G. W. Leibniz Archives



More Generally: Historical Thinkers (231)

July 25, 2014

Regarding All Those Possible Arnaulds

One of the main topics of the Leibniz-Arnauld correspondence is the question how, on Leibniz's theory, it can be true that Arnauld might have had children and been a physician rather than being a celibate theologian (see Arnauld's letter of May 13, 1686). One of the curious things that happens in this discussion is that both Leibniz and Arnauld start talking about the many Adams and many Judases and many Arnaulds in the various possible worlds, with Leibniz insisting that none of them is identical to the actual Adam/Judas/Arnauld. In that May 13 letter, Arnauld even speaks of 'several mes',...
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March 26, 2014

February 26, 2014

Kotzen on the Improbability of Nothing

When someone asks 'why p rather than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'p is far more probable than q.' When someone asks, 'why is p more probable than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'there are many more ways for p to be true than for q to be true.' According to a well-known paper by Peter Van Inwagen, the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' can be answered in just this fashion: something is far more probable than nothing, because there are infinitely many ways for there to be something,...
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January 27, 2014

How to Determine Whether there Might Have Been Nothing

Even those of us who think that necessary truths often need (and have) non-trivial explanations generally think that these explanations tend to look different from the explanations of contingent truths. Furthermore, one might well think that showing that p is necessary explains why p, even if one thinks that it is possible to show that necessarily p without explaining why necessarily p. Additionally, of course, there are those who hold that once one has shown a certain proposition to be a necessary truth, there are no further 'why' questions to be asked. Thus if one wants to know whether the...
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December 20, 2013

Jacob Ross on the PSR

Leibniz famously claimed that, once we have endorsed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, "the first questions we will be entitled to put will be - Why does something exist rather than nothing?" The answer to this question, he further claimed, "must needs be outside the sequence of contingent things and must be in a substance which is the cause of this sequence, or which is a necessary being, bearing in itself the reason for its own existence, otherwise we should not yet have a sufficient reason with which to stop" ("Principles of Nature and Grace," sects. 7-8, tr. Latta). In...
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January 29, 2013

A Theistic Argument for Compatibilism

One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.) Now, I suppose there are some reasons...
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January 15, 2013

A Hypothesis about the History of the Concept of Voluntariness

In Aristotelian physics, natural objects are characterized by their teleology, i.e. their tending toward certain ends. According to St. Thomas, what makes an event a voluntary action is that the subject of the event has knowledge of the end toward which the action is directed. Post-Galileo, physics is not about teleology in this way. Instead, physics is about laws, rules according to which events unfold. Accordingly, many early modern philosophers hold that a voluntary action is an event which unfolds according to a rule which has been adopted by the subject of the event. The clearest statement of this idea...
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July 26, 2012

Leibniz, Lewis, and Freedom to Break Laws/Divine Decrees

In his classic paper, "Are We Free to Break the Laws?", David Lewis argued that although we are not free to break the laws of nature, we are free to perform certain actions such that, if we performed them, a law would have been broken. This is supposed to allow compatibilists to secure alternate possibilities: it's true that in order for me to raise my arm right now, either the past or the laws of nature would have to have been different, but it's not true that if I raised my arm right now I would thereby alter the past...
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October 14, 2011

Berkeley on Miracles and Transubstantiation

It was the custom among 17th and 18th century English philosophers to take as many potshots at the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as possible. Sometimes it almost seems that a desideratum for a theory of metaphysics is that it should be inconsistent with that doctrine. This desideratum is, of course, easily satisfied: most theories of metaphysics are inconsistent with transubstantiation. All versions of the doctrine require that it be metaphysically possible for flesh to exist under the 'species' of bread, and a conservative interpretation of the doctrine popular in the early modern period further required that numerically the same...
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September 1, 2011

Lawless Events and the Existence of God

Christine Overall famously argued that miracles, conceived as violations of the laws of nature, would be evidence against the existence of the traditional God. A lengthy debate with Robert Larmer ensued, in which Larmer argued that only slight modifications to the law-breaking account of miracles are necessary in order for miracles to serve as evidence for, rather than against, the existence of God. Larmer tries to argue that miracles do not violate the laws of nature, but nevertheless holds that they are different from ordinary events in that they don't follow from the laws of nature. (I don't have Larmer's...
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June 2, 2011

Miracles and Competence

I'm currently thinking about miracles and laws of nature, because I am working on revising this paper on the subject. Also on my mind is a paper of mine called "Divine Language, Unperceived Objects, and Berkeley's Response to Skepticism" which I will be presenting at the International Berkeley Society group session at the Eastern APA in December. It occurred to me that these two subjects of thought interact in an interesting way. In the Berkeley paper, I argue that we should take quite seriously Berkeley's claim that the laws of nature form the grammar of a language (PHK 108-110), and...
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April 26, 2011

Phenomenalisms, De Re and De Dicto

'Phenomenalism' is the name given to Berkeley's doctrine that the being (existence) of material objects consists in their being perceived (their esse is percipi - PHK 3). This formula is, however, several ways ambiguous. Here I just want to point out one of them. (I have been thinking about these issues in connection with a paper I am writing on the question of whether Leibniz was a phenomenalist, and, if so, of what sort.) The ambiguity I am concerned with here is a de re/de dicto ambiguity. De re is Latin for 'concerning the thing', and de dicto is Latin...
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March 10, 2011

Two Bad Footnotes

I found two rather bad footnotes in student editions of early modern texts this week. Both texts are from the Oxford Philosophical Texts (OPT) series. The first makes a rather contentious historical/interpretive claim, and doesn't seem to recognize that it is doing so; the second is an outright error. The first footnote is in the OPT edition of Hume's first Enquiry. In the course of a critique of occasionalism, Hume writes, It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all...
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February 19, 2011

Berkeley and Leibniz Should be Friends

In his 1733 Theory of Vision Vindicated, commenting on the prevalence of the deist and free-thinking movements in England and Ireland, and justifying his association of these views with outright atheism, Berkeley writes: That atheistical principles have taken deeper root, and are farther spread than most people are apt to imagine, will be plain to whoever considers that pantheism, materialism, fatalism are nothing but atheism a little disguised; that the notions of Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibnitz [sic], and Bayle are relished and applauded; that as they who deny the freedom and immortality of the soul in effect deny its being, even...
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February 12, 2011

The Target of Leibniz's "Comments on the Book Concerning 'The Origin of Evil'"

Toward the end of his Theodicy, Leibniz included a section which in the Huggard translation has the title "Observations on the Book Concerning 'The Origin of Evil' Published Recently in London." The French title is: "Remarques sur le Livre de L'Origine du Mal, Publie depuis peu en Angleterre." (Note that, unless there is a disagreement between different French printings, 'London' is a mistake for 'England' in the title, but in the first paragraph Leibniz does identify London specifically as the place of publication.) I just spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify the book in question, so I...
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February 11, 2011

Sometimes It's Rational to Act Arbitrarily

In the middle sections of his 12th chapter, Sobel goes through a series of adjustments to his deductive argument from evil designed to get around various versions of the Free Will Defense and other tactics attempted by theists. For reasons mentioned earlier, I am not happy with Sobel's formal treatment of these arguments, so I'm going to reconstruct the substance of the argument somewhat differently. Consider the following: If there were a perfect being, it would take a best course of action available to it in creating the world If a perfect being took the best course of action available...
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February 4, 2011

Malebranche and Robert Adams on Creating the Best

Leibniz famously argued that the actual world must be the best of all possible worlds (BPW). His argument, which he repeated in several places, went something like this: The actual world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. An omnipotent being can actualize any possible world. A perfectly good being always chooses the best outcome from among its choices. Therefore, The actual world is the BPW. Most people have found the conclusion of this argument incredible, and sought ways to escape it. The logical problem of evil is essentially an argument to the effect that the only premise...
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December 21, 2010

Leibniz's Short Proof of Classical Theism

In a single paragraph near the beginning of the Theodicy, Leibniz gives a very compressed version of an argument a contingentia mundi (from the contingency of the world) from which he purports to derive not just the existence of God, but several of the most important traditional divine attributes (from which, Leibniz seems to think, the other divine attributes follow). In this post, I'll try to unpack Leibniz's reasoning. I'm not going to do too much evaluation of the arguments, since this post will be long enough without that; I'll just lay out the arguments as I see them and...
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December 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Leibniz on True Religion

