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The Monist, 26 (Oct 1916) [534]-56 1

The study of the Monadologymay be comprised in three stages. In the first we isolate the work; with no other aid than the philosophical counters which itself employs, we attempt to draw its fantastic world around us and find it real. 2 Perhaps we supplement it by searching in other works of Leibniz for elucidations of points which are not clear; but in any case we take the Monadologyas a creed and test our possibilities of belief. No philosophy can be understood without this preliminary effort to accept it on its own terms; but its true value can never be extracted solely in that way. The perfected or the summarised form of any system is the starting point, not the terminus of study. We must effect a radical restatement, find in it motives and problems which are ours, giving it the dignity of a place in the history of science when we withdraw from it the sanctity of a religion. In losing the consistency of a closed system, it gains the consistency of reason, is attached to something larger than itself. Russell and Couturat have accomplished this revaluation for Leibniz. 3 But beside the leading motive, the reason of a philosophy, there are other strata both below and above: prejudices, traditions, suggestions, motives which imperfectly assimilate to the central motive, all of which combine to give to the system the form which it has. The present essay is merely a preface to the investigation of these forces.

There are influences of suggestion, influences of tradition, personal influences, and, moreover, there is more than one conscious interest. Among influences of the first sort upon Leibniz (none of them of the highest importance), I should class a variety of authors whose contributions to Leibniz are more verbal than profound. Leibniz’s reading was wide beyond any point of selection, and he appears to have derived some entertainment from such philosophers as Giordano Bruno, Maimonides, and the Averrhoists. 4*

Bruno is a classic example of influence in the most superficial sense. It is not certain, nor is it important, at what period Leibniz became acquainted with Bruno’s works. For the probability that Leibniz was struck by the figurative language, that Bruno may have been in the background when Leibniz wrote some of his more imaginative passages, there is evidence enough. For the probability that Bruno affected Leibniz’s thought, there is no evidence whatever. What we have is a statement which bears strong superficial resemblances to the statement of Leibniz; the arguments, such as they are, the steps which lead up to the statement, are not similar. Leibniz’s arguments are sufficiently strong not to demand support from the fact that there were monadologists before Leibniz. To his imagination, we may concede plagiarism. But it is with the sources of his thought, not with the sources of his imagery, that we are concerned.

The other sources mentioned may be dismissed in the same way. It is interesting, perhaps, but not valuable, to observe that Leibniz read with appreciation a book by Maimonides. And though he never couples the names of Spinoza and Maimonides together, the notes which he made upon this book single out just the points of resemblance to the TheologicoPoliticus–the first work of Spinoza that he read. 5 He was interested in Hebrew and Arabic studies. Bossuet sends to him for a translation of the Talmud. He announces to Bossuet a translation of the Koran. 6 A dialogue of 1676 shows that he knew, through Maimonides, the doctrines of the Averrhoists and of a certain Jewish sect, the Motekallem. 7 In 1687, while traveling in Bavaria, he undertook some study of the Kabbala, 8 and perhaps noticed the theory of emanation from an infinite being which consists in an indivisible point– and the microcosm is said to be a familiar idea in Jewish philosophy. These studies, rather shallow it is true, illustrate Leibniz’s insatiable curiosity toward every sort of theological hocus-pocus. Monadism was probably...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press