The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/Number 1/Gottfried Wilhem von Leibnitz

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


The philosophic import of this illustrious name, having suffered temporary eclipse from the Critical Philosophy, with its swift succession of transcendental dynasties,—the Wissenschaftslehre, the Naturphilosophie, and the Encyclopädie,—has recently emerged into clear and respectful recognition, if not into broad and effulgent repute. In divers quarters, of late, the attention of the learned has reverted to the splendid optimist, whose adventurous intellect left nothing unexplored and almost nothing unexplained. Biographers and critics have discussed his theories,—some in the interest of philosophy, and some in the interest of religion,—some in the spirit of discipleship, and some in the spirit of opposition,— but all with consenting and admiring attestation of the vast erudition and intellectual prowess and unsurpassed capacity[1]of the man.

A collection of all the works appertaining to Leibnitz, with all his own writings, would make a respectable library. We have no room for the titles of all, even of the more recent of these publications. We content ourselves with naming the Biography, by G. G. Guhrauer, the best that has yet appeared, called forth by the celebration, in 1846, of the ducentesimal birthday of Leibnitz,—the latest edition of his Philosophical Works, by Professor Erdmann of Halle—the publication of his Correspondence with Arnauld, by Herr Grotefend, and of that with the Landgrave Ernst von Hessen Rheinfels, by Chr. von Rommel,— of his Historical Works, by the librarian Pertz of Berlin,—of the Mathematical, by Gerhardt,—Ludwig Jeuerbach's elaborate dissertation, "Darstellung, Entwickelung und Kritik der Leibnitzischen Philosophie,"— Zimmermann's "Leibnitz u. Herbart's Monadologie,"—Schelling's "Leibnitz als Denker,"—Hartenstein's "De Materiae apud Leibnit. Notione,"—and Adolph Helferich's "Spinoza u. Leibnitz: oder Das Wesen des Idealismus u. des Realismus." To these we must add, as one of the most valuable contributions to Leibnitian literature, M. Foucher de Careil's recent publication of certain MSS. of Leibnitz, found in the library at Hanover, containing strictures on Spinoza, (which the editor takes the liberty to call "Refutation Inédite de Spinoza,")—"Sentiment de Worcester et de Locke sur les Idées,"— "Correspondance avec Foucher, Bayle et Fontenelle,"—"Reflexions sur l'Art de connaître les Homines,"—"Fragmens Divers," etc.[2], accompanied by valuable introductory and critical essays.

M. de Careil complains that France has done so little for the memory of a man "qui lui a fait l'honneur d'écrire les deux tiers de ses oeuvres en Français." England does not owe him the same obligations, and England has done far less than France,—in fact, nothing to illustrate the memory of Leibnitz; not so much as an English translation of his works, or an English edition of them, in these two centuries. Nor have M. de Careil's countrymen in times past shared all his enthusiasm for the genial Saxon. The barren Psychology of Locke obtained a currency in France, in the last century, which the friendly Realism of his great contemporary could never boast. Raspe, the first who edited the "Nouveaux Essais," takes to himself no small credit for liberality in so doing, and hopes, by rendering equal justice to Leibnitz and to Locke, to conciliate those "who, with the former, think that their wisdom is the sure measure of omnipotence,"[3] and those who "believe, with the latter, that the human mind is to the rays of the primal Truth what a night-bird is to the sun."[4]

Voltaire pronounced him "le savant le plus universel de l'Europe," but characterized his metaphysical labors with the somewhat equivocal compliment of "metaphysicien assez délié pour vouloir réconcilier la théologie avec la métaphysique."[5]

Germany, with all her wealth of erudite celebrities, has produced no other who fulfils so completely the type of the Gelehrte,—a type which differs from that of the savant and from that of the scholar, but includes them both. Feuerbach calls him "the personified thirst for Knowledge"; Frederic the Great pronounced him an "Academy of Sciences"; and Fontenelle said of him, that "he saw the end of things, or that they had no end." It was an age of intellectual adventure into which Leibnitz was born,—fit sequel and heir to the age of maritime adventure which preceded it. We please ourselves with fancied analogies between the two epochs and the nature of their discoveries. In the latter movement, as in the former, Italy took the lead. The martyr Giordano Bruno was the brave Columbus of modern thought,—the first who broke loose from the trammels of mediaeval ecclesiastical tradition, and reported a new world beyond the watery waste of scholasticism. Campanella may represent the Vespucci of the new enterprise; Lord Bacon its Sebastian Cabot,—the "Novum Organum" being the Newfoundland of modern experimental science. Des Cartes was the Cortés, or shall we rather say the Ponce de Leon, of scientific discovery, who, failing to find what he sought,—the Principle of Life, (the Fountain of Eternal Youth,)—yet found enough to render his name immortal and to make mankind his debtor. Spinoza is the spiritual Magalhaens, who, emerging from the straits of Judaism, beheld

"Another ocean's breast immense, unknown."

Of modern thinkers he was

———"the first
That ever burst
Into that silent sea."

He discovered the Pacific of philosophy,—that theory of the sole Divine Substance, the All-One, which Goethe in early life found so pacifying to his troubled spirit, and which, vague and barren as it proves on nearer acquaintance, induces at first, above all other systems, a sense of repose in illimitable vastness and immutable necessity.

But the Vasco de Gama of his day was Leibnitz. His triumphant optimism rounded the Cape of theological Good Hope. He gave the chief impulse to modern intellectual commerce. Full freighted, as he was, with Western thought, he revived the forgotten interest in the Old and Eastern World, and brought the ends of the earth together. Circumnavigator of the realms of mind, wherever he touched, he appeared as discoverer, as conqueror, as lawgiver. In mathematics, he discovered or invented the Differential Calculus,—the logic of transcendental analysis, the infallible method of astronomy, without which it could never have compassed the large conclusions of the "Mecanique Celeste." In his "Protogaea," published in 1693, he laid the foundation of the science of Geology. From his observations, as Superintendent of the Hartz Mines, and those which he made in his subsequent travels through Austria and Italy,—from an from an examination of the layers, in different localities, of the earth's crust, he deduced the first theory, in the geological sense, which has ever been propounded, of the earth's formation. Orthodox Lutheran as he was, he braved the theological prejudices which then, even more than now, affronted scientific inquiry in that direction. "First among men," says Flourens, "he demonstrated the two agencies which successively have formed and reformed the globe,—fire and water." In the region of metaphysical inquiry, he propounded a new and original theory of Substance, and gave to philosophy the Monad, the Law of Continuity, the Preëstablished Harmony, and the Best Possible World.


Born at Leipzig, in 1646,—left fatherless at the age of six years,— by the care of a pious mother and competent guardians, young Leibnitz enjoyed such means of education as Germany afforded at that time, but declares himself, for the most part, self-taught.[6]

So genius must always be, for want of any external stimulus equal to its own impulse. No normal training could keep pace with his abnormal growth. No school discipline could supply the fuel necessary to feed the consuming fire of that ravenous intellect. Grammars, manuals, compends,—all the apparatus of the classes,— were only oil to its flame. The Master of the Nicolai-Schule in Leipzig, his first instructor, was a steady practitioner of the Martinet order. The pupils were ranged in classes corresponding to their civil ages,—their studies graduated according to the baptismal register. It was not a question of faculty or proficiency, how a lad should be classed and what he should read, but of calendar years. As if a shoemaker should fit his last to the age instead of the foot. Such an age, such a study. Gottfried is a genius, and Hans is a dunce; but Gottfried and Hans were both born in 1646; consequently, now, in 1654, they are both equally fit for the Smaller Catechism. Leibnitz was ready for Latin long before the time allotted to that study in the Nicolai-Schule, but the system was inexorable. All access to books cut off by rigorous proscription. But the thirst for knowledge is not easily stifled, and genius, like love, "will find out his way."

