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The Aristocratic Principle in the Political Philosophy of Leibniz DOUGLAS J. DEN UYL WHEN ONE THINKS of the great political philosophers of the early modern era one certainly calls to mind such names as Hobbes, Locke, and Spinoza. Yet when one thinks of the great philosophers of the early modern era the name of Leibniz is certainly always included. Usually it is true that a great philosopher is also a great political philosopher. Descartes is an obvious exception to this rule, and perhaps Leibniz as well. However, in the case of Leibniz, there is at least enough written material from which to form some judgments about the quality of his political thought. Unfortunately, Leibniz's writings on political matters are seldom examined. The purpose of this paper is not to argue that that Leibniz actually qualifies as a great political philosopher, but is to present and interpret the thoughts of Leibniz so that other interested students of this era might have a means by which to approach Leibniz on their own. I shall attempt to fulfill this aim by arguing for one particular thesis, namely, that Leibniz was a thinker who opted for aristocratic leadership of society. The argument will be in three separate, but related, sections: (a) a discussion of the origins and development of civil society; (b) a brief indication of the aristocratic element in Leibniz's theory of justice; (c) an examination of Leibniz's thoughts on the social and political organization of society. Perhaps other aspects of Leibniz's political thought might have been brought in as well to support my thesis. Although it may be true that other features of Leibniz's thought may be helpful, I believe that what is provided here is most central to the topic at hand. I. Leibniz was a contemporary of both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and there is little doubt that he took at least Hobbes very seriously on political matters. 1 It was in this era that such notions as the "social contract" and especially the "state of nature" were discussed. Leibniz criticized Hobbes for his rejection of the notion of obligation in the state of nature; 2 but the interesting question is whether Leibniz himself supported a notion of the state of nature. He is somewhat ambiguous on this Leibnizwas familiarwithat leastpart of Locke'spoliticalwritings. See"Excerpts from ThreeLetters to ThomasBurnett," in Patrick Riley, The Political Writings of Leibniz (Cambridge, 1972),p. 191 (all references to Leibniz's writingsare to this collectionunlessotherwise noted; referencesto the original texts are noted by Rileyat the beginningof each selection). See also Die Philosophischen Schriften yon Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. C. I. Gerhardt, 7 vols. (Berlin, 1875-1890),vol. III, n. 1. 2Leibnizdoesso in a numberof places,but seeparticularly"Opinion on the Principlesof Pufendorf," pp. 64-75. [281] 282 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY point in that he does at times seem to tie himself to the social contract theorists. 3 However, Leibniz's connections to the social contract theorists was a loose one, and, for the most part, he did not follow the state of nature and social contract views. Defining a state of nature as that condition of men in which there is no sociality or social order, I shall argue that Leibniz has no real concept of a state of nature even if we regard the state of nature as merely a device for explaining the essence of politics. For Leibniz, men are monads, and monads cannot exist without some form of cooperative interaction.' Moreover, it is clear that Leibniz does not see nature and man in conflict. One will recall that Hobbes, in contrast to Aristotle's view of natural sociality, seemed to feel that nature is somehow defective or incomplete in guiding men towards cooperative social life. Leibniz, however, felt just the opposite. Since God created the world, and since this includes a pre-established harmony whereby cooperative interaction among monads is established in relation to a whole universal picture, it cannot be nature which is radically defective for man's social life; rather, the imperfections found in society must stem from the limitations of the monads (or men) themselves. 5 In other words, men as monads...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 281-292
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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