Die philophischen schriften von Gottfried Wilheim Leibniz, vol. III
C. I. Gerhardt (ed)
pp 564-570

Date: 22 March 1714

Translated from the French

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[G III p564]

     More than once I have heard that people have received news of my death. The same thing has happened to Mr Magliabecchi, who was angry about it. In Germany people say that this signifies a long life. I consider it to be irrelevant and without any meaning: but it is not an inconsequential matter to me when I see how saddened you, Sir, and the famous Mr Vallisnieri, have been. I am very obliged to you, and I should have liked you not to mourn me unnecessarily.
     I1 very much wish that we could go further into the great issue [G III p565] of the generation of animals, which must have an analogy with that of plants. Mr Camerarius of Tubingen thought that their seed is like the ovary, and the pollen (although in the same plant) like the sperm of the male. But even if that were true, the question would always remain whether the basis of the transformation, or the preformed living thing, is in the ovary, following Mr Vallisnieri, or in the sperm, following Mr Leeuwenhoek. For I hold that there must always be a preformed living thing, whether plant or animal, which is the basis of the transformation, and that the same dominant monad be in it: nobody is better placed to clear up this doubt than Mr Vallisnieri, and I very much hope to see his dissertation soon; its dedication would give me more honour than I deserve.
     When I hold that there is no chaos, I do not mean that our globe or other bodies have never have been in a state of external confusion: for that would be refuted by experience. The mass that Vesuvius throws out (for example) is such a chaos; but I mean that he who has sensory organs penetrating enough to discriminate the small parts of things would find everything organized. And if he could continually increase his perception as required, he would always see in the same mass new organs that were imperceptible with his previous degree of perception. For it is impossible that a creature be capable of perceiving everything, at once, in the smallest bit of matter, because the actual sub-division of it continues to infinity. Thus the apparent chaos is only a kind of remoteness, like in a tank full of fish, or rather like in an army seen from a distance, in which the order that reigns there could not be distinguished. I therefore believe that our globe was at one time in a state similar to that of a burning mountain; and that is when the minerals that are discovered today, and that we can reproduce in our furnaces, were formed. You will find my conjecture explained more fully in an old summary in the Acts of Leipzig, under the title of Protogaea;2 and I would very much like to hear your opinion on this, and also that of Mr Vallisnieri. The rocks which are (so to speak) the bones of the earth, are the scoria or vitrifications of this ancient fusion: sand is nothing but glass resulting from [G III p566] this vitrification, which is then pulverised by motion. The water of the sea is like an oleum per deliquium,3 created by cooling, after calcination. There are three materials widely spread over the surface of our globe (namely the sea, the rocks and the sand) that are explained quite naturally by fire, which it would not be easy to explain by another hypothesis. This water at one time covered the entire globe, and caused many changes to it even before Noah's flood. I therefore incline somewhat towards the opinion either of Mr Descartes, who claims that our earth was formerly a fixed star, or towards one of my devising, that it could have been part of a fixed star, for it could have been a molten piece or a great spot thrown out of the sun, into which it constantly endeavours to fall back.
     I would like to learn of the whole procedure of mercury extraction from iron, even if this was only from iron of a certain kind, in which there was tin. This experiment would be worth repeating several times, especially that of the attraction that must have been observed in it. If the mercury was already in this mass, it is notable that the fire had not driven it out previously, when this iron was being passed through the fire. And the attraction of this mercury by fire, which Mr Zanichelli reports, appears to me to be significant. I admit that up until now I have seen nothing on the transmutation of metals; however I do not dare to say that it is impossible; I would be delighted to hear more of your thoughts and observations on minerals.
     I come to what you say, Sir, about Reverend Father Malebranche. If he truly believes that there is something active within us, which determines our will, why is he unwilling to allow something analogous in other substances? But I am afraid that he only allows this determining principle in us in order to extract himself from some theological difficulties. When I talk about the force and the action of creatures, I understand that every creature is presently big with its future state, and that it naturally follows a certain path if nothing prevents it; and that monads, which are the true and unique substances, could not be naturally obstructed in their internal determinations, because they envelop the representation of everything external. But I do not say, for all that, that the future state of the creature follows from its present state without God's concourse, and I am rather of the opinion that conservation is a continual creation changing in accordance with order. In this way Father Malebranche could perhaps approve of the pre-established harmony, without renouncing his [G III p567] hypothesis, which makes God the only actor; it is true, moreover, that this hypothesis does not appear to me to be well-founded. A book has recently been published in Paris against him, on the action of creatures; and he has responded to it. I have not yet seen either the book or his response. I am afraid that this will be a similar fight to the one on pure love which in the past exercised the great minds in France.4 A good definition (like the one I have given on love) would have solved their problem.

