which each one passes in the course of its existence. In these series, each successive change is termed a Perception, and every monad is a living mirror, giving forth, after its own fashion, a picture of the universe, which is thus one vast collection of spiritual forces. These necessary elements of all concrete existence cannot all be reduced to one class or order, for they are distinguished by different degrees of perception and active power. Some are destitute of conscious perception, and these are the elements of which the material world is the result . Then there is the animating principle of the lower animals. There are also the self-conscious souls of men, containing in themselves the fountains of necessary truth. And these three classes of created forces or substances must have a sufficient reason for their existence. There cannot be an infinite series of contingents, and, if there could, the final reason even of such an infinite series could be found only in a necessary substance. Creation must thus involve the existence of One Supreme infinite, the monas monadum, from whom all that is finite has been derived, and in whose existence it finds its complete explanation. This Supreme Substance is God. He is the fountain of all reality. The attributes of the created monads, as far as they are perfect, result from the perfection of God; as far as they are imperfect, from the necessary imperfection of the creature.
Having in these conclusions, as he conceived, demonstratively refunded concrete being into its elements, and related all created elements to the One uncreated and supreme, Leibnitz would next find the mutual relations of the several elementary forces of creation. Although the monads have neither figure nor extension in themselves, their co-existence and relations sufficiently account for the phenomena of extension, duration, and body. Space and Time have thus merely an ideal and relative existence. They result from the relation of monads, considered as co-existing or in succession; and are simply modes in which we regard the objects of our experience. Further, the elements of creation being absolutely destitute of parts and extension, cannot mutually influence one another. Inter-causation is thus excluded from the real universe, and is confined to the phenomenal, which is governed by mechanical law. Yet the universe is ideally related in the mind of God, and of each creature, in proportion as his ideas approximate to the Divine. God, "in the beginning," launched the elements into being, having resolved for each one a determinate history throughout eternity, and a history which should harmonize with that of every other. This mutual relation is beautifully illustrated, when we are told that from the given state of any monad at any time, the Eternal Geometer can find the state of the universe past, present, and to come. In the attributes of the Uncreated and Supreme, is to be found the sufficient reason for a Pre-established Harmony in all that He has made. This explains the nature of the changes of creation. The apparent action of finite monads upon each other, is really the result of that original harmonious arrangement of God, in virtue of which He secures, without fail, those ends which He contemplated when the universe issued from his hands. The phenomena attendant on that fruitful theme of philosophical disputation, the union of soul and body,—of the self-conscious monad and the related monads of an inferior order,—are counted capable of explanation on the same general principle. The successive changes of the soul must exactly tally with those of the body; yet without any mutual action. They are related as two clocks, of which the one points to the hour exactly as the other strikes; or as separate parts of the same clock,—for Leibnitz likens the whole universe to a timepiece which was wound up in the act of creation, and which thenceforward pursues its own movements harmoniously for ever. Mind and matter—the realm of final causes, and the realm of efficient causes—are thus in necessary harmony. And a like harmony must obtain between reason and religious faith—the kingdom of nature, and the city of God.
This last harmony links the theological with the merely philosophical part of the system of Leibnitz; and introduces us to his philosophy of religion. A question may be asked,—If the universe—moral as well as physical—is a self-regulating machine, is not the Creator seemingly excluded from the government of His creation; and, if not thus excluded, how is He related to the sin and misery which it contains? That the apparent manner of His relations to the creation should be what it is, results, he thinks, from our relative knowledge, which can never rise superior to the condition of time. In reality, this pre-established harmony is a revelation of the Divine perfection in a scheme of Optimism. Every possible universe was, from eternity, conceived in the mind of God. One of these only can be translated from possible into actual existence, and that one must be the best. There is, indeed, included in it moral and natural evil,—the latter the harmonious consequent of the former, and a reaction against it. But moral evil cannot be separated from the best of possible universes, and the will of God is not the fountain of necessary truths. The mystery of sin is not to be explained by the resolution of evil into good, for sin is essentially evil. But sin is necessarily involved in the idea of this best of possible universes, which, notwithstanding its evil, it is better to translate out of the possible into the actual, than to have no universe at all. Thus, the created universe must be the harmony of one great Theocracy, expressive of the attributes of the one Perfect Being. From His eternal throne, its several streams of elementary existence must have taken their rise. They have flowed, and they must continue to flow, in the courses into which he sent them in the beginning; and, notwithstanding the dark shades in which so many of them are enveloped, they are recognised by His Omniscience as the only possible and therefore most glorious illustration, by creation, of the pure fountain whence they have originated.
If illusory, these are, at least, splendid speculations. There are two modes of thus rising beyond the limits of the imagination in a philosophy of the universe. We may follow the course of the modern astronomy; or, we may meditate on the facts of metaphysics and speculative theology. He who studies the one, gazes on the starry heavens and ranges in thought over the distant parts of material creation, till, lost in what he observes, his astronomy seems merged in idealism. The votary of speculation, on the other hand, taking in the spiritual as well as the material world, contemplates the Human and the Divine; and with faculties fitted to judge only of successive and contemporaneous nature, meets the mysteries of an objective world, of personality and free-will, and of the Divine existence, and seems, also, lost in that world of ideas, where physical and metaphysical science thus appear to converge.
By these assumed demonstrations, of which we have given a very vague outline, Leibnitz hoped to deliver metaphysical science from future errors and controversies, and to lead the way to a universal peace, in which Reason should be harmonized with Religion. Whatever we may say of the truth or falsehood of the doctrines to which he attained, we cannot withhold our homage of admiration when we reflect on such an amount of speculative genius in busy operation throughout a long life, —on the amazing sweep of the abstract conceptions which that genius has employed,—on that strong logical faith in the omnipotence of deduction,—on the richly suggestive ideas which this mighty thinker has contributed to philosophy,—and, on the unity of a system which sublimely designs to harmonize the spiritual with the sensible world.
Leibnitz formed scholars, rather than a school. His system is essentially an eclectic one, and the whole tendency of his mind was opposed to merely national and sectarian distinctions, against which the extreme comprehensiveness of his genius gave him an instinctive repugnance, while his own fruitful mind rendered the most obscure system suggestive, and therefore worthy of being regarded with favourable indulgence. His sanguine spirit delights to discern a progress in the retrospect of the whole history of philosophy. In the early eastern systems, he finds noble ideas of God and the universe. In Greece he sees these reduced to a dialectic form. The early fathers appear to him to cast aside the corruptions of the Greek philosophy, while the schoolmen employ it in the service of Christianity. In modern times philosophy has become more free and ardent, and better directed than ever, and would, he thinks, be more successful than it has been, but for the evil spirit of sectarianism.
"There is only one permitted sect of all," says Leibnitz, "the sect of searchers after truth. The Aristotelians and Cartesians fail, not for want of talent, but because of their sectarianism. The imagination, which has been long under the spell of a single melody, cannot readily listen to another. He who has for years travelled the same beaten track, becomes unobservant of the surrounding scenes. Just so, those who have formed a habit of subordination to a single mind, are disqualified for the hopeful exercise of their own."
Such was the spirit of Leibnitz; yet, probably the prevailing impression on the minds of any who have studied his writings, is a feeling of the remarkable contrast between the splendid intellectual exertions and enormous learning of this philosopher (combined as these are in him to an unprecedented degree), and the small positive contributions he has made to the register of permanently recognised truths. The vastness of his general principles occasions a corresponding vagueness in the rules for their application. They extend so widely as to comprehend only a few of the qualities of each of the objects that they include. The fact is, they reached too far to become at once familiar to the minds of men. The real spirit of the Leibnitzian philosophy slumbered for more than half a century, during which his nominal scholars under Wolff were starving on the subtleties of a severe yet profitless dialectic, and were evincing that dislike for really vigorous thought which is indicated by the pedantry of an empty imposing philosophical nomenclature. In this period, the earlier Teutonic metaphysics perished as a System, to revive as a Spirit in the later German philosophy, and then to develop fully that germ, in the earlier system, of a perverted speculative idealism, which has shewn itself incompetent to realize in its expositions that positive adjustment for mysteries to which it aspires.
