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Gottfried Leibniz

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"the soul is the mirror of the universe"

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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in Leipzig on July 1, 1646, son of a philosophy professor who died when Gottfried was only six. He studied law at Leipzig University, who refused him a degree for being so young (he was only twenty-two), but was offered a professorship at Altdorf. He declined, and went on to spend much of his life in the service of the Dukes of Hanover. As engineer he worked on clocks, mining machinery and built a calculator. As librarian he began the modern method of cataloguing. As a physicist he studied momentum. He possibly invented geology as a science. And as a mathematician he discovered the "infinitesimal calculus" (independently of Isaac Newton), a mathematical procedure which involves finding answers by dividing things up into an infinite number of 'slices' and then adding them together, an idea which is reflected in his concept of a universe made up of infinitesimal 'Monads'. Yet Leibniz was not a popular man, only his secretary attended his funeral.

Accident: A necessary state of affairs, a happening (without the modern implication of misfortune).
Animalcule: A tiny animal. It was once thought that seeds, sperm and embryos contained a minute version of the final animal.
Appetition: The internal principle which prepares for change; rudimentary "desire".
Axiom: A primary principle, which cannot and need not be proven
Autarcheia: Self sufficiency
Compound: A collection (aggregatum) of simple things
Contingent truth: A truth whose opposite is possible
Entelechy: Something having in it "a certain perfection", a completeness- a term taken from Aristotle's definition of the soul
God: The underlying reason of things
Grace: The unmerited favour of God.
Monad: The simple substance
Plenum: A completely filled space.
Postulate: A primary principle, which cannot and need not be proven
Substance: A being that subsists by itself; a separate or distinct thing.
Simple ideas: Ideas of which no definition can be given
Window: Way in or out


The original Monadology is itself a condensed and abridged summary of ideas, reputedly prepared by Leibniz for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Originally written in French, which was not Leibniz's native tongue and which he handled rather poorly, it has been translated by Robert Latta in 1898, George Montgomery in 1902, George MacDonald Ross in 1999, Paul and Anne Martin Schrecker in 1965 and Mary Morris in 1934. This version is largely based on the original Robert Latta translation, with some revisions from Jonathan F. Bennett's version of 2004.


Gottfried Leibniz, 1714

"the soul is the mirror of the universe"

All the plenum of the universe is entirely filled with tiny Monads, which cannot fail, have no constituent parts and have no windows through which anything could come in or go out. Every Monad is different and is continuously changing. All simple substances or Monads might be called Entelechies, for they have in them a certain perfection and a certain self-sufficiency. As they have some perception and desire, they may be called souls, but animal Souls are accompnied by memory. In dreamless sleep our soul is like a Monad. The knowledge of necessary and eternal truths distinguishes us from the animals and gives us Reason. Truths of reasoning are necessary and their opposite is impossible: truths of fact are contingent and their opposite is possible. When a truth is necessary, its reason can be found by analysis, resolving it into more simple ideas and truths. The final reason of things must be in a necessary substance, which we call God. God holds an infinity of ideas, and chooses the most perfect ones. Each simple substance has relations which express all the others, and, consequently, that it is a perpetual living mirror of the universe; though it represents more distinctly the body of which it is the entelechy. Each portion of matter is like a pond full of fishes, where each drop of its liquid parts is also another pond. Thus there is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe. All the parts of every living body are full of other living beings, each with its dominant entelechy or soul. Thus there never is absolute birth nor complete death. Minds are images of the Deity, capable of knowing the system of the universe, each being like a small divinity in its own sphere. Whence the totality of all spirits must compose the City of God, where no good action would be unrewarded and no bad one unpunished. If we could understand the order of the universe, we should find that it exceeds the desires of the wisest men.

The Squashed Philosophers Edition of...

Gottfried Leibniz
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011

1. The Monad, of which we shall here speak, is nothing but the simple substance, that which makes up all compounds. By 'simple' is meant 'without parts.'

3. These Monads are the real atoms of nature, which make up things.

4. Monads cannot fail. No simple substance can be destroyed by natural means.

5. Neither can any truly simple substance come into being by being formed from the combination of parts.

7. Monads have no window, through which anything could come in or go out. Neither substance nor accident can come into a Monad from outside.

8. Yet Monads must have some qualities, otherwise they would not exist.

9. Each Monad must be different from every other. For in nature there are never two beings perfectly alike.

10. Every Monad is continuously changing.

11. Thus changes in Monads must come from their internal principle, since nothing external can influence their inner being.