One cannot love God without knowing his perfections, and this knowledge contains the principles of true piety. The purpose of religion should be to imprint these principles upon our souls: but in some strange way it has happened all too often that men, that teachers of religion[,] have strayed far from this purpose. Contrary to the intention of our divine Master, devotion has been reduced to ceremonies and doctrine has been cumbered with formulae. All too often the ceremonies have not been well fitted to maintain the exercise of virtue, and the formulae sometimes have not been lucid. Can one...
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November 29, 2010

Leibniz and Frankfurt on Freedom

The history of the debate on free will is sometimes narrated as follows: first, we have the 'classic compatibilists', starting from Hobbes, through Locke, Hume, and the positivists. At first these fellows square off against libertarians like Bramhall and Reid, who are (so the story goes) deservedly obscure. The debate is terribly unsophisticated: the compatibilists hold that freedom just is the ability to do what you want to do, the absence of any sort of external constraints. The libertarians require some kind of magic 'contra-causal' agent causation they can't explain. They slowly die out as English language philosophy is purified...
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November 2, 2010

Leibniz Against Fine-Tuning

It appears that I'm going to be getting a bit behind on my Sobel series due to other commitments. Here is some Leibniz to make up for it. One of the problems with those forms of teleological (design) arguments that posit necessary 'gaps' in naturalistic explanation is that they are revisionary with respect to scientific practice: that is, it is a principle of scientific methodology to keep looking for naturalistic explanations no matter what. Now, most philosophers think that taking a revisionary attitude toward scientific practice is bad since the track record of science, on its current methodology, is stellar...
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October 21, 2010

A Lame Response to the Problem of Evil

I very rarely say anything negative about Leibniz, especially when it comes to philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. This, however, is just ridiculous: [T]he world is not only the most wonderful machine, but also in regard to minds it is the best commonwealth, by whose means there is bestowed on minds the greatest possible amount of felicity or joyfulness; and it is in this that their physical perfection consists. But, you will say, we find in the world the very opposite of this. Often the worst sufferings fall upon the best men; the innocent (I speak not only of...
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September 28, 2010

Explanatory Principles and Infinite Propositions

In the course of his discussion of cosmological arguments, Sobel argues against the Principle of Sufficient Reason and similar strong explanatory principles. In particular, he argues that even a weak principle like "there is a deductive explanation that has only true premises for every contingent truth" will result in modal collapse (p. 218). In Sobel's terminology, an argument 'deductively explains' its conclusion iff (1) the argument is sound, and (2) the conclusion does not entail the premises (p. 219; condition (2) applies to contingent conclusions only). Sobel now introduces the following two premises: (3) If there is any true contingent...
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September 21, 2010

"Leibnizian Miracles" in Pomona

I have just officially accepted an invitation to present "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles" at the Southern California Philosophy Conference, to be held in Pomona Saturday, November 6.
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September 15, 2010

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Sobel's sixth chapter is devoted to, as he says, "proofs a contingentia mundi" (from the contingency of the world). The chief exponent here is Leibniz, though Sobel also considers Hume's Demea and his probable source, Samuel Clarke. Sobel argues that Leibniz's argument is valid ... by contradiction explosion. That is, he argues that Leibniz's premises are inconsistent. In this post, I show how to fix the argument using Leibnizian resources. In the next post, I will give another version of the argument which uses premises which I consider to be anti-Leibnizian, but which I think are more widely held than...
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September 2, 2010

Modal Collapse: Sobel's Objection to Gödel's Ontological Argument

The last ontological argument Sobel discusses is the Leibniz-inspired argument put forward by the famous logician Kurt Gödel. Gödel sets up a formal system in third-order quantified modal logic with equality and abstraction (!) and proves within that system the theorem: □∃xG(x) Where the predicate G is defined as follows: Gx ↔ ∀φ[P(φ) → φ(x)] Where P is primitive. (Sobel includes the complete source texts for Gödel's proof on pp. 144-146.) Now, unsurprisingly, given that the proof was originated by Gödel, everyone agrees that the proof is valid in the formal system. The question is whether there are any interpretations...
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May 11, 2010