It is impossible here to plunge into the depths to which a formal criticism of this philosophy would conduct us, implying, as such a criticism would do, a full determination of the province of a priori reasoning in its relation to the facts of experience. The practised eye must have observed a connexion with many earlier and later schemes of a kindred description, even in the rough outline of it we have now given.
The attentive student, of the sketch which we have attempted, has perhaps already recognised in the central principle of this system of universal philosophy, a relation to one of the cardinal questions of metaphysical science, and a curious coincidence in the history of philosophy. By his subtle process of reasoning, Leibnitz virtually excludes the possibility of an external world. The last result of his analysis is a created aggregate of unextended spiritual forces, of various orders, and of which the mutual relations, as collocated in bodies, originate the phenomena of the visible creation.
While the author of the Monadologie was in this manner resolving all creation into immaterial elements, a philosopher of another country, and of a different school, was approaching, perhaps more consciously, to a similar conclusion by a different course. Trained in the doctrines of Bacon and Locke, but receiving them into a soul that delighted to hold converse with Plato, and ignorant of the high questions agitated in Germany by his contemporary, he deduced from the principles of the English philosophy a system of idealism, which, besides its seductions for the imagination, is urged in a spirit and for a purpose that must ever render venerable among Christians, as well as illustrious among metaphysicians, the name of Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. His well-known "Dialogues" are, to many minds, perhaps the most attractive display of metaphysical doctrine which the English language contains. This philosopher is, moreover, worthy of notice for more than even his elegant fancy, and refined discussion, and graceful diction. The scenes and music of material nature, which have infused so much poetry into his writings, and which he would connect with something less gross than the cumbrous apparatus of an external world, are all regarded by Berkeley as direct manifestations of God. With this Christian philosopher, visible nature is not an aggregate of merely unconscious substances—the refuge of atheism and materialism—the veil by which God is concealed from man, and then banished from his thoughts. In the seeming solitude of idealism, he finds himself in the immediate presence of the "Father of Spirits," in whom we thus literally "live, and move, and have our being."
Thus, at the commencement of the eighteenth century, there were two philosophers, representing the two opposed schools of philosophy, whose speculations conducted them to immaterialism. The "demonstrative metaphysic" of Leibnitz has parted with body and extension before it has resolved nature into its elements. The experimental philosophy of Berkeley fails to extract from the phenomena of perception the evidence of a substance different in kind from the self-conscious spirit which perceives them.
Since, as well as before the epoch of Leibnitz and Berkeley, that vast group of phenomena commonly designated material, and which are so nearly connected with life in this "middle state," has occasioned much speculation. The defence of the doctrine of the essential distinction of mind and matter, has hitherto been a characteristic of the national philosophy of Scotland. That philosophy has to encounter the opposition of three contrary idealistic hypotheses, according to one of which all created existence is resolved, with Leibnitz, into spiritual substances of different orders, and material phenomena are regarded as merely resulting from these immaterial elements—according to a second, the material world is conceived as a series of ideas produced immediately and in regular order by God in the minds of men—according to a third, as a group of the phenomena of our own minds, regulated by an unknown principle. The adjustment of the long-agitated controversy about the nature of Matter is of practical importance, chiefly as it is connected with the refutation of scepticism. There surely remains room for a better-defined settlement of the actual evidence of consciousness with regard to a subject which, in all ages, has tended to excite speculation, and which, since the time of Berkeley, has been regarded by acute minds as, at least, an "open question" in metaphysical science.
The most important service, however, which its author hoped to render by his System of Monads, relates to the refutation of Pantheism. The Monadologie, with the consequent doctrines, is essentially an effort to indicate the metaphysical and moral relations of the Divine Being with the universe. Antagonist to the Cartesian hypothesis of occasional causes, the doctrine of a pre-established harmony has been accused of tending to an atheistic separation of the world from God, while the rival system has been counted open to the charge of an identification of the creature and the Creator, of which there are signs in the system of Malebranche, and which was fully developed in the Ethics of Spinoza. We are unable to undertake an elaborate discussion of a subject so profound and complicated as the one suggested by these speculations—a discussion which requires a previous settlement of the limits and canons of metaphysical reasoning—and we would conclude this Essay with some allusion to that awful frontier land, where religion becomes blended with the higher philosophy, and where objects have been found fitted to attract educated and uneducated minds in all ages of the world.