He chanced, in a corner of the house, to light on an odd volume of Livy, left there by some student boarder. What could Livy do for a child of eight years, with no previous knowledge of Latin, and no lexicon to interpret between them? For most children, nothing. Not one in a thousand would have dreamed of seriously grappling with such a mystery. But the brave Patavinian took pity on our little one and yielded something to childish importunity. The quaint old copy was garnished, according to a fashion of the time, with rude wood-cuts, having explanatory legends underneath. The young philologer tugged at these until he had mastered one or two words. Then the book was thrown by in despair as impracticable to further investigation. Then, after one or two weeks had elapsed, for want of other employment, it was taken up again, and a little more progress made. And so by degrees, in the course of a year, a considerable knowledge of Latin had been achieved. But when, in the Nicolai order, the time for this study arrived, so far from being pleased to find his instructions anticipated, or welcoming such promise of future greatness,—so far from rejoicing in his pupil's proficiency, the pedagogue chafed at the insult offered to his system by this empiric antepast. He was like one who suddenly discovers that he is telling an old story where he thought to surprise with a novelty; or like one who undertakes to fill a lamp, which, being (unknown to him) already full, runs over, and his oil is spilled. It was "oleum perdidit" in another sense than the scholastic one. Complaint was made to the guardians of the orphan Gottfried of these illicit visits to the tree of knowledge. Severe prohibitory measures were recommended, which, however, judicious counsel from another quarter happily averted.

At the age of eleven, Leibnitz records, that he made, on one occasion, three hundred Latin verses without elision between breakfast and dinner. A hundred hexameters, or fifty distichs, in a day, is generally considered a fair pensum for a boy of sixteen at a German gymnasium.

At the age of seventeen, he produced, as an academic exercise, on taking the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, his celebrated treatise on the Principle of Individuality, "De Principle Individui," the most extraordinary performance ever achieved by a youth of that age,— remarkable for its erudition, especially its intimate knowledge of the writings of the Schoolmen, and equally remarkable for its vigorous grasp of thought and its subtile analysis. In this essay Leibnitz discovered the bent of his mind and prefigured his future philosophy, in the choice of his theme, and in his vivid appreciation and strenuous positing of the individual as the fundamental principle of ontology. He takes Nominalistic ground in relation to the old controversy of Nominalist and Realist, siding with Abelard and Roscellin and Occam, and against St. Thomas and Duns Scotus. The principle of individuation, he maintains, is the entire entity of the individual, and not mere limitation of the universal, whether by "Existence" or by "Haecceity."[7] John and Thomas are individuals by virtue of their integral humanity, and not by fractional limitation of humanity. Dobbin is an actual positive horse (Entitas tota). Not a negation, by limitation, of universal equiety (Negatio). Not an individuation, by actual existence, of a non-existent but essential and universal horse (Existentia). Nor yet a horse only by limitation of kind,—a horse minus Dick and Bessie and the brown mare, etc. (Haecceitas). But an individual horse, simply by virtue of his equine nature. Only so far as he is an actual complete horse, is he an individual at all. (Per quod quid est, per id unum numero est.) His individuality is nothing superadded to his equiety. (Unum supra ens nihil addit reale.) Neither is it anything subtracted therefrom. (Negatio non potest producere accidentia individualia.) In fine, there is and can be no horse but actual individual horses. (Essentia et existentia non possunt separari.)

This was the doctrine of the Nominalists, as it was of Aristotle before them. It was the doctrine of the Reformers, except, if we remember rightly, of Huss. The University of Leipzig was founded upon it. It is the current doctrine of the present day, and harmonizes well with the current Materialism. Not that Nominalism in itself, and as Leibnitz held it, is necessarily materialistic, but Realism is essentially antimaterialistic. The Realists held with Plato,—but not in his name, for they, too, claimed to be Aristotelian, and preëminently so,—that the ideal must precede the actual. So far they were right. This was their strong point. Their error lay in claiming for the ideal an objective reality, an independent being. Conceptualism was only another statement of Nominalism, or, at most, a question of the relation of language to thought. It cannot be regarded as a third issue in this controversy,— a controversy in which more time was consumed, says John of Salisbury, "than the Caesars required to make themselves masters of the world," and in which the combatants, having spent at last their whole stock of dialectic ammunition, resorted to carnal weapons, passing suddenly, by a very illogical metabasis, from "universals" to particulars. Both parties appealed to Aristotle. By a singular fortune, a pagan philosopher, introduced into Western Europe by Mohammedans, became the supreme authority of the Christian world. Aristotle was the Scripture of the Middle Age. Luther found this authority in his way and disposed of it in short order, devoting Aristotle without ceremony to the Devil, as "a damned mischief-making heathen." But Leibnitz, whose large discourse looked before as well as after, reinstated not only Aristotle, but Plato, and others of the Greek philosophers, in their former repute;—"Car ces anciens," he said, "étaient plus solides qu'on ne croit." He was the first to turn the tide of popular opinion in their favor.

Not without a struggle was he brought to side with the Nominalists. Musing, when a boy, in the Rosenthal, near Leipzig, he debated long with himself,—"Whether he would give up the Substantial Forms of the Schoolmen." Strange matter for boyish deliberation! Yes, good youth, by all means, give them up! They have had their day. They served to amuse the imprisoned intellect of Christendom in times of ecclesiastical thraldom, when learning knew no other vocation. But the age into which you are born has its own problems, of nearer interest and more commanding import. The measuring-reed of science is to be laid to the heavens, the solar system is to be weighed in a balance; the age of logical quiddities has passed, the age of mathematical quantities has come. Give them up! You will soon have enough to do to take care of your own. What with Dynamics and Infinitesimals, Pasigraphy and Dyadik, Monads and Majesties, Concilium Ægyptiacum and Spanish Succession and Hanoverian cabals, there will be scant room in that busy brain for Substantial Forms. Let them sleep, dust to dust, with the tomes of Duns Scotus and the bones of Aquinas!

The "De Principio Individui" was the last treatise of any note in the sense and style of the old scholastic philosophy. It was also one of the last blows aimed at scholasticism, which, long undermined by the Saxon Reformation, received its coup de grace a century later from the pen of an English wit. "Cornelius," says the author of "Martinus Scriblerus," told Martin that a shoulder of mutton was an individual; which Crambe denied, for he had seen it cut into commons. 'That's true,' quoth the Tutor, 'but you never saw it cut into shoulders of mutton.' 'If it could be,' quoth Crambe, 'it would be the loveliest individual of the University.' When he was told that a substance was that which is subject to accidents: 'Then soldiers,' quoth Crambe, 'are the most substantial people in the world.' Neither would he allow it to be a good definition of accident, that it could be present or absent without the destruction of the subject, since there are a great many accidents that destroy the subject, as burning does a house and death a man. But as to that, Cornelius informed him that there was a natural death and a logical death; and that though a man after his natural death was incapable of the least parish office, yet he might still keep his stall among the logical predicaments. . . . .

Crambe regretted extremely that Substantial Forms, a race of harmless beings which had lasted for many years and had afforded a comfortable subsistence to many poor philosophers, should now be hunted down like so many wolves, without the possibility of retreat. He considered that it had gone much harder with them than with the Essences, which had retired from the schools into the apothecaries' shops, where some of them had been advanced into the degree of Quintessences. He thought there should be a retreat for poor substantial forms amongst the gentlemen-ushers at court; and that there were, indeed, substantial forms, such as forms of prayer and forms of government, without which the things themselves could never long subsist. . . . .

