The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
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The Monadology (French: La Monadologie, 1714) is one of Gottfried Leibniz's best known works of his later philosophy. The Monad is nothing but a simple substance, which enters into compounds. By 'simple' is meant 'without parts.' This book is a collection of ideas and writings of Leibliz, translated into English and edited by Robert Latta in 1898. Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz was a German polymath active as a mathematician, philosopher, scientist, and diplomat. He is a prominent figure in both the history of philosophy and the history of mathematics. He wrote works on philosophy, theology, ethics, politics, law, history, and philology. Leibniz also made major contributions to physics and technology, and anticipated notions that surfaced much later in probability theory, biology, medicine, geology, psychology, linguistics, and computer science.

The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings

by
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Translated, with introduction and notes by Robert Latta


Preface

In this country Leibniz has received less attention than any other of the great philosophers. Mr. Merz has given, in a small volume, a general outline of Leibniz’s thought and work, Professor Sorley has written for the Encyclopaedia Britannica a remarkably clear, but brief, account of his philosophy, and there are American translations of the Nouveaux Essais and of some of his philosophical papers. That is very nearly the whole of English writing about him. Yet few philosophical systems stand so much in need of exposition as that of Leibniz. His theories have to be extracted from seven large volumes of correspondence, criticism, magazine articles, and other discursive writings, and it is only in recent years that this material has been made fully available by the publication of Gerhardt’s edition. No complete and detailed account of Leibniz’s philosophy has hitherto been published in English, and accordingly I have written a very full introduction to this book, with illustrative foot-notes, consisting mainly of translations from Leibniz himself.

The endeavour of the book is to make the Monadology clear to students. I cannot agree with Dillmann in treating it as of little importance. Leibniz himself expressly intended it to be a compact and ordered statement of the views he had expounded in many scattered papers and in his somewhat desultory Théodicée, the only book he published. There is evidence of this in his correspondence and in the fact that he annotated the Monadology with references to passages in the Théodicée. My original intention was to publish a translation of these passages along with the Monadology, but on re-consideration it seemed better to translate several short papers illustrating different parts of Leibniz’s system and explaining its growth. Thus the Monadology, as being the centre of the book, is printed first of the translations (although in date it is last), while the other writings follow in choronological order. The only disadvantage of this arrangement is that it places the Principles of Nature and of Grace, which is most akin to the Monadology, farthest away from it.

If I might venture to suggest to the student the way in which the book should be read, I would recommend him first to read Part I of the Introduction, then the Monadology (without the notes), afterwards Parts II and III of the Introduction, the Monadology again (with the notes), the other translations, and finally Part IV of the Introduction, in which I have endeavoured to ‘place’ the philosophy of Leibniz in relation to the systems which came before and after his.

My indebtedness to authors is so great and varied that I cannot acknowledge it in detail; but I may mention as specially helpful to me the works of Boutroux, Dillmann, Nourisson, Nolen, and Stein. My thanks are due to Professor Jones, of Glasgow, who read the Introduction in manuscript, for much valuable suggestion and criticism, and I am more than grateful to Professor Ritchie, of St. Andrews, who read the whole hook, both in manuscript and in proof, and to whom it owes numerous improvements as well in form as in matter.

I have adopted the spelling ‘Leibniz’ in place of the traditional ‘Leibnitz,’ because the former was invariably used by Leibniz in signing his own name.

It ought perhaps also to be mentioned that Parts II and III of the Introduction were accepted by the University of Edinburgh as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

ROBERT LATTA.

University of St. Andrews
June, 1898


Introduction

Part I
The Life and Works of Leibniz

His Boyhood

On June 21, 1646, two years before the close of the Thirty Years’ War, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born at Leipzig. His family was of Bohemian origin; but his ancestors for several generations had lived in Saxony and Prussia, and his father was a Professor of Philosophy in the University of Leipzig. Leibniz was only six years of age when his father died; and, though in his early years he had the training of a pious mother, she also passed away before he had completed his University studies. The boys of Leipzig in Leibniz’s time appear to have been brought up on ‘the picture-book of Comenius and the little Catechism’ (Luther’s); but the soul of Leibniz already sought stronger meat, and having found in the house an illustrated copy of Livy, of which he could not thoroughly understand a single line, he managed to get a tolerable idea of its contents, supplementing his scanty Latin by a study of the pictures and some judicious guessing. As an indirect result of this precocity, his father’s library was thrown open to him, and he wandered at will from volume to volume, finding (as was ever characteristic of him) some good in all. Providence or Fortune seemed to say to him, Tolle, lege; and it is significant for the philosophy to come that he turned first to the Ancients, to Cicero, Quintilian, Seneca, Pliny, Herodotus. Xenophon, Plato, the historians of the Roman Empire, and the Fathers of the Church. Of these he tells us that ‘he understood at first nothing, then gradually something, and finally enough’; but unconsciously his mind was coloured by their style and thought, ‘as men walking in the sun have their faces browned without knowing it,’ and under their inspiration he made it the rule of his life ever to seek clearness in speaking and a useful purpose in acting (in verbis claritas, in rebus usus). Thus at fourteen years of age he was counted by his fellows a prodigy of learning and ability, and already his reading of Logic and intense determination towards clearness of thought and speech had led him to ideas which were afterwards developed into the suggestion of a logical Calculus and an ‘Alphabet of Concepts’ as means to the discovery of truth.


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