Leibnitz, as we have seen, was led by his love of speculation, and also by a desire to repel the sceptical objections of Bayle, to consider the much-vexed question of the origin of evil. It might be made evident, if we are not mistaken, that, in his attempt to reconcile the dismal phenomena of our own actual experience with what is discovered from other sources of the character of God, we have a fit illustration of the inapplicability, for purposes of useful effect, of principles so extremely general as those with which he was accustomed to deal. We frequently observe also an indistinct apprehension, on the part of the philosopher, of the line by which, in these matters, positive is separated from negative knowledge.
There must be mysteries in a science like theology, which includes among its principal objects, the nature and attributes of God, as related to a class of responsible created agents. An important step of progress has been gained, when what is incognizable is treated as an acknowledged mystery. Much needs still to be done to spread the spirit, and secure the right application of this principle. The region of a new science, or at least of a wider and better application of metaphysical and also of logical science, seems to open before us, when we contemplate in their connexion the series of events which pervade natural and supernatural theology, regarded as the science of the mutual relations of God and man.
The primary truth of theology demands the exercise of philosophical faith. The finite mind cannot grasp the full conception of the co-existence of a responsible creature with the infinite Creator. The existence of a moral creation is a fact which man cannot explain. He finds in himself the relics of a Law impressed on him when he was created "in the image of God," which tells of duty and demands obedience; and this gives evidence that man was created to be governed by, and so was taken into a moral relation with, a personal God. He finds himself a dependent and yet a moral agent, responsible for his manner of acting towards Him from whom he received the power to act. This combination of freedom with derived and dependent agency, includes something beyond the limits of the human faculties. An anchor is needed, by which the understanding may be kept back, on the one hand, from a Pantheistic absorption of the moral creation in the Creator, and, on the other, from suffering the universe to be cast adrift on the dreary ocean of Atheism; and it is found in the faith which believes what it can neither question nor fully comprehend.
The evolution of the theological system is a further evolution of the mystery into which its first principle retires. As the understanding cannot embrace a reconciliation of the infinity of the divine attributes with the creation of beings free to act, and therefore responsible, neither can it devise a scheme for harmonizing with these attributes the dark history of a portion of that created agency. We find that each member of our own race is born into the world "alienated" from God, and we are told of another race that has fallen, without hope of recovery, into the same awful habit of ungodliness. The continued existence of moral creatures in the universe has thus added another inexplicable phenomenon to the mystery of their original creation. Sin has appeared. Responsible creatures have become rebels against the law of Him from whom their responsibility was derived. The stream which, in the creating act, was seen to issue from impenetrable recesses, here resumes its subterranean channel, and when it reappears, has become strangely altered.
There is a third evolution of the mystery which pervades theology. God Himself has spoken to us of an extraordinary plan of restoration, of which the operation becomes apparent to us when the "alienated" are "reconciled." The created agent had carried his responsibility through the course of the original estrangement, and his responsibility is continued through the subsequent course of restoration. Yet the subjective process of estrangement commences with his birth, and the subjective process of reunion is conducted by the present living agency of the Holy Spirit. The phenomena of restoration in the spiritual world, displayed in the Church of God, thus, like the two preceding classes of related phenomena, rise out of a region into which the eye of the human understanding cannot penetrate.
A series of strange facts is unfolded in the history of this corner of the universe. Creation, sin, and salvation—the unfallen, the fallen, and the restored moral creature—are revealed to us in events which we may know, while each seems to emerge directly from an abyss whose depths we cannot fathom. Their appearance has been the signal for those controversies of theologians which have been carried on, and those battles of faith with scepticism which have been fought, for almost six thousand years. In the revealed fact of creation, we find the germ of the questions of Pantheism and Free-will. The existence of sin has suggested the hypotheses of Manichaeism and Optimism. The phenomena of restoration are connected with the doctrines of Election and Grace, and their proposed modifications, and with the revealed prospects of the moral creation throughout eternity.
It is ethically important that the mind should become familiar with the general character of that associated group of theological truths which demands the exercise of philosophical faith, and therefore falls within the range of what has to be considered, and somehow disposed of, in a complete system of metaphysical philosophy. That religion must be pervaded by this series of mysteries which we have endeavoured to trace, is a principle of which the cordial reception should moderate our polemical ardour with reference to all in theology that is merely human opinion, and conduct us "as little children" to that practical solution of them all, which is opened to the soul that has become "willing to do" the will of God. History, which has to record the signs of the moral disorder of man, bears the record of other irregularities, and that even in the series of natural phenomena. It gives evidence of the existence of One who died and rose again, and whose miracles, insoluble by the laws of the physical creation, are connected with the laws and harmony of a higher economy. As the grand credentials of a revelation from God, addressed to a fallen race, and which contains an account of the origin and cure of its disorders, sufficient to satisfy and stimulate a reviving conscience, they are fitted to elevate thought, from the world of sense in which they have been manifested, to man and man's prospects in that moral and spiritual world which we here "see through a glass darkly" in the reflection of a reality that is not yet in itself revealed.
Thus has God sufficiently provided us with a practical solution for the mysteries of theology. Conversant, as we ought to be, with what is beyond the limits of sensible experience, and incapable of comprehension by faculties created for comprehending only the events of contemporaneous and successive nature, we may yet learn, through experience itself, that religious faith in the miraculously revealed law of grace finds the needed harmony of what by us is incomprehensible—a harmony in which the conscience does the work that cannot be devolved upon the intellect, and in which the transformation of the character is found a sure path to the sufficient knowledge of the doctrine. The mysteries of nature and reason thus cease to hinder the gradual restoration of the regenerate to the image of God.
The preceding notices and reflections have accumulated so much beyond our expectation, that we must not extend our limits beyond this point, from which we may look at a distance, with awe and profit, upon the host of speculative questions which the writings of Leibnitz are evidently fitted to raise. Our end has been gained, if what we have written leads any to benefit by sympathy with the comprehensive spirit of a famous metaphysician and metaphysical theologian—to refresh and elevate their minds by the meditative study of his works—and to be warned of the still prevalent illusions which carried him captive, and, seeming to gain strength and courage from the victory, have carried captive the succeeding generations of German speculators. These lessons are needed in an age in which there are signs that the revival of old controversies, and the rise of new ones,—many of them not remotely connected with these illusory habits of thought,—are about to surprise a generation ill fitted to deal with abstract speculation. We love to anticipate a future history of Metaphysics and Theology in this country more encouraging than these omens seem to forebode; and to have disclosed before us in imagination, as one of the characteristics of the succeeding age, an ethically disciplined metaphysical spirit, operating according to the canons of a well-applied Logic, under the increasing light of Biblical science, towards the production of a richly intellectual and yet profoundly scriptural theology, and the attainment, for the Christian religion and the Christian Church, of a position among the forces at work in society, which the human agency charged with their maintenance and propagation is not at liberty to disregard.
- North British Review, No. IX. (May 1846.)
- E.g. 1. God. Gul. Leibnitii Opera Philosophica quae extant Latina, Gallica, Germanica omnia. Edita recognovit e temporum rationibus disposita pluribus auxit Introductione Critica atque indicibus instruxit Joannes Eduardus Erdmann, Phil. Doct. et Prof. Publ. Ord. in Univers. Halens. Pars Prior. Pars Altera. Berlin, 1839-1840.
2. Œuvres de Leibnitz, Nouvelle Edition, collationée sur les meilleurs textes, et précédée d'une Introduction. Par M. Amedee Jacques, Professeur de Philosophie au Collége Royal de Versailles. Paris, 1842.
3. Œuvres de Locke et Leibnitz, contenant l'Essai sur l'Entendement Humain, revu, corrigé, et accompagné de Notes; l'Eloge de Leibnitz, par Fontenelle; le Discours sur la Conformité de la Foi et de la Raison; l'Essai sur la Bonté de Dieu, la Liberté de l'Homme, et l'Origine du mal, la controverse reduite à des argumens en forme. Par M. F. Thurot, Professeur de Philosophie au Collége de France, et à la Faculté des Lettres. Paris, 1839.
4. Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibnitz—Eine Biographie. Von Dr. G. E. Guhrauer. Zwei Bände. Breslau, 1842.