Metaphysics were a large field in which to exercise the weapons which logic had put in their hands. Here Martin and Crambe used to engage like any prizefighters. And as prize-fighters will agree to lay aside a buckler, or some such defensive weapon, so Crambe would agree not to use simpliciter and secundum quid, if Martin would part with materialiter and formaliter. But it was found, that, without the defensive armor of these distinctions, the arguments cut so deep that they fetched blood at every stroke. Their theses were picked out of Suarez, Thomas Aquinas, and other learned writers on those subjects. . . . . One, particularly, remains undecided to this day,—'An præter esse reale actualis essentiæ sit alind esse necessarium quo res actualiter existat?' In English thus: 'Whether, besides the real being of actual being, there be any other being necessary to cause a thing to be?'[8]

Arrived at maturity, Leibnitz rose at once to classic eminence. He became a conspicuous figure, he became a commanding power, not only in the intellectual world, of which he constituted himself the centre, but in part also of the civil. It lay in the nature of his genius to prove all things, and it lay in his temperament to seek rapport with all sorts of men. He was infinitely related;—not an individual of note in his day but was linked with him by some common interest or some polemic grapple; not a savant or statesman with whom Leibnitz did not spin, on one pretence or another, a thread of communication. Europe was reticulated with the meshes of his correspondence. "Never," says Voltaire, "was intercourse among philosophers more universal; Leibnitz servait à l'animer." He writes now to Spinoza at the Hague, to suggest new methods of manufacturing lenses,—now to Magliabecchi at Florence, urging, in elegant Latin verses, the publication of his bibliographical discoveries,—and now to Grimaldi, Jesuit missionary in China, to communicate his researches in Chinese philosophy. He hoped by means of the latter to operate on the Emperor Cham-Hi with the Dyadik;[9] and even suggested said Dyadik as a key to the cipher of the book "Ye Kim," supposed to contain the sacred mysteries of Fo. He addresses Louis XIV., now on the subject of a military expedition to Egypt, (a magnificent idea, which it needed a Napoleon to realize,) now on the best method of promoting and conserving scientific knowledge. He corresponds with the Landgrave of Hesse-Rheinfels, with Bossuet, and with Madame Brinon on the Union of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and with Privy-Counsellor von Spanheim on the Union of the Lutheran and Reformed,—with Père Des Bosses on Transubstantiation, and with Samuel Clarke on Time and Space,—with Remond de Montmort on Plato, and with Franke on Popular Education,—with the Queen of Prussia (his pupil) on Free-will and Predestination, and with the Electress Sophia, her mother, (in her eighty-fourth year,) on English Politics,—with the cabinet of Peter the Great on the Slavonic and Oriental Languages, and with that of the German Emperor on the claims of George Lewis to the honors of the Electorate,—and finally, with all the savans of Europe on all possible scientific questions.

Of this world-wide correspondence a portion related to the sore subject of his litigated claim to originality in the discovery of the Differential Calculus,—a matter in which Leibnitz felt himself grievously wronged, and complained with justice of the treatment he received at the hands of his contemporaries. The controversy between him and Newton, respecting this hateful topic, would never have originated with either of these illustrious men, had it depended on them alone to vindicate their respective claims. Officious and ill-advised friends of the English philosopher, partly from misguided zeal and partly from levelled malice, preferred on his behalf a charge of plagiarism against the German, which Newton was not likely to have urged for himself. "The new Calculus, which Europe lauds, is nothing less," they suggested, "than your fluxionary method, which Mr. Leibnitz has pirated, anticipating its tardy publication by the genuine author. Why suffer your laurels to be wrested from you by a stranger?" Thereupon arose the notorious Commercium Epistolicum, in which Wallis, Fatio de Duillier, Collins, and Keill were perversely active. Melancholy monument of literary and national jealousy! Weary record of a vain strife! Ideas are no man's property. As well pretend to ownership of light, or set up a claim to private estate in the Holy Ghost. The Spirit blows where it lists. Truth inspires whom it finds. He who knows best to conspire with it has it. Both philosophers swerved from their native simplicity and nobleness of soul. Both sinned and were sinned against. Leibnitz did unhandsome things, but he was sorely tried. His heart told him that the right of the quarrel was on his side, and the general stupidity would not see it. The general malice, rejoicing in aspersion of a noble name, would not see it. The Royal Society would not see it,—nor France, until long after Leibnitz's death. Sir David Brewster's account of the matter, according to the German authorities, Gerhardt, Guhrauer, and others, is one-sided, and sins by suppressio veri, ignoring important documents, particularly Leibnitz's letter to Oldenburg, August 27, 1676. Gerhardt has published Leibnitz's own history of the Calculus as a counter-statement.[10] But even from Brewster's account, as we remember it, (we have it not by us at this writing.) there is no more reason to doubt that Leibnitz's discovery was independent of Newton's than that Newton's was independent of Leibnitz's. The two discoveries, in fact, are not identical; the end and application are the same, but origin and process differ, and the German method has long superseded the English. The question in debate has been settled by supreme authority. Leibnitz has been tried by his peers. Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, Poisson, and Biot have honorably acquitted him of plagiarism, and reinstated him in his rights as true discoverer of the Differential Calculus.

The one distinguishing trait of Leibnitz's genius, and the one preëminent fact in his history, was what Feuerbach calls his πολυπραγμοσύνη, which, being interpreted, means having a finger in every pie. We are used to consider him as a man of letters; but the greater part of his life was spent in labors of quite another kind. He was more actor than writer. He wrote only for occasions, at the instigation of others, or to meet some pressing demand of the time. Besides occupying himself with mechanical inventions, some of which (in particular, his improvement of Pascal's Calculating Machine) were quite famous in their day,—besides his project of a universal language, and his labors to bring about a union of the churches,—besides undertaking the revision of the laws of the German Empire, superintending the Hanoverian mines, experimenting in the culture of silk, directing the medical profession, laboring in the promotion of popular education, establishing academies of science, superintending royal libraries, ransacking the archives of Germany and Italy to find documents for his history of the House of Brunswick, a work of immense research,[11]—besides these, and a multitude of similar and dissimilar avocations, he was deep in politics, German and European, and was occupied all his life long with political negotiations. He was a courtier, he was a diplomat, was consulted on all difficult matters of international policy, was employed at Hanover, at Berlin, at Vienna, in the public and secret service of ducal, royal, and imperial governments, and charged with all sorts of delicate and difficult commissions,—matters of finance, of pacification, of treaty and appeal. He was Europe's factotum. A complete biography of the man would be an epitome of the history of his time. The number and variety of his public engagements were such as would have crazed any ordinary brain. And to these were added private studies not less multifarious. "I am distracted beyond all account," he writes to Vincent Placcius. "I am making extracts from archives, inspecting ancient documents, hunting up unpublished manuscripts; all this to illustrate the history of Brunswick. Letters in great number I receive and write. Then I have so many discoveries in mathematics, so many speculations in philosophy, so many other literary observations, which I am desirous of preserving, that I am often at a loss what to take hold of first, and can fairly sympathize in that saying of Ovid, 'I am straitened by my abundance.'"[12]

His diplomatic services are less known at present than his literary labors, but were not less esteemed in his own day. When Louis XIV., in 1688, declared war against the German Empire, on the pretence that the Emperor was meditating an invasion of France, Leibnitz drew up the imperial manifesto, which repelled the charge and triumphantly exposed the hollowness of Louis's cause. Another document, prepared by him at the solicitation, it is supposed, of several of the courts of Europe, advocating the claims of Charles of Austria to the vacant throne of Spain, in opposition to the grandson of Louis, and setting forth the injurious consequences of the policy of the French monarch, was hailed by his contemporaries as a masterpiece of historical learning and political wisdom. By his powerful advocacy of the cause of the Elector of Brandenburg he may be said to have aided the birth of the kingdom of Prussia, whose existence dates with the commencement of the last century. In the service of that kingdom he wrote and published important state-papers; among them, one relating to a point of contested right to which recent events have given fresh significance: "Traité: Sommaire du Droit de Frédéric I. Roi de Prusse à la Souveraineté de Neufchâtel et de Vallengin en Suisse."