Leibniz + Adams = Calvinist Theodicy

As I have said before, it is my belief that revealed theology cannot resolve the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Both views (at least in their moderate forms) are both plausible and orthodox; any reason to prefer one to the other will be a philosophical reason, a conclusion of fallible human reason. With this understanding of revealed theology in mind, I reject Calvinism on philosophical grounds, one of which is that I think Calvinism has an extremely difficult time with the problem of evil. In a recent post, The Problem of Evil 101, at Reason From Scripture, Nathanael Taylor presents a 'Reformed' response...
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March 19, 2010

Locke and Leibniz on Armchair Teleology

[I]f we may conclude that God hath done for men all that men shall judge is best for them, because it is suitable to his goodness so to do, it will prove not only that God has imprinted on the minds of men an idea of himself, but that he hath plainly stamped there, in fair characters, all that men ought to know or believe of him, all that they ought to do in obedience to his will, and that he hath given them a will and affections conformable to it. This, no doubt, everyone will think it better for...
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January 12, 2010

Alternative Groupings of Early Modern Philosophers

Last month, there was some blog discussion about historiography and teaching methods in early modern philosophy. The standard story is evidently due to Hegel, and continues to be standard despite being unpopular among specialists in history of modern. It groups modern philosophers before Kant as follows:
Rationalists
Descartes
Spinoza
Leibniz
Empiricists
Locke
Berkeley
Hume
Dana McCourt, blogging at The Edge of the American West...
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November 4, 2009

"A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles"

I have posted a new paper draft to my writings page entitled "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles". The aim of the paper is to defend a conception of miracles on which no violation, suspension, or circumvention of the laws of nature is required. Comments are welcome.
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November 3, 2009

Miraculous Early Modern Blogging!

As previously mentioned, I am currently working on a paper entitled "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles". After a few more rounds of edits, I will post a draft, so stay tuned. In the meantime allow me to point you to a few miraculous instances of early modern blogging (both posted today, incidentally)...
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October 13, 2009

Leibniz's Theistic Case Against Humean Miracles

Most of the recent philosophical literature on miracles focuses on Hume's argument against belief in miracles in EHU 10. There, Hume asserts that all miracles are "violation[s] of the laws of nature" (10.12) and argues that we could never be justified in believing in such events. Call these Law-Breaking Events (LBEs). As Hume recognizes, being an LBE cannot be sufficient for being a miracle; miracles must have the right kind of theological/religious significance. Hume thus gives in a footnote a more precise definition: "A miracle may be accurately defined, a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition...
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October 7, 2009

Quote of the Day: Robert Adams on Contextualist History of Philosophy as Philosophy

I believe that historical accuracy and careful attention to the historical context are important to the philosophical as well as the historical value of work in the history of philosophy and, conversely, that philosophical argument and critique are important for historical understanding of philosophy. One reason for the philosophical importance of patient and careful attention to the actual meaning of Leibniz's writings in their historical context is that he was indeed a great philosopher, great enough that an arbitrary interpretation of his work, more relevant to our historical context than to his, is unlikely to be as interesting philosophically in...
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October 2, 2009

Quote of the Day: Leibniz Against Hyper-Calvinism

If there are people who believe that election and reprobation are accomplished on God's part by a despotic and absolute power, not only without any apparent reason but actually without any reason, even a concealed one, they maintain an opinion that destroys alike the nature of things and the divine perfections. Such an absolutely absolute decree (so to speak) would be without doubt insupportable. But Luther and Calvin were far from such a belief: the former hopes that the life to come will make us comprehend the just reasons of God's choice; and the latter protests explicitly that these reasons...
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May 13, 2009

Quote of the Day: Stillingfleet on the Natural Immortality of the Soul

You [Locke] say, That all the ends of Religion and Morality are secured barely by the Immortality of the Soul without a necessary Supposition that the Soul is Immaterial. I am of the opinion that the great ends of Religion and Morality are best secured by the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul from its Nature and Properties; and which I think can prove it Immaterial. I do not question whether God can give Immortality to a Material Substance; but I say it takes off very much from the evidence of Immortality, if it depend wholly on God's giving...
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May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day: Leibniz on Survival of Death