5. Exposition de la Doctrine Philosophique de Leibnitz. Œuvres de Victor Cousin.
- It is to be remarked, that the modified views of many thinkers who have been ranged on each side, call our attention to their tendencies rather than to their fully-developed principles.
- An interesting account of the remarkable self-educating process which the mind of Leibnitz underwent during these years, nearly related as that is to the subsequent development of his philosophy, is given by himself in the "Pacidii Introductio Historica." See Erdmann's Edition, p. 91, and see also p. 162.
- It would be interesting to collect illustrations of such experience out of the biographies of thinking men. A solemn moral regard is due to the cases of those especially (as Pascal) in whom a personal religious sentiment is found to mingle with the operations of a mind engaged in the processes of reflection, and which finds in the consciousness of sin and guilt a new element of difficulty and distress. Such instances suggest the whole subject of the higher religious experience, of which the phenomena are extremely important to the student of Scripture, and of the human spirit.
- If it were consistent with our design to refer to the mathematical contributions of our philosopher, we should find him holding the first rank in these pursuits, and "sharing with Sir Isaac Newton himself the glory of his immortal discoveries."
- Leibnitz numbered among his confidential correspondents a Scotchman—Burnet of Kemnay. See Dutens' Edition, vol. vi.
- See Dutens' Edition, vol. v.
- It appears that an attempt was made early in the eighteenth century, and supported by Leibnitz, to introduce the constitution and liturgy of the English Church into Hanover and Prussia. A correspondence was opened with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and afterwards with the Archbishop of York. The English liturgy was translated into German in 1704. How strangely do the events of history reappear! The attempt to approximate the organization of the Churches of England and Prussia was unsuccessfully revived very recently, and in 1817, the fondly-cherished scheme of Leibnitz, having for its end the union of the Lutheran and the Reformed, was actually accomplished under the auspices of the late King of Prussia.
- An English version of this Correspondence was published by Clarke in 1717. By the way, some of the most curious pieces in modern metaphysical literature have made their appearance in the form of controversial "Correspondence." We need hardly refer, as examples, to the "letters" between Clarke and Butler, between Des Cartes and his critics, or between Mendelssohn and Jacobi.
- Faith has two meanings—a metaphysical and a theological. In the former of these sciences, it signifies the belief of principles which, in themselves, are incognizable or irreconcilable by the understanding, and yet unquestionable. In this sense. Faith is the organ of the higher metaphysics. In its theological acceptation, Faith is the hearty belief, on God's authority, of what God has revealed in His Word. Thus understood, the word expresses the organ of the higher theology. Throughout this Essay, we use it, unless it is expressly qualified, in its philosophical meaning. The mutual relation of these two kinds of Faith, is the object of the philosophy of religion—that much-trodden but, as yet, ill-cultivated field.
- This may be seen by an inspection of the most comprehensive edition of his works, by Dutens (Geneva, 1768, 6 vols. 4to.) We observe that a. new edition of the entire works of Leibnitz is just now in course of preparation at Hanover.
- The Monadologie of Leibnitz is discussed in the pieces presented for the competition (Sur le Système des Monades) proposed by the Berlin Academy of Sciences, and which, with the successful prize dissertation by T. H. G. Justi, were published at Berlin in 1748. Each side in the controversy has its able defenders among the writers of these curious disquisitions.
- A comparison of this doctrine of pre-established harmony with the late Dr. Brown's Theory of Cause and Effect, illustrating their partial similarity and partial contrast, might tend to excite an important train of metaphysical speculation.
- We must not omit a reference to a writer of recluse and studious temperament, who, in the peaceful seclusion of a rural English parsonage, constructed a series of acute arguments in defence of an immaterialism similar to that of Berkeley, and whose recorded speculations have secured the respectful mention of Reid and Stewart. We refer to Arthur Collier, Rector of Langford Magna, in the county of Wilts, from 1704 to 1732. His Clavis Universalis, published in 1713, was seemingly unknown, at least in his own country, till a short notice of it was given by Dr. Reid in his Essays. Long extremely scarce, it is now generally accessible. Not less than two editions of it have issued from the press within the last ten years, the last of them associated with a curious and interesting biography of this metaphysician, by Mr. Benson. London, 1837.