In Vienna, as at Berlin, the services of Leibnitz were subsidized by the State. By the Peace of Utrecht, the house of Habsburg had been defeated in its claims to the Spanish throne, and the foreign and internal affairs of the Austrian government were involved in many perplexities, which, it was hoped, the philosopher's counsel might help to untangle. He was often present at the private meetings of the cabinet, and received from the Emperor the honorable distinction of Kaiserlicher Hofrath, in addition to that, which had previously been awarded to him, of Baron of the Empire. The highest post in the gift of government was open to him, on condition of renouncing his Protestant faith, which, notwithstanding his tolerant feeling toward the Roman Church, and the splendid compensations which awaited such a convertite, he could never be prevailed upon to do.

A natural, but very remarkable consequence of this manifold activity and lifelong absorption in public affairs was the failure of so great a thinker to produce a single systematic and elaborate work containing a complete and detailed exposition of his philosophical, and especially his ontological views. For such an exposition Leibnitz could find at no period of his life the requisite time and scope. In the vast multitude of his productions there is no complete philosophic work. The most arduous of his literary labors are historical compilations, made in the service of the State. Such were the "History of the House of Brunswick," already mentioned, the "Accessiones Historiæ," the "Scriptores Rerum Brunsvicensium Illustrationi inservientes," and the "Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus";— works involving an incredible amount of labor and research, but adding little to his posthumous fame. His philosophical studies, after entering the Hanoverian service, which he did in his thirtieth year, were pursued, as he tells his correspondent Placcius, by stealth,—that is, at odd moments snatched from official duties and the cares of state. Accordingly, his metaphysical works have all a fragmentary character. Instead of systematic treatises, they are loose papers, contributions to journals and magazines, or sketches prepared for the use of friends. They are all occasional productions, elicited by some external cause, not prompted by inward necessity. The "Nouveaux Essais," his most considerable work in that department, originated in comments on Locke, and was not published until after his death. The "Monadology" is a series of propositions drawn up for the use of Prince Eugene, and was never intended to be made public. And, probably, the "Théodicée" would never have seen the light except for his cultivated and loved pupil, the Queen of Prussia, for whose instruction it was designed.

It is a curious fact, and a good illustration of the state of letters in Germany at that time, that Leibnitz wrote so little— almost nothing of importance—in his native tongue. In Erdmann's edition of his philosophical works there are only two short essays in German; the rest are all Latin or French. He had it in contemplation at one time to establish a philosophical journal in Berlin, but doubts, in his letter to M. La Croye on the subject, in what language it should be conducted: "Il y a quelque tems que j'ay pensé à un journal de Savans qu'on pourroit publier à Berlin, mais je suis un peu en doute sur la langue . . . . . . Mais soit qu'on prit le Latin ou le François,"[13] etc. It seems never to have occurred to him that such a journal might be published in German. That language was then, and for a long time after, regarded by educated Germans very much as the Russian is regarded at the present day, as the language of vulgar life, unsuited to learned or polite intercourse. Frederic the Great, a century later, thought as meanly of its adaptation to literary purposes as did the contemporaries of Leibnitz. When Gellert, at his request, repeated to him one of his fables, he expressed his surprise that anything so clever could be produced in German. It may be said in apology for this neglect of their native tongue, that the German scholars of that age would have had a very inadequate audience, had their communications been confined to that language. Leibnitz craved and deserved a wider sphere for his thoughts than the use of the German could give him. It ought, however, to be remembered to his credit, that, as language in general was one among the numberless topics he investigated, so the German in particular engaged at one time his special attention. It was made the subject of a disquisition, which suggested to the Berlin Academy, in the next century, the method adopted by that body for the culture and improvement of the national speech. In this writing, as in all his German compositions, he manifested a complete command of the language, and imparted to it a purity and elegance of diction very uncommon in his day. The German of Leibnitz is less antiquated at this moment than the English of his contemporary, Locke.



The interest to us in this extraordinary man—who died at Hanover, 1716, in the midst of his labors and projects—turns mainly on his speculative philosophy. It was only as an incidental pursuit that he occupied himself with metaphysic; yet no philosopher since Aristotle— with whom, though claiming to be more Platonic than Aristotelian, he has much in common—has furnished more luminous hints to the elucidation of metaphysical problems. The problems he attempted were which concern the most inscrutable, but, to the genuine metaphysician, most fascinating of all topics, the nature of substance, matter and spirit, absolute being,—in a word, Ontology. This department of metaphysic, the most interesting, and, agonistically,[14] the most important branch of that study, has been deliberately, purposely, and, with one or two exceptions, uniformly avoided by the English metaphysicians so-called, with Locke at their head, and equally by their Scottish successors, until the recent "Institutes" of the witty Professor of St. Andrew's. Locke's "Essay concerning the Human Understanding," a century and a half ago, diverted the English mind from metaphysic proper into what is commonly called Psychology, but ought, of right, to be termed Noölogy, or "Philosophy of the Human Mind," as Dugald Stewart entitled his treatise. This is the study which has usually taken the place of metaphysic at Cambridge and other colleges,—the science that professes to show "how ideas enter the mind"; which, considering the rareness of the occurrence with the mass of mankind, we cannot regard as a very practical inquiry. We well remember our disappointment, when, at the usual stage in the college curriculum, we were promised "metaphysics" and were set to grind in Stewart's profitless mill, where so few problems of either practical or theoretical importance are brought to the hopper, and where, in fact, the object is rather to show how the upper mill-stone revolves upon the nether, (reflection upon sensation,) and how the grist is conveyed to the feeder, than to realize actual metaphysical flour.

Locke's reason for repudiating ontology is the alleged impossibility of arriving at truth in that pursuit,—"of finding satisfaction in a quiet and sure possession of truths that most concern us, whilst we let loose our thoughts into the vast ocean of being."[15] Unfortunately, however, as Kant has shown, the results of noölogical inquiry are just as questionable as those of ontology, whilst the topics on which it is employed are of far inferior moment. If, as Locke intimates, we can know nothing of being without first analyzing the understanding, it is equally sure that we can know nothing of the understanding except in union with and in action on being. And excepting his own fundamental position concerning the sensuous origin of our ideas,—to which few, since Kant, will assent,— there is hardly a theorem, in all the writings of this school, of prime and vital significance. The school is tartly, but aptly, characterized by Professor Ferrier: "Would people inquire directly into the laws of thought and of knowledge by merely looking to knowledge or to thought itself, without attending to what is known or what is thought of? Psychology usually goes to work in this abstract fashion; but such a mode of procedure is hopeless,—as hopeless as the analogous instance by which the wits of old were wont to typify any particularly fruitless undertaking,—namely, the operation of milking a he-goat into a sieve. No milk comes, in the first place, and even that the sieve will not retain! There is a loss of nothing twice over. Like the man milking, the inquirer obtains no milk in the first place; and, in the second place, he loses it, like the man holding the sieve. . . . Our Scottish philosophy, in particular, has presented a spectacle of this description. Reid obtained no result, owing to the abstract nature of his inquiry, and the nothingness of his system has escaped through all the sieves of his successors."[16]

Leibnitz's metaphysical speculations are scattered through a wide variety of writings, many of which are letters to his contemporaries. These Professor Erdmann has incorporated in his edition of the Philosophical Works. Beside these we may mention, as particularly deserving of notice, the "Meditationes de Cognitione, Veritate et Ideis", the "Systeme Nouveau de la Nature", "De Primæ Philosophiæ Emendatione et de Notione Substantiæ", "Reflexions sur l'Essai de l'Entendement humain", "De Rerum Originatione Radicali", "De ipsa Natura", "Considerations sur la Doctrine d'un Esprit universel", "Nouveaux Essais sur l'Entendement humain", "Considerations sur le Principe de Vie". To these we must add the "Théodicée" (though more theological than metaphysical) and the "Monadologie", the most compact philosophical treatise of modern time. It is worthy of note, that, writing in the desultory, fragmentary, and accidental way he did, he not only wrote with unexampled clearness on matters the most abstruse, but never, that we are aware, in all the variety of his communications, extending over so many years, contradicted himself. No philosopher is more intelligible, none more consequent.