12. Besides the principle of the change, there must be a particular series of changes, which constitutes the specific nature of the simple substances.

13. Every change takes place over some period of time.

14. The brief condition in which many things are represented within the simple substance may be called Perception, which is dimmer than Apperception or Consciousness. Descartes is defective, for he treats as non-existent those perceptions of which we are not consciously aware. This has led many to believe that that there are no souls in animals. Like the uneducated crowd, they have confused a coma and death, and fallen into the old prejudices of souls entirely separate from bodies and of souls being mortal.

15. The internal principle which produces the change from one perception to another may be called Appetition.

17. Supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as a mill. But, on examining its interior, we should find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception. Thus it is in a simple substance, and not in a compound or in a machine, that perception must be sought for.

18. All simple substances or created Monads might be called Entelechies, for they have in them a certain perfection (echousi to enteles); and a certain self-sufficiency (autarkeia) which makes them the sources of their internal activities and, so to speak, incorporeal automata.

19. If we are to give the name of Soul to everything which has perceptions and desires, then all simple substances or created Monads might be called souls; but as feeling is more than a bare perception, I think that the name of Monads or Entelechies should be given to simple substances which have perception only, and that the name of Souls should be given to those in which perception is accompanied by memory.

20. When we swoon or fall into dreamless sleep, our soul does not perceptibly differ from a bare Monad.

22. And as every present state of a simple substance is naturally a consequence of its preceding state, in such a way that its present is pregnant with its future;

23. And as, on waking from stupor, we are conscious of our perceptions, we must have had perceptions immediately before we awoke; for one perception can come only from another perception, as a motion can come only from motion.

25. We see also that nature has given heightened perceptions to animals, from the care she has taken to provide them with organs, which collect rays of light, or undulations of the air.

26. Memory provides the soul with a kind of consecutiveness. For instance, when a stick is shown to dogs, they remember the pain it has caused them, and howl and run away.

29. But it is the knowledge of necessary and eternal truths that distinguishes us from the mere animals and gives us Reason and the sciences, raising us to the knowledge of ourselves and of God. And it is this in us that is called the rational soul or mind.

30. It is also through the knowledge of necessary truths, and through their abstract expression, that we rise to acts of reflexion, which make us think of what is called I. And these acts of reflexion furnish the chief objects of our reasonings.

31. Our reasonings are grounded upon two great principles, that of contradiction, in virtue of which we judge false that which involves a contradiction, and true that which is opposed to the false;

32. And that of sufficient reason, in virtue of which we hold that there can be no fact real or existing, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason

33. There are also two kinds of truths, those of reasoning and those of fact. Truths of reasoning are necessary and their opposite is impossible: truths of fact are contingent and their opposite is possible. When a truth is necessary, its reason can be found by analysis, resolving it into more simple ideas and truths, until we come to those which are primary.

34. Thus in Mathematics speculative Theorems are reduced by analysis to Definitions, Axioms and Postulates.

35. In short, there are simple ideas or primary principles of which no definition can be given and which cannot be proved, and indeed have no need of proof; whose opposite involves an express contradiction.

38. Thus the final reason of things must be in a necessary substance, which we call God.

42. It follows also that created beings derive their perfections from the influence of God, but that their imperfections come from their own nature.

48. In God there is Power, Knowledge, whose content is the variety of the ideas, and Will, which makes changes or products according to the principle of the best.

49. A created thing is said to act on other things in so far as it has perfection, and to suffer to be itself acted upon in so far as it is imperfect. Thus activity is attributed to a Monad, in so far as it has distinct perceptions, and passivity in so far as its perceptions are confused.

50. And one created thing is more perfect than another, in this, that there is found in the more perfect that which serves to explain a priori what takes place in the less perfect, and it is on this account that the former is said to act upon the latter.

51. But in simple substances the influence of one Monad upon another can have its effect only through the mediation of God.

53. Now, as in the Ideas of God there is an infinite number of possible universes, and as only one of them can be actual, there must be a sufficient reason for God to decide upon one thing rather than another.

54. And this reason can be found only in the fitness or in the degrees of perfection.

56. Now the connexion of all created things to each and of each to all, means that each simple substance has relations which express all the others, and, consequently, that it is a perpetual living mirror of the universe.

57. And as the same town, looked at from various sides, appears quite different; so from the point of view of each Monad it is as if there were so many different universes.

58. And by this means there is obtained as great variety as possible, and as much perfection as possible.

61. All is a plenum (and thus all matter is connected together) and in the plenum every motion has an effect upon distant bodies in proportion to their distance, so that each body not only is affected by those which are in contact with it and in some way feels the effect of everything that happens to them, but also is affected by bodies adjoining itself. This inter-communication of things extends to any distance, however great. And consequently every body feels the effect of all that takes place in the universe, so that he who sees all might read in each what is happening everywhere, and even what has happened or shall happen, observing in the present that which is far off as well in time as in place. But a soul can read in itself only that which is there represented distinctly; it cannot all at once unroll everything.

62. Thus, although each created Monad represents the whole universe, it represents more distinctly the body which specially pertains to it, and of which it is the entelechy.

63. The Monad which is the entelechy or soul of a living body is, like every Monad, a mirror of the universe, and as the universe is ruled according to a perfect order, there must also be an extent to which that perfection is represented in the soul.

64. Thus the organic body of a living being is a kind of divine machine, which infinitely surpasses all artificial automata. For a machine made by men is not a machine in each of its parts. But the machines of nature, living bodies, are still machines in their smallest parts ad infinitum. It is this that constitutes the difference between the skill of nature and craft skill, that is to say, between the divine art and ours.

65. Each portion of matter is not only divisible to infinity, as the ancients realised, but is actually sub-divided without end, of which each has some motion of its own.

66. Whence it appears that in the smallest particle of matter there is a world of creatures, living beings, animals, entelechies, souls.

67. Each portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fishes. But each branch of every plant, each member of every animal, each drop of its liquid parts is also some such garden or pond.

68. And though the earth and the air which are between the plants of the garden, or the water which is between the fish of the pond, be neither plant nor fish; yet they also contain plants and fishes, but mostly so minute as to be imperceptible to us.

69. Thus there is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion save in appearance, somewhat as it might appear to be in a pond at a distance.

70. Hence it appears that each living body has a dominant entelechy, which in an animal is the soul; but the members of this living body are full of other living beings, plants, animals, each of which has also its dominant entelechy or soul.

73. It follows from this that there never is absolute birth [generation] nor complete death. What we call births [generations] are developments and growths, while what we call deaths are envelopments and diminutions.

74. Philosophers have been much perplexed about the origin of forms. But nowadays it is become known, through careful studies of plants and animals, that the organic bodies of nature are never products of chaos or putrefaction, but always come from seeds, in which there was undoubtedly some being already formed; and it is held that not only the organic body was already there before conception, but also a soul in this body, and, in short, the animal itself. Something like this is seen apart from birth, as when worms become flies and caterpillars become butterflies.

77. Thus it may be said that not only the soul, being a mirror of an indestructible universe, is indestructible, but also the animal itself.

78. These principles have given me a way of explaining the union or rather the mutual agreement [conformite] of the soul and the organic body. The soul follows its own laws, and the body likewise follows its own laws; and they agree with each other in virtue of the pre-established harmony between all substances, since they are all representations of one and the same universe.

81. According to this system bodies act as if (to suppose the impossible) there were no souls, and souls act as if there were no bodies, and both act as if each influenced the other.

82. Thus, animals and souls come into being when the world begins and no more come to an end that the world does. The spermatic animalcules have merely ordinary souls; but when those which are chosen through conception, their sensuous souls are raised to the rank of reason.

83. Minds are also images of the Deity or Author of nature Himself, capable of knowing the system of the universe, and to some extent of imitating it, each being like a small divinity in its own sphere.

84. It is this that enables spirits [or minds- esprits] to enter into a kind of fellowship with God.

85. Whence the totality of all spirits must compose the City of God, that is to say, the most perfect State that is possible.

86. This City of God is a moral world in the natural world.

88. A result of this harmony is that things lead to grace by the very ways of nature, and that this globe, for instance, must be destroyed and renewed by natural means at the very time when the government of spirits requires it, for the punishment of some and the reward of others.

90. Under this perfect government no good action would be unrewarded and no bad one unpunished. This it is which leads wise and virtuous people to devote their energies to everything which appears in harmony with the presumptive or antecedent will of God, and yet makes them content with what God actually brings to pass by His secret will. If we could sufficiently understand the order of the universe, we should find that it exceeds all the desires of the wisest men, and that it is impossible to make it better than it is, not only as a whole and in general but also for ourselves in particular. It is this attachment to the Author of all which can alone make our happiness.

Gottfried Leibniz
Liebniz's grave at Die Neustaedter Hof und Stadtkirche St. Johannis, Hanover.

ISBN 9781326806781
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