- Leibniz on Causation and Agency by Julia Jorati
In Leibniz on Causation and Agency, Julia Jorati provides an account of Leibniz’s mature views regarding causation, freedom, and moral responsibility. Few monographs treat these central topics in Leibniz in such a sustained and helpful way. The focus on appetition and action is most welcome, and the book is well written and usually well argued. Even on the few occasions when Jorati’s arguments are unpersuasive, the theoretical benefits of her readings are clear, and the work displays an impressive command of the primary and secondary literature.
The first three chapters treat monads, spontaneity, and teleology, respectively. Jorati gives useful accounts of the motivations for Leibniz’s bold theses. A clear strength of Jorati’s treatment is the emphasis on appetition, since most treatments of Leibniz’s monads put nearly all their attention on perception. The importance of attending to appetition is felt throughout the volume and has far-reaching implications. In chapters 2 and 3, Jorati outlines three senses of spontaneity and teleology in Leibniz’s thought. The distinctions here are not ones Leibniz explicitly makes, but the distinctions give us a useful perspective on Leibniz on spontaneity and teleology, highlighting some of the ways in which he thinks these matter.
The most surprising thesis in these chapters claims that there is a kind of teleology in monads that is goal-directed without necessarily being goodness-directed in any interesting sense. Jorati’s main line of argument is that this kind of teleology is often associated with changes that in no way are good for the monad. It is a provocative thesis and argument, but I would like to see a stronger treatment of the possibility that these actions are directed at unachieved goods, a possibility raised in Monadology §15.
The next four chapters treat, respectively, divine concurrence; freedom; control, akrasia, and compulsion; and moral agency and responsibility. The last three chapters especially deserve to be read widely as they contain strong arguments for surprising theses. The most successful of these have to do with the issue of control. In chapter 6, Jorati draws our attention to underappreciated passages from the Theodicy and the New Essays in which [End Page 171] Leibniz describes ways of having mastery over the nonrational elements in the soul. Jorati finds that this mastery can be either direct control or indirect control. In the same chapter, Jorati utilizes these passages to argue that there is a much stronger kind of weakness of will in Leibniz than is typically recognized. In chapter 7, Jorati very effectively argues that blameworthiness in Leibniz requires a greater degree of control than does praiseworthiness. In general, these chapters show that the will plays a much stronger role in Leibniz’s thought than is usually assumed.
The least successful argument from these chapters claims that Leibniz does not think moral responsibility requires freedom (194–99). It is a provocative thesis, grounded in a sophisticated reading of Leibniz’s texts. It may, in fact, describe Leibniz’s position in some texts, but it is too dissonant with a great many texts to be terribly convincing. Elsewhere in the book, I find that Jorati navigates differences between Leibniz’s texts in a quite satisfying way. For instance, Jorati explains various options Leibniz might have taken for avoiding that God’s choice of the best is metaphysically necessary without imposing one reading on dissonant texts (137–42). Regarding moral responsibility and freedom, Jorati’s argument is worth considering, but I wish her approach to the texts on this point were as moderate as it is in other places.
Throughout the work as a whole, it is clear that Jorati finds Leibniz’s positions appealing and worth considering today. Nevertheless, she does an exceptional job avoiding a vicious anachronism. For instance, in the chapter on control, weakness, and compulsion, it is clear that Jorati is giving a treatment of Leibniz’s texts on what he calls mastery. Jorati does not motivate her treatments of Leibniz with discussions of contemporary debates but is clearly...