In philosophy, Leibnitz was a Realist. We use that term in the modern, not in the scholastic sense. In the scholastic sense, as we have seen, he was not a Realist, but, from childhood up, a Nominalist. But the Realism of the schools has less affinity with the Realism than with the Idealism of the present day.

His opinions must be studied in connection with those of his contemporaries.

Des Cartes, Spinoza, Locke, and Leibnitz, the four most distinguished philosophers of the seventeenth century, represent four widely different and cardinal tendencies in philosophy: Dualism, Idealism, Sensualism, and Realism.

Des Cartes perceived the incompatibility of the two primary qualities of being, thought and extension, as attributes of one and the same (created) substance. He therefore postulated two (created) substances,—one characterized by thought without extension, the other by extension without thought. These two are so alien and so incongruous, that neither can influence the other, or determine the other, or any way relate with the other, except by direct mediation of Deity. (The doctrine of Occasional Causes.) This is Dualism,— that sharp and rigorous antithesis of mind and matter, which Des Cartes, if he did not originate it, was the first to develop into philosophic significance, and which ever since has been the prevailing ontology of the Western world. So deeply has the thought of that master mind inwrought itself into the very consciousness of humanity!

Spinoza saw, that, if God alone can bring mind and matter together and effect a relation between them, it follows that mind and matter, or their attributes, however contrary, do meet in Deity; and if so, what need of three distinct natures? What need of two substances beside God, as subjects of these attributes? Retain the middle term and drop the extremes and you have the Spinozan doctrine of one (uncreated) substance, combining the attributes of thought and extension. This is Pantheism, or objective idealism, as distinguished from the subjective idealism of Fichte. Strange, that the stigma of atheism should have been affixed to a system whose very starting-point is Deity and whose great characteristic is the ignoration of everything but Deity, insomuch that the pure and devout Novalis pronounced the author a God-drunken man, and Spinozism a surfeit of Deity.[17]

Naturally enough, the charge of atheism comes from the unbelieving Bayle, whose omnivorous mind, like the anaconda, assisted its enormous deglutition with a poisonous saliva of its own, and whose negative temper makes the "Dictionnaire Historique" more Morgue than Valhalla.

Locke, who combined in a strange union strong religious faith with philosophic unbelief, turned aside, as we have seen, from the questions which had occupied his predecessors; knew little and cared less about substance and accident, matter and spirit; but set himself to investigate the nature of the organ itself by which truth is apprehended. In this investigation he began by emptying the mind of all native elements of knowledge. He repudiated any supposed dowry of original truths or innate or connate ideas, and endeavored to show how, by acting on the report of the senses and personal experience, the understanding arrives at all the ideas of which it is conscious. The mode of procedure in this case is empiricism; the result with Locke was sensualism,—more fully developed by Condillac,[18] in the next century. But the same method may lead, as in the case of Berkeley, to immaterialism, falsely called idealism. Or it may lead, as in the case of Helveticus, to materialism. Locke himself would probably have landed in materialism, had he followed freely the bent of his own thought, without the restraints of a cautious temper, and respect for the common and traditional opinion of his time. The "Essay" discovers an unmistakable leaning in that direction; as where the author supposes, "We shall never be able to know whether any mere material being thinks or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas, without revelation, to discover whether Omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter fitly disposed a power to perceive and think; . . . . . it being, in respect of our notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking, since we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort of substances the Almighty has been pleased to give that power, which cannot be in any created being but merely by the good pleasure and bounty of the Creator. For I see no contradiction in it, that the first thinking eternal Being should, if he pleased, give to certain systems of created, senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of sense, perception, and thought."[19] With such notions of the nature of thought, as a kind of mechanical contrivance, that can be conferred outright by an arbitrary act of Deity, and attached to one nature as well as another, it is evident that Locke could have had no idea of spirit as conceived by metaphysicians,—or no belief in that idea, if conceived. And with such conceptions of Deity and Divine operations, as consisting in absolute power dissociated from absolute reason, one would not be surprised to find him asserting, that God, if he pleased, might make two and two to be one, instead of four,—that mathematical laws are arbitrary determinations of the Supreme Will,—that a thing is true only as God wills it to be so,—in fine, that there is no such thing as absolute truth. The resort to "Omnipotency" in such matters is more convenient than philosophical; it is a dodging of the question, instead of an attempt to solve it. Divine ordination—"Διδς δ' έτελείετο βουλή"—is a maxim which settles all difficulties. But it also precludes all inquiry. Why speculate at all, with this universal solvent at hand?

The "contradiction" which Locke could not see was clearly seen and keenly felt by Leibnitz. The arbitrary will of God, to him, was no solution. He believed in necessary truths independent of the Supreme Will; in other words, he believed that the Supreme Will is but the organ of the Supreme Reason: "Il ne faut point s'imaginer, que les vérités éternelles, étant dépendantes de Dieu, sont arbitragés et dépendent de sa volonté." He felt, with Des Cartes, the incompatibility of thought with extension, considered as an immanent quality of substance, and he shared with Spinoza the unific propensity which distinguishes the higher order of philosophic minds. Dualism was an offence to him. On the other hand, he differed from Spinoza in his vivid sense of individuality, of personality. The pantheistic idea of a single, sole being, of which all other beings are mere modalities, was also and equally an offence to him. He saw well the illusoriness and unfruitfulness of such a universe as Spinoza dreamed. He saw it to be a vain imagination, a dream-world, "without form and void," nowhere blossoming into reality. The philosophy of Leibnitz is equally remote from that of Des Cartes on the one hand, and from that of Spinoza on the other. He diverges from the former on the question of substance, which Des Cartes conceived as consisting of two kinds, one active (thinking) and one passive (extended), but which Leibnitz conceives to be all and only active. He explodes Dualism, and resolves the antithesis of matter and spirit by positing extension as a continuous act instead of a passive mode, substance as an active force instead of an inert mass,—matter as substance appearing, communicating,—as the necessary band and relation of spirits among themselves.[20]

He parts company with Spinoza on the question of individuality. Substance is homogeneous; but substances, or beings, are infinite. Spinoza looked upon the universe and saw in it the undivided background on which the objects of human consciousness are painted as momentary pictures. Leibnitz looked and saw that background, like the background of one of Raphael's Madonnas, instinct with individual life, and swarming with intelligences which look out from every point of space. Leibnitz's universe is composed of Monads, that is, units, individual substances, or entities, having neither extension, parts, nor figure, and, of course, indivisible. These are "the veritable atoms of nature, the elements of things."

The Monad is unformed and imperishable; it has no natural end or beginning. It could begin to be only by creation; it can cease to be only by annihilation. It cannot be affected from without or changed in its interior by any other creature. Still, it must have qualities, without which it would not be an entity. And monads must differ one from another, or there would be no changes in our experience; since all that takes place in compound bodies is derived from the simples which compose them. Moreover, the monad, though uninfluenced from without, is changing continually; the change proceeds from an internal principle. Every monad is subject to a multitude of affections and relations, although without parts. This shifting state, which represents multitude in unity, is nothing else than what we call Perception, which must be carefully distinguished from Apperception, or consciousness. And the action of the internal principle which causes change in the monad, or a passing from one perception to another, is Appetition. The desire does not always attain to the perception to which it tends, but it always effects something, and causes a change of perceptions.