One of the quandaries I ran into in writing my paper on Berkeley on resurrection is the question of what the 'revealed' Christian doctrine is supposed to be. In particular, there is the question of natural versus miraculous immortality of the soul. Some writers who seek to defend the Christian doctrine of survival of death assume that it is part of the doctrine that this survival is miraculous. (For a recent example, see Lynne Rudder Bakker's "Persons and the Metaphysics of Resurrection" which appeared in Religious Studies in 2007; James Ross also brought this up in his criticisms of my...
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November 29, 2007

Quote of the Day: Schopenhauer on The History of Idealism

Now as, notwithstanding the transitory, isolated nature of our representations with respect to their immediate presence in our consciousness, the Subject nevertheless retains the representation of an all-comprehensive complex of reality, as described above, by means of the function of the Understanding; representations have, on the strength of this antithesis, been viewed, as something quite different when belonging to that complex than when considered with reference to their immediate presence in our consciousness ... This view of matter, which is the ordinary one, is known under the name Realism. On the appearance of modern philosophy, Idealism opposed itself to this...
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September 25, 2007

"The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics"

The Dualist 13 (2006) is finally available online, including my paper "The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics". Unfortunately, the main index site is still badly broken. Hopefully it will soon be fixed. In the meantime, the direct link to my paper works. There are some typesetting errors in the PDF (most importantly: footnote numbering is messed up, and some logical symbols are boxed out), and I haven't seen the print version to know if it contains these errors as well. I was never shown any proofs and I also found some spelling errors, and at least one place where a sentence is missing a word. Such is life. But the content is, I hope more interesting than the form...
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December 22, 2006

My Five Favorite Philosophers

Recently, while I was busy with finals, Clarke at Mormon Metaphysics and Johnny-Dee at Fides Quarens Intellectum posted lists of their favorite philosophers. I thought that today I would do the same. I won't get fancy with pictures and stuff, because that's not my style (as you can plainly see if you are looking at this page), but I do have a list, roughly in order...
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September 22, 2006

My First Academic Journal Paper!

Last night I received word that a paper I wrote entitled "The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics" has been accepted for publication by The Dualist! The paper argues that the characteristics of dream perceptions by which we, in practice, distinguish them from waking perceptions prevent dream perceptions from functioning as a language in the way Berkeley believes waking perceptions do and thus provide a principled grounding for an ontological distinction between dreams and waking life...
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January 30, 2006

"Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings page, entitled "Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz." This is a topic that I've discussed quite a bit in the past few months, and this may be the end of it for a while. An earlier version served as a term paper for Professor Karen Detlefsen's undergraduate seminar on Leibniz at Penn last semester. It has undergone slight revision based on her comments. Please feel free to offer any responses or discussion you have in the comments section of this post. Any revisions made will be documented in the comments here as...
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December 22, 2005

Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck

Nearly a month ago, I posted without commentary a Leibniz quote about materialism and supernaturalism. At the time I was busy with classes and didn't have time to really address the issue I saw the quote raising, but now that finals are over, I'd like to take a minute and look at this. When I read this quote, I immediately thought of "creation science." Leibniz here describes what he sees as two false extremes: the one is represented today by the likes of Peter Atkins, the Oxford Chemist who insists that in order to properly follow scientific methodology one must...
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November 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

"We know that while there have been, on the one hand, able philosophers who recognized nothing except what is material in the universe, there are, on the other hand, learned and zealous theologians who, shocked at the corpuscular philosophy and not content with checking it's misuse, have felt obliged to maintain tha tthere are phenomena in nature which cannot be explained by mechanical principles; as for example, light, weight, and elastic force. But since they do not reason with exactness in this matter, and it is easy for the corpuscular philosophers to reply to them, they injure religion in trying...
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October 12, 2005

Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics: Its Application to God, Science, and Miracles

So I'm taking this class on Leibniz this semester (for those of you who may be unfamiliar, that is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th century philosopher/scientist/mathematician, and the "other" discoverer of calculus), and I was reading his Discourse on Metaphysics today and came across this fantastic passage in section 19: Moreover, it is unreasonable to introduce a supreme intelligence as orderer of things and then, instead of using his wisdom, use only the properties of matter to explain the phenomena. This is as if, in order to account for the conquest of an important place by a great prince, a...
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