Certamina tanta
Pulveris exigui jactu compressa quiescunt

But when one does not fix ideas, one has a great field in which to reason for or against.6
     I imagine that when Reverend Father Malebranche says that we see all things in God, he means the perception of the mind, not only with regard to the visible qualities, as are shapes and colours, but also with regard to sounds and other sensible qualities. You have rightly remarked that this Father, recognizing that all bees are enveloped in some way inside the one from which they are descended, was able to think that the perceptions following from a soul can originate from the development of its total presented perception. And I think he was able to recognize it all the more easily as he allows in the soul certain thoughts which originate from each other.
     I am of your opinion, Sir, that we could not explain what the existence of a substance is by refusing action to it; but people do not commonly concern themselves with giving definitions of terms, and they speak confusedly about substance, the knowledge of which is nevertheless the key to the inner philosophy. It is the difficulty that is found there which has so hampered Spinoza and Mr Locke.
     Others have told me how you have esteem for Abbé Conti, and I will be delighted to see your literary exchanges, to which I might be able to make some small remarks, which would be good to pass on to him. [G III p568] Provided that one day he gives us something beautiful of his own, we must leave him this spur of the glory of wanting to be original. Mr Descartes wanted people to believe that he had hardly read anything. That was a bit too much. Nevertheless it is good to study the discoveries of others in a way which reveals to us the source of the inventions, and which makes them in a way our own. And I would like it if authors would give us the history of their discoveries, and the process by which they have arrived at them. When they do not do this, we must try to guess it, in order to better profit from their works. If the journalists did this by the report they make of books, they would give a great service to the public.
     I am also delighted to learn what you tell me, Sir, about Mr Tomaso Cataneo, Greek scholar and excellent Platonist, who does not scorn my opinions. I do not know if I have already told you that in Paris there is also an excellent man, advisor to the Duke of Orléans, called Mr Remond, who is a great Platonist, and who has a great liking for my Theodicy, as he showed me by a very obliging letter, and he has since sent me some beautiful Latin verses by Abbé Fraguier, a philosopher and great poet, who speaks favourably of my meditations. Indeed, of all the ancient philosophers, Plato pleases me the most with regard to metaphysics. Excellent Greek books are now being published in Venice; I would like to know who is supervising these editions.
     You have pleased me by pointing out the difference between blind necessity, as in the number of three dimensions, and moral necessity or fittingness, as in the laws of motion; and it is by that, apparently, that Spinoza has fallen short, and that Bredembourg has got into difficulties, as you very rightly judged. The laws of motion possess a great deal of beauty. Conserved in them is not only the same quantity of absolute force, which Mr Descartes has seen very well (although he explained it poorly, confusing motion with force), but also the same respective force, or the same force of direction. Mr Descartes thought that the intervention of souls should not violate the first law, that is, the conservation of absolute force; I add that this intervention should not violate the second law either, that is, the conservation of direction. And if Mr Descartes had known about this second conservation, he would have fallen into the pre-established harmony. I have even demonstrated a curious proposition, which is that there is not as much [G III p569] motion (as Descartes understands it), but as much motive action in the world during one and the same interval of time; for example, as much in one hour as in another. Also, the quantity of uniform motive action can be estimated by force considered in time, just as it can also be estimated by the quantity of a simple (or indifferent) effect considered in the speed of acting. The equation between these two estimates is a fine example of something mathematical in metaphysics. I oppose the simple effect (like the transfer in the same horizon) to the forceful, like the lifting of a heavy object to a height.