Leibnitz differs from Locke in maintaining that perception is inexplicable and inconceivable on mechanical principles. It is always the act of a simple substance, never of a compound. And "in simple substances there is nothing but perceptions and their changes."[21]

He differs from Locke, furthermore, on the question of the origin of ideas. This question, he says, "is not a preliminary one in philosophy, and one must have made great progress to be able to grapple successfully with it."—"Meanwhile, I think I may say, that our ideas, even those of sensible objects, viennent de nôtre propre fond. . . . . . I am by no means for the tabula rasa of Aristotle; on the contrary, there is to me something rational (quelque chose de solide) in what Plato called reminiscence. Nay, more than that, we have not only a reminiscence of all our past thoughts, but we have also a _presentiment_ of all our thoughts."[22]

Mr. Lewes, in his "Biographical History of Philosophy," speaks of the essay from which these words are quoted, as written in "a somewhat supercilious tone." We are unable to detect any such feature in it. That trait was wholly foreign from Leibnitz's nature. "Car je suis des plus dociles," he says of himself, in this same essay. He was the most tolerant of philosophers. "Je ne méprise presque rien."—"Nemo est ingenio minus quam ego censorio."— "Mirum dictu: probo pleraque quae lego."—"Non admodum refutationes quaerere aut legere soleo."

To return to the monads. Each monad, according to Leibnitz, is, properly speaking, a soul, inasmuch as each is endowed with perception. But in order to distinguish those which have only perception from those which have also sentiment and memory, he will call the latter souls, the former monads or entelechies.[23]

The naked monad, he says, has perceptions without relief, or "enhanced flavor"; it is in a state of stupor. Death, he thinks, may produce this state for a time in animals. The monads completely fill the world; there is never and nowhere a void, and never complete inanimateness and inertness. The universe is a plenum of souls. Wherever we behold an organic whole, (unum per se,) there monads are grouped around a central monad to which they are subordinate, and which they are constrained to serve so long as that connection lasts. Masses of inorganic matter are aggregations of monads without a regent, or sentient soul (unum per accidens). There can be no monad without matter, that is, without society, and no soul without a body. Not only the human soul is indestructible and immortal, but also the animal soul. There is no generation out of nothing, and no absolute death. Birth is expansion, development, growth; and death is contraction, envelopment, decrease. The monads which are destined to become human souls have existed from the beginning in organic matter, but only as sentient or animal souls, without reason. They remain in this condition until the generation of the human beings to which they belong, and then develope themselves into rational souls. The different organs and members of the body are also relatively souls which collect around them a number of monads for a specific purpose, and so on ad infinitum. Matter is not only infinitely divisible, but infinitely divided. All matter (so called) is living and active. "Every particle of matter may be conceived as a garden of plants, or as a pond full of fishes. But each branch of each plant, each member of each animal, each drop of their humors, is in turn another such garden or pond."[24]

The connection between monads, consequently the connection between soul and body, is not composition, but an organic relation,—in some sort, a spontaneous relation. The soul forms its own body, and moulds it to its purpose. This hypothesis was afterward embraced and developed as a physiological principle by Stahl. As all the atoms in one body are organically related, so all the beings in the universe are organically related to each other and to the All. One creature, or one organ of a creature, being given, there is given with it the world's history from the beginning to the end. All bodies are strictly fluid; the universe is in flux.

The principle of continuity answers the same purpose in Leibnitz's system that the single substance does in Spinoza's. It vindicates the essential unity of all being. Yet the two conceptions are immeasurably different, and constitute an immeasurable difference between the two systems, considered in their practical and moral bearings, as well as their ontological aspects. Spinoza[25] starts with the idea of the Infinite, or the All-One, from which there is no logical deduction of the individual. And in Spinoza's system the individual does not exist except as a modality. But the existence of the individual is one of the primordial truths of the human mind, the foremost fact of consciousness. With this, therefore, Leibnitz begins, and arrives, by logical induction, to the Absolute and Supreme. Spinoza ends where he begins, in pantheism; the moral result of his system, Godward, is fatalism,—manward, indifferentism and negation of moral good and evil. Leibnitz ends in theism; the moral result of his system, Godward, is optimism,—manward, liberty, personal responsibility, moral obligation.

He demonstrates the being of God by the necessity of a sufficient reason to account for the series of things. Each finite thing requires an antecedent or contingent cause. But the supposition of an endless sequence of contingent causes, or finite things, is absurd; the series must have had a beginning, and that beginning cannot have been a contingent cause or finite thing. "The final reason of things must be found in a necessary substance in which the detail of changes exists eminently, (ne soit qu'éminemment,) as in its source; and this is what we call God."[26] The idea of God is of such a nature, that the being corresponding to it, if possible, must be actual. We have the idea; it involves no bounds, no negation, consequently no contradiction. It is the idea of a possible, therefore of an actual.

"God is the primitive Unity, or the simple original Substance of which all the creatures, or original monads, are the products, and are generated, so to speak, by continual fulgurations from moment to moment, bounded by the receptivity of the creature, of whose existence limitation is an essential condition."[27]

The philosophic theologian and the Christianizing philosopher will rejoice to find in this proposition a point of reconciliation between the extramundane God of pure theism and the cardinal principle of Spinozism, the immanence of Deity in creation,—a principle as dear to the philosophic mind as that of the extramundane Divinity is to the theologian. The universe of Spinoza is a self-existent unit, divine in itself, but with no Divinity behind it. That of Leibnitz is an endless series of units from a self-existent and divine source. The one is an infinite deep, the other an everlasting flood.

The doctrine of the Preëstablished Harmony, so intimately and universally associated with the name of Leibnitz, has found little favor with his critics, or even with his admirers. Feuerbach calls it his weak side, and thinks that Leibnitz's philosophy, else so profound, was here, as in other instances, overshadowed by the popular creed; that he accommodated himself to theology, as a highly cultivated and intelligent man, conscious of his superiority, accommodates himself to a lady in his conversation with her, translating his ideas into her language, and even paraphrasing them. From this view of Leibnitz, as implying insincerity, we utterly dissent.[28]

The author of the "Théodicée" was not more interested in philosophy than he was in theology. His thoughts and his purpose did equal justice to both. The deepest wish of his heart was to reconcile them, not by formal treaty, but in loving and condign union. We do not, however, object to an esoteric and exoteric view of the doctrine in question; and we quite agree with Feuerbach that the phrase préétablie does not express a metaphysical determination. It is one thing to say, that God, by an arbitrary decree from everlasting, has so predisposed and predetermined every motion in the world of matter that each volition of a rational agent finds in the constant procession of physical forces a concurrent event by which it is executed, but which would have taken place without his volition, just as the mail-coach takes our letter, if we have one, but goes all the same, when we do not write,—this is the gross, exoteric view,—and a very different thing it is to say, that the monads composing the human system and the universe of things are so related, adjusted, accommodated to each other, and to the whole, each being a representative of all the rest and a mirror of the universe, that each feels all that passes in the rest, and all conspire in every act,[29] more or less effectively, in the ratio of their nearness to the prime agent. This is Leibnitz's idea of preëstablished harmony, which, perhaps, would be better expressed by the term "necessary consent." "In the ideas of God, each monad has a right to demand that God, in regulating the rest from the commencement of things, shall have regard to it; for since a created monad can have no physical influence on the interior of another, it is only by this means that one can be dependent on another."—"The soul follows its own laws and the body follows its own, and they meet in virtue of the preëstablished harmony which exists between all substances, as representatives of one and the same universe. Souls act according to the laws of final causes by appetitions, etc. Bodies act according to the laws of efficient causes or the laws of motion. And the two kingdoms, that of efficient causes and that of final causes, harmonize with each other."[30]

The Preëstablished Harmony, then, is to be regarded as the philosophic statement of a fact, and not as a theory concerning the cause of the fact. But, like all philosophic and adequate statements, it answers the purpose of a theory, and clears up many difficulties. It is the best solution we know of the old contradiction of free-will and fate,—individual liberty and a necessary world. This antithesis disappears in the light of the Leibnitian philosophy, which resolves freedom and necessity into different points of view and different stages of development. The principle of the Preëstablished Harmony was designed by Leibnitz to meet the difficulty, started by Des Cartes, of explaining the conformity between the perceptions of the mind and the corresponding affections of the body, since mind and matter, in his view, could have no connection with, or influence on each other. The Cartesians explained this correspondence by the theory of occasional causes, that is, by the intervention of the Deity, who was supposed by his arbitrary will to have decreed a certain perception or sensation in the mind to go with a certain affection of the body, with which, however, it had no real connection. "Car il" (that is, M. Bayle) "est persuadé avec les Cartésiens modernes, que les idées des qualités sensibles que Dieu donne, selon eux, à l'âme, à l'occasion des mouvemens du corps, n'ont rien qui représente ces mouvemens, ou qui leur ressemble; de sorte qu'il étoit purement arbitraire que Dieu nous donnât les idées de la chaleur, du froid, de la lumière et autres que nous expérimentons, ou qu'il nous en donnât de tout-autres à cette même occasion."[31]

If the body was exposed to the flame, there was no more reason, according to this theory, why the soul should be conscious of pain than of pleasure, except that God had so ordained. Such a supposition was shocking to our philosopher, who could tolerate no arbitrariness in God and no gap or discrepancy in nature, and who, therefore, sought to explain, by the nature of the soul itself and its kindred monads, the correspondence for which so violent an hypothesis was embraced by the Cartesians.


We have left ourselves no room to speak as we would of Leibnitz as theosopher. It was in this character that he obtained, in the last century, his widest fame. The work by which he is most commonly known, by which alone he is known to many, is the "Théodicée,"—an attempt to vindicate the goodness of God against the cavils of unbelievers. He was one of the first to apply to this end the cardinal principle of the Lutheran Reformation,—the liberty of reason. He was one of the first to treat unbelief, from the side of religion, as an error of judgment, not as rebellion against rightful authority. The latter was and is the Romanist view. The former is the Protestant theory, but was not then, and is not always now, the Protestant practice. Theology then was not concerned to vindicate the reason or the goodness of God. It gloried in his physical strength by which he would finally crush dissenters from orthodoxy. Leibnitz knew no authority independent of Reason, and no God but the Supreme Reason directing Almighty Good-will. The philosophic conclusion justly deducible from this view of God, let cavillers say what they will, is Optimism. Accordingly, Optimism, or the doctrine of the best possible world, is the theory of the "Théodicée." Our limits will not permit us to analyze the argument of this remarkable work. Bunsen says, "It necessarily failed because it was a not quite honest compound of speculation and divinity."[32]

Few at the present day will pretend to be entirely satisfied with its reasoning, but all who are familiar with it know it to be a treasury of wise and profound thoughts and of noble sentiments and aspirations. Bonnet, the naturalist, called it his "Manual of Christian Philosophy"; and Fontenelle, in his eulogy, speaks enthusiastically of its luminous and sublime views, of its reasonings, in which the mind of the geometer is always apparent, of its perfect fairness toward those whom it controverts, and its rich store of anecdote and illustration. Even Stewart, who was not familiar with it, and who, as might be expected, strangely misconceives and misrepresents the author, is compelled to echo the general sentiment. He pronounces it a work in which are combined together in an extraordinary degree "the acuteness of the logician, the imagination of the poet, and the impenetrable yet sublime darkness of the metaphysical theologian." The Italics are ours. Our reason for doubting Stewart's familiarity with the "Théodicée," and with Leibnitz in general, is derived in part from these phrases. We do not believe that any sincere student of Leibnitz has found him dark and impenetrable. Be it a merit or a fault, this predicate is inapplicable. Never was metaphysician more explicit and more intelligible. Had he been disposed to mysticize and to shroud himself in "impenetrable darkness," he would have found it difficult to indulge that propensity in French. Thanks to the strict régime and happy limitations of that idiom, the French is not a language in which philosophy can hide itself. It is a tight-fitting coat, which shows the exact form, or want of form, of the thought it clothes, without pad or fold to simulate fulness or to veil defects. It was a Frenchman, we are aware, who discovered that "the use of language is to conceal thought"; but that use, so far as French is concerned, has been hitherto monopolized by diplomacy.

Another reason for questioning Stewart's familiarity with Leibnitz is his misconception of that author, which we choose to impute to ignorance rather than to wilfulness. This misconception is strikingly exemplified in a prominent point of Leibnitian philosophy. Stewart says: "The zeal of Leibnitz in propagating the dogma of Necessity is not easily reconcilable with the hostility which he uniformly displays against the congenial doctrine of Materialism."[33]

Now it happens that "the zeal of Leibnitz" was exerted in precisely the opposite direction. A considerable section of the "Théodicée" (34-75) is occupied with the illustration and defence of the Freedom of the Will. It was a doctrine on which he laid great stress, and which forms an essential part of his system;[34] in proof of which, let one declaration stand for many: "Je suis d'opinion que notre volonté n'est pas seulement exempte de la contrainte, mais encore de la nécessité." How far he succeeded in establishing that doctrine in accordance with the rest of his system is another question. That he believed it and taught it is a fact of which there can be no more doubt with those who have studied his writings, than there is that he wrote the works ascribed to him. But the freedom of will maintained by Leibnitz was not indeterminism. It was not the indifference of the tongue of the balance between equal weights, or that of the ass between equal bundles of hay. Such an equilibrium he declares impossible. "Cet équilibre en tout sens est impossible." Buridan's imaginary case of the ass is a fiction "qui ne sauroit avoir lieu dans l'univers." [35]

The will is always determined by motives, but not necessarily constrained by them. This is his doctrine, emphatically stated and zealously maintained. We doubt if any philosopher, equally profound and equally sincere, will ever find room in his conclusions for a greater measure of moral liberty than the "Théodicée" has conceded to man. "In respect to this matter," says Arthur Schopenhauer, "the great thinkers of all times are agreed and decided, just as surely as the mass of mankind will never see and comprehend the great truth, that the practical operation of liberty is not to be sought in single acts, but in the being and nature of man."[36]

Leibnitz's construction of the idea of a possible liberty consistent with the preëstablished order of the universe is substantially that of Schelling in his celebrated essay on this subject. We must not dwell upon it, but hasten to conclude our imperfect sketch.

The ground-idea of the "Théodicée" is expressed in the phrase, "Best-possible world." Evil is a necessary condition of finite being, but the end of creation is the realization of the greatest possible perfection within the limits of the finite. The existing universe is one of innumerable possible universes, each of which, if actualized, would have had a different measure of good and evil. The present, rather than any other, was made actual, as presenting to Divine Intelligence the smallest measure of evil and the greatest amount of good. This idea is happily embodied in the closing apologue, designed to supplement one of Laurentius Valla, a writer of the fifteenth century. Theodorus, priest of Zeus at Dodona, demands why that god has permitted to Sextus the evil will which was destined to bring so much misery on himself and others. Zeus refers him to his daughter Athene. He goes to Athens, is commanded to lie down in the temple of Pallas, and is there visited with a dream. The vision takes him to the Palace of Destinies, which contains the plans of all possible worlds. He examines one plan after another; in each the same Sextus plays a different part and experiences a different fate. The plans improve as he advances, till at last he comes upon one whose superior excellence enchants him with delight. After revelling awhile in the contemplation of this perfect world, he is told that this is the actual world in which he lives. But in this the crime of Sextus is a necessary constituent; it could not be what it is as a whole, were it other than it is in its single parts.

Whatever may be thought of Leibnitz's success in demonstrating his favorite doctrine, the theory of Optimism commends itself to piety and reason as that view of human and divine things which most redounds to the glory of God and best expresses the hope of man,—as the noblest and therefore the truest theory of Divine rule and human destiny.

We recall at this moment but one English writer of supreme mark who has held and promulged, in its fullest extent, the theory of Optimism. That one is a poet. The "Essay on Man," with one or two exceptions, might almost pass for a paraphrase of the "Théodicée"; and Pope, with characteristic vigor, has concentrated the meaning of that treatise in one word, which is none the less true, in the sense intended, because of its possible perversion,—"Whatever is, is right."


  1. The author of a notice of Leibnitz, more clever than profound, in four numbers of the Gentleman's Magazine for 1852, distinguishes between capacity and faculty. He gives his subject credit for the former, but denies his claim to the latter of these attributes. As if any manifestation of mind were more deserving of that title than the power of intellectual concentration, to which nothing that came within its focus was insoluble.
  2. A second collection, by the same hand, appeared in 1857, with the title, Nouvelles Lettres et Opuscules Inédits de Leibnitz. Précédés d'une Introduction. Par A. Foucher de Careil. Paris. 1857.
  3. "Stimai già che 'I mio saper misura
    Certa fosse e infallibile di quanto
    Può far l'alto Fattor della natura."

    Tasso, Gerus, xiv. 45.

  4. "Augel notturno al sole
    E nostra mente a' rai del primo Vero."

    Ib. 46.

  5. "On sait que Voltaire n'aimait pas Leibnitz. J'imagine que c'est le chrétien qu'il détestait en lui."—Ch. Waddington.
  6. "Duo, mihi profuere mirifice, (quae tamen alioqui ambigna,et pluribus noxia esse solent,) primum quod fere essem ἀντοδίδακτος, alterum quod quaererem nova in unaquaque scientia."—Leibnit. Opera Philosoph. Erdmann. p. 162.
  7. "Aut enim principium individuationis ponitur entitas tota, (1) aut non tota. Non totam aut negatio exprimit, (2) aut aliquid positivum. Positivum aut pars physica est, essentiam terminaus, existentia, (3) aut metaphysica, speciem terminans, haec ceitas. (4). . . Pono igitur: omne individuum sua totaentitate individuatur."—De Princ. Indiv. 3 et 4.
  8. Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus. Chap. VII.
  9. A species of binary arithmetic, invented by Leibnitz, in which the only figures employed are 0 and 1.—See Kortholt's G.C. Leibnitii Epistolae ad Divarsos, Letter XVIII.
  10. Historia et Oriffo Calculi Differenttalis, a G. G. Leibnitio conscripta.
  11. Annales Imperii Occidentis Brunsvicensis. Leibnitz succeeded in discovering at Modena the lost traces of that connection between the lines of Brunswick and Este which had been surmised, but not proved.
  12. "Quam mirifice sim distractus dici non potest. Varia ex archivis eruo, antiquas chartns inspicio, manuscripta inedita conquiro. Ex hic lucem dare conor Brunsvicensi historiæ. Magno numero litteras et accipio et dimitto. Habeo vero tam multa nova in mathematicis, tot cogitationes in philosophicis, tot alias literarias observationes, quas vellem non perire, ut sæpe inter agenda anceps hæream et prope illud Ovidianum sentiam: Iniopem me copia facit."
  13. Kortholt. Epistolæ ad Diversos, Vol. I.
  14. That is, as a discipline of the faculties,—the chief benefit to be derived from any kind of metaphysical study.
  15. Essay, Book I. Chap. 1, Sect. 7.
  16. Institutes of Metaphysic, p. 301.
  17. Let us not be misunderstood. Pantheism is not Theism, and the one substance of Spinoza is very unlike the one God of theology; but neither is the doctrine Atheism in any legitimate sense.
  18. Essai sur l'Origine du Connaissances humaines.
  19. Book IV. Chap. 3, Sect. 6.
  20. The following passages may serve as illustrations of these positions:—

    "Materia habet de so actum entitativum."—De Princip. Indiv. Coroll. I.

    "Dicam interim notionem virium seu virtutis, (quam Germani vocant Kraft, Galli, la force,) cui ego explicandæ peculiarem Dynamices scientiam destinavi, plurimum lucis afferre ad veram notionem substantiae intelligendam."—De Primae Philosoph. Emendat, et de Notione Substantiæ.

    "Corpus ergo est agens extensum; dici poterit esse substantiam extensam, modo teneatur omnem substantiam agere, at omne agens substantiam appellari." "Patebit non tantum mentes, sed etiam substantiæ omnes in loco, non nisi per operationem esse."—De Vera Method. Phil. et Theol.

    "Extensionem concipere ut absolutum ex eo forte oritur quod spatium concipimus per modum substantiæ"—Ad Des Bosses Ep. XXIX.

    "Car l'étendue ne signifie qu'une répétition ou multiplicité continuée de ce qui est répandu."—Extrait d'une Lettre, etc.

    "Et l'on peut dire que Pétunduc est en quelque façon à l'espace comme la durée est au tems."—Exam. des Principes de Malebranche.

    "La nature de la substance consistant à mon avis dans cette tendance réglée de laquelle les phénomènes naissent par ordre."—Lettre à M. Bayle.

    "Car rien n'a mieux marqué la substance que la puissance d'agir."—Réponse aux Objections du P. Lami.

    "S'il n'y avait que des esprits, ils seraient sans la liaison nécessaire, sans l'ordre des tems et des lieux."—Theod. Sect. 120.
  21. Monadol. 17.
  22. Reflexions sur l'Essai de l'Entendement humain.
  23. Entelechy (έντελέχεια) is an Aristotelian term, signifying activity, or more properly perhaps, self action. Leibnitz understands by it something complete in itself (ἔχον τδ έντελές). Mr. Butler, in his History of Ancient Philosophy, lately reprinted in this country, translates it "act." Function, we think would be a better rendering. (See W. Archer Butler's Lectures, Last Series, Lect. 2.) Aristotle uses the word as a definition of the soul. "The soul," he says, "is the first entelechy of an active body."
  24. Monadol. 67.
  25. See Helferich's Spinoza, und Leibnitz, p. 76.
  26. Monadol. 38.
  27. Ib. 47.
  28. See, in connection with this point, two admirable essays by Lessing,—the one entitled Leibnitz on Eternal Punishment, the other Objections of Andreas Wissowatius to the Doctrine of the Trinity. Of the latter the real topic is Leibnitz's Defensio Trinitatis. The sharp-sighted Lessing, than whom no one has expressed a greater reverence for Leibnitz, emphatically asserts and vigorously defends the philosopher's orthodoxy.
  29. In this connection, Leibnitz quotes the remarkable saying of Hippocrates, Σύμπνοια. The universe breathes together, conspires.—Monadal. 61.
  30. Monadol. 78, 79.
  31. Théodicée. Partie II. 340.
  32. Outlines of the Philos. of Univ. Hist. Vol. I. Chap. 6.
  33. General View of the Prog. of Metaph. Eth. and Polit. Phil. Boston: 1822. p. 75.
  34. "Numquam Leibnitio in mentem venisse libertatem velle evertere, in qua defendenda quam maxime fuit occupatus, omnia scripta,precipue autem Theodicæa ejus, clamitant."—Kortholt, Vol. IV. p. 12.
  35. Leibnitz seems to have been of the same mind with Dante:—
    "Intra duo cibi distanti e moventi
    D' un modo, prima si morria di fame
    Che liber' uomo l'un recasse a' denti."

    Parad, iv. 1.

  36. Ueber den Willen in der Natur. Frankfurt a. M. 1854. p. 22.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.