Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Leibniz on Metaphysical Perfection
by Feeney, Thomas D., Ph.D., Yale University, 2016, 246; 10584944
Abstract (Summary)

Leibniz makes substantive use of harmony and metaphysical perfection, but he very rarely offers more than a brief gloss in direct explanation of these terms. I argue that they name the same fundamental property. The definition of metaphysical perfection (hereafter, "perfection") as unity-in-variety misleads if taken as a reduction of perfection to separately necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for anything to enjoy perfection. The definition of harmony in terms of intelligibility leads to the same underlying notion, for intelligibility is defined in terms of unity and variety.

Chapter 1 introduces the tension between Leibniz's substantive use of perfection and his demand that it meet a high standard of intelligibility. Chapter 2 argues that there is no satisfactory account of compossibility in the literature because each of the viable proposals misunderstands the role of perfection. The current dispute rests in a disagreement about the best reductive account of perfection: either to sheer variety, or to variety and unity as independently intelligible but inversely proportional criteria for perfection. Either way, incompossibility relations become externally applied limits on God's will to maximize the variety of existing substances. Leibniz rejects all such external limits. I propose a new solution, in which two possibles are compossible if and only if they are jointly thinkable, that is, if they are members of an ideal unity. This involves a distinction between the variety that does contribute to unity and the variety that does not—and this distinction requires that we already have some notion of perfection prior to the appeal to variety.

Chapter 3 develops this account of perfection and incompossibility further, by introducing another puzzle God aims to create the most perfect world, but worlds are aggregates and aggregates seem to rank too low in Leibniz's ontology to explain God's aim. What is the world that God would care for it? God, being wise, does not and would not will multiple times in creating. Rather, God creates multiple substances through a single act of will. Acts of creative will, though, are individuated by the agent's concept of the object. This suggests that groups of substances are unified into worlds by God's intellect thinking of their many essences under a single idea. This is Leibniz's limited Spinozism: he is a metaphysical atomist about existing things, but a holist about the ideal and its value.

Chapters 4 and 5 tell the story of how Leibniz came to these views. The narrative is helpful in part because it sheds some light on Leibniz's motivations. Also, I argue that the mistakes common to recent approaches to compossibility have textual support only from premature versions of Leibniz's account of perfection, versions Leibniz rejected in part because they generate the problems discussed in Chapters 2 and 3.

Chapter 4 explores Leibniz's transition to philosophical maturity in the later 167os. He gave priority to the divine intellect throughout his career, but in the Paris Period, he left no work for the will at all: to exist is to be harmonious, and the existence of finite things depends directly on the divine intellect. This theory had theodicean advantages, but it also led to a necessitarianism just as absolute as Spinoza's. After studying Spinoza and leaving Paris, Leibniz placed the divine will between existence and harmony, or perfection. Perfection and harmony were now associated with God's ideas; coming to exist required, in addition, an act of God's will.

Having associated harmony with the possibles in God's mind, Leibniz now needed to explain why God does not maximize perfection by creating every substance. Chapter 5 deals with the gradual development after 1678, as Leibniz worked out how to determine the joint value of many independent substances. Just as previously he had separated existence from harmony while retaining a close connection between the two, the mature Leibniz distinguished harmony from the possible substances in God's mind. Harmony and perfection, on this final account, belong even to aggregates, which count as unities thanks only to their relation to a mind. With this in hand, Leibniz was finally in a position to argue that God leaves some possibles uncreated in order the maximize the perfection of what God does create.

Leibniz defended his commitment to a harmoniously limited, intelligible world by gradually distinguishing perfection from existence and from substantiality. Likewise, we profit by distinguishing Leibnizian perfection from (apparently) more accessible notions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rocca, Michael Della, Hare, John
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Philosophy
Keywords: Compossibility, Creation, God, Harmony, Substance, The Good
Publication Number: 10584944
ISBN: 978-1-369-63532-4
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