     It is true, Sir, that the excellent modern authors of the art of thinking, of The Search After Truth,7 and of the Essays on the Understanding,8 are not concerned to fix their ideas by definitions; in that they have too often followed the example of Mr Descartes, who derided the definition of known terms, which everyone, in his opinion, understands, and which indeed are ordinarily defined by something just as obscure. But my way of defining is altogether different, and people commonly understand these terms only in a way that is confused and insufficient for reason. To rectify this, one does not need to go through all the combinations; it is quite sufficient to just explain the terms which one uses. I have produced many definitions, which I would like to be able to arrange one day; but the trouble is that where I am here, I am deprived of the conversation and assistance of people suitable to enter into my views.
     The logic of syllogisms is truly demonstrative, just like mathematics or geometry. In my youth I demonstrated not only that there really are four figures, which is easy, but also that every figure has six useful modes, and could not have any more or less: instead of this, one ordinarily only gives four to the first and the second, and five to the fourth. I have also proved that the second and third figures are directly derived from the first, without the intervention of the conversions which are themselves demonstrated by the second and the third figure; but that the fourth is of a lower degree, and needs the intervention of the second or third, or (which is the same thing) of conversions. The art of conjecture is founded on that which is more or less easy, or rather more or less feasible, for the Latin facilis (easy), derived from a faciendo (from what is to be done), literally means feasible: for example, with two dice it is as feasible to throw a twelve, as [G III p570] it is to throw an eleven, because both results can only be achieved in one way; but it is three times more feasible to throw a seven, because this can be done by throwing 6 and 1, 5 and 2, and 4 and 3; and here one combination is as feasible as the other. Chevalier de Meré (the author of the book on agreements) was the first who gave occasion to these meditations, which Mr Pascal, Mr Fermat and Mr Huygens pursued. Governor de Wit and Mr Hudde have also since worked on this. The late Mr Bernoulli developed this matter upon my exhortations. People still assess likelihoods a posteriori, by experience, and they have to resort to this because of the lack of a priori reasons: for example, it is equally likely that a child about to be born is a boy or a girl, because the number of boys and girls is more or less equal in this world. It could be said that what happens the most or the least is also the most or the least feasible in the present state of things, placing all the considerations together that have to combine to bring about the production of a fact.
     I implore you to leave the Excellencies there; they do not fit very well in a letter on Philosophy. Mr Herman has written to me from Frankfurt on the Oder, to say that he awaits my pleasure to send me your remarks on my Theodicy. As I intend to leave here soon, I will find them in Hanover. He will have his book on the motion of waters printed in Holland; but my meditations on dynamics will not be in it; I have written to him to say that it will be more appropriate to make it into a small separate work.9 I am sincerely etc.
     P.S. Although I intend to leave, I nevertheless hope to receive news here that my letter has been passed to you. It would be good if you could indicate your address more clearly.
     Vienna, 22 March 1714.


1. Here Leibniz wrote and then deleted the following: 'I admit that seminal animals are quite like others, whose destiny is not so important as that which we attribute to the former. And the forms of all those animals have so far shown nothing out of the ordinary, as far as I know. But it can be responded in their favour that also the seeds of plants hardly promise that which they produce, and that the vast number of those animals appears favourable to generation and that it is notable that all the seeds that are examined are found to be capable of it. The ovaries have still not shown anything animated, and nevertheless I hold it as indubitable that the animal is only the transformation of a body already animated. Also, it does not appear that one is able to properly explain the office of the sexes by the ovaries alone. Nevertheless I admit that all these are only suspicions, and that it is not impossible that the seminal animals are as unimportant as those which are found, for example, in peppery water, and that instead of the waters there is something animated in the ovaries that is the basