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The Monist, 26 (Oct 1916) [566]-76 1

No philosopher is more fantastic than Leibniz in presentation, few have been less intelligently interpreted. At first sight, none is less satisfactory. Yet Leibniz remains to the end disquieting and dangerous. He represents no one tradition, no one civilisation; he is allied to no social or literary tendency; his thought cannot be summed up or placed. Spinoza represents a definite emotional attitude; suggestive as he is, his value can be rated. Descartes is a classic, and is dead. Candideis a classic: Voltaire was a wise man, and not dangerous. Rousseau is not a classic, nor was he a wise man; he has proved an eternal source of mischief and inspiration. Reviewing the strange opinions, almost childish in naiveté, of birth and death, of body and soul, of the relation between vegetable and animal, of activity and passivity–together with the pitiful efforts at orthodoxy and the cautious ethics of this German diplomat, together with his extraordinary facility of scientific insight, one is disconcerted at the end. His orthodoxy is more alarming than others’ revolution, his fantastic guesses more enduring than others’ rationality.

Beside the work of Russell and of Couturat, I have found only one author of assistance in attempting to appreciate the thought of Leibniz. 2 In Bradley’s Appearance and Reality, I seemed to find features strikingly similar to those of monadism. So that re-reading Leibniz I cannot help thinking that he was the first to express, perhaps half unconsciously, one of those fundamental varieties of view which perpetually recur as novelties. With his motives, logical and otherwise, I am not here concerned. I only wish to point out, and leave for consideration, certain analogies.

That monadism begins with Leibniz I think will be conceded. It is characteristic of the man that everything about his monads, except the one essential point which makes them his own, he may have borrowed from an author with whom he was certainly acquainted. Bruno’s theory has everything in common with that of Leibniz except this one point. A kind of pre-established harmony, the continuity of animal and vegetable and of organic and inorganic, the representation of the whole in the part, even the words monadum monas(the monad of monads): these points of identity one finds. 3* But the monad of Bruno has this difference: it has windows.

And it is just the impenetrability of the Leibnizian monads which constitutes their originality and which seems to justify our finding a likeness between Leibniz and Bradley. In any case, there is no philosopher with whom the problem of sources is less important than with Leibniz. The fact that he could receive stimulation from such various sources and remain so independent of the thought of his own time 4* indicates both the robustness and the sensitiveness of genius. He has studied Thomas, and probably with great care the Metaphysicsand the De anima, but he is not an Aristotelian; he was probably profoundly struck by the passage Sophistes247e, but anyone who has read his panegyric of the Phaedo 5* will probably agree that his praise is more the approval of posterity than the interpretation of discipleship. Leibniz’s originality is in direct, not inverse ratio to his erudition.

More than multiplicity of influences, perhaps the multiplicity of motives and the very occasional reasons for some of Leibniz’s writings, make him a bewildering and sometimes ludicrous writer. The complication of his interests in physics, his interests in logic, and his equally genuine interest in theology, make his views a jungle of apparent contradictions and irrelevancies. His theory of physical energy, for example, leads to an unsound metaphysical theory of activity, and his solicitude for the preservation of human immortality leads to a view which is only an excrescence upon monadism, 6* and which is in every way less valuable than Aristotle’s. Thus there are features of the theory which are inessential. When we confine our attention to the resemblances between Leibniz’s and...

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