Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Modern Philosophy 8

For the class in Modern Philosophy I'm taking this semester, we have to write 15 two-paged papers (minimum) on philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke, and Leibnitz. In this essay, I wrote about Leibniz's Monadology. The following is my submission:

In Monadology, Leibniz progressed in his philosophy to describe the ontological ground of all things: monads. Monads are simple substances of which bodies are compromised. Although all monads must possess some differentiae such that a monad is recognizable as such, Leibniz also maintained that the concept must compatible with the principle of the identity of indiscernibles he established in his prior works. The qualities inherent to monads are not “parts,” per se; when a monad changes, it changes with respect to itself. Leibniz clarifies this by stating perception alone comprises the “internal activity” of simple substances, and the object of perception can obviously contain a multiplicity of characteristics such that variation in the objects can cause change in the monads. Leibniz also wrote about different qualities of these monads: the soul, for instance, is a simple substance whose perception includes feeling and memory. The soul also correlates to the senses of the body to which it is united (per concomitance), although the soul and body are “governed” in distinct ways. It seems to be the case, then, that Leibniz believed animals have souls, for he believed that the only difference between men and animals is that men are capable of reflecting upon eternal, necessary truths. Also, because men alone are rational animals, they alone can be called spirits, animals created in the image of God.

Another progression in Leibniz’s philosophy was that from his belief in the “laws of logic” and principle of sufficient reason to that of a definition of God; viz. God is the single, independent, and necessary substance who functions as the preserver, telos, and – in some sense – epistemic foundation for all things. Leibniz ascribes perfection to God because God is limitless insofar as He can actuate was is possible; it is thus the case that although we are ontologically dependent upon God, the immediate cause of imperfection is found in the nature of he who is necessarily limited. Furthermore, God’s limitless nature implies His own existence, as no contradiction is implied in His existence. God alone must necessarily exist, because He alone is not limited by possibilities, including the possibility that a limitless substance exists.

Leibniz also gives a brief account of his theodicy. As the principle of sufficient reason applies to all things, Leibniz notes that God must have reason for actualizing this world instead of all other possible worlds, and that God’s reason for having chosen to actuate this world is because it is the best of all possible worlds, reflected in the fact that this world exhibits a “universal harmony which causes every substance to express exactly all others through the relation which it has with them.” This harmony is such that each body represents its soul and each substance represents its ultimate cause (God) and the universe (as all things relate to one another in some fashion). Leibniz used this line of reasoning to support his contention that bodies and souls are [holistically] indestructible, that efficient and final causes are perfectly harmonious, and that God perfectly governs the physical realm as well as the spiritual. He concludes the Monadology assuring his readers that God will justly punish evil and reward good, that all things will work out according to God’s good will, and that men should be exhorted to make our goal that of the goal of He upon whom we depend in every intelligible sense.

Leibniz’s argumentation suffers primarily because it is suspect to the same criticism inherent to every rationalistic system: the contingency of knowledge. Unless one either is infinitely knowledgeable and omniscient or can justify that his means of acquiring knowledge has come from one who is infinitely knowledgeable and omniscient, to assert that any proposition x (e.g. “God possibly exists”) is true implies one knows that the ontological reality of x is not contingent on the ontological reality of propositions y, z, ad infinitum. Presupposing that man is able to reason functions insufficiently as a grounds upon or means by which one can construct a sound philosophical system.


Joshua Butcher said...


What sort of feedback have you been getting from your prof on these paper submissions, if you don't mind sharing?

Ryan said...

20/20 on all papers so far except for #7. I received a 19/20 for that because I did not note with what aspects of occasionalism Leibniz agreed.

Joshua Butcher said...

Is the class discussion-based or completely lecture? I think I recall you mentioned growing tired of it not long ago, and I know you expected it to be one of your better classes. What's been the cause of discontent?

Ryan said...

Every class we have at least one presentation given by a student which lasts for ~30 minutes. This presentation focuses on the reading for the day. Because essays on the reading are due before class, there is class discussion (which I highly prefer to lectures) on the reading during the presentation. This isn't to say that the professor doesn't lecture at all, but he usually only provides outlines of what he thinks are the central points of a philosopher. Also, we are allowed to choose, with some restrictions, 15 days (out of the 25-30 total in the semester) to submit an essay. 50% of our grade is based on the essays, 25% participation, 25% presentation. In general, I like the setup of the class.

The reason I've become a little apathetic is that most of my fellow students are pretentious morons who are increasingly irritating me and that the recent readings on Leibniz have been a little dry (my opinion). This latter impression is in part due to the fact that I feel obligated to evaluate the arguments of each rationalist we have been reading differently in each essay in spite of the fact I've found that all of their arguments really are suspect to the argument from the contingency of knowledge. I think that if I keep repeating the same objections, however, the professor might perceive that to be laziness, so I feel forced at times to give more attention than I think is due.

Thankfully, we're starting Locke and other empiricists this Wednesday, so I should be able to use some different critiques which will, hopefully, rekindle my interest.

Joshua Butcher said...

Thanks for the summary Ryan. I also found Leibnitz to be very dry, but I only read his Theodicy. I suppose one could always mix up critiques of rationalism by focusing on metaphysics or ethics rather than fixating upon epistemology (even though it is the basic crux).

Ryan said...

It depends on the particular reading. Most times, ethics and metaphysics aren't discussed enough in the reading to excuse particular attention to them.

Today's discussion on Locke was interesting, though. One of the know-it-alls presented today and, after lauding Locke's repudiation of innate knowledge (mentioning the law of non-contradiction explicitly), I was able to nail him by asking how Locke could derive such a law, a law which he presupposed throughout his arguments, from experience alone. Then he got defensive and said one has to assent to the law in order for one to know the law, and I pointed out people don't have to understand an abstract formulation of the law to implicitly accept it. Then class ended. Very satisfying. I'll be doing my presentation on sections 9-12 of Hume's "Inquiry concerning human understanding" in April, so I look forward to that.

Joshua Butcher said...

I'm sorry I could not be present for your demolition. Hume is an odd fella from the little exposure I've had.

I might be hitting you up for some resources on apologetic argument against various other religions. One of my office mates is an outspoken skeptic of Christianity, and he and I have been having some stimulating, but fruitless (thus far) discussions. He's promised to send me his main questions/concerns about Christianity, but one that I know will be on there is why the Christian Bible is anymore authoritative that other religions with sacred texts. I have the general response in hand, but I don't have particular refutations of the Koran, for example. If you have anything, I'd be glad if you passed it my way.

Ryan said...

Aside from a general outline of a response to alternate first principles (I specifically mention Islam in the post), I don't really specialize in other religions. I tend to evaluate them as they come to me. I would certainly recommend James White's youtube videos, but you probably already know about those. I'll see if I can get a friend to think up some more stuff and get back to you.

Ryan said...

If you're still interested, the following is his response:

Muslims are quick to point to the violence recorded in the Christian bible and claim that Chris-tianity’s early history was violent, too. But unlike the Bible where some very awful HISTORY is recorded, the violence described in the Qur’an is part of Islamic THEOLOGY. This is a very sig-nificant distinction between the two belief systems.

The famous Muslim scholar and “father of modern history” Ibn Khaldun (see states the dichotomy between jihad and defensive warfare thus:

In the Muslim community, the holy war [i.e. jihad] is a religious duty, because of the univers-alism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by per-suasion or by force... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. That is why the Israeilites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g. a “caliphate”]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations]… But Islam is under obli-gation to gain power over other nations (The Muqudimmah, vol. 1 pg. 473).

I usually rely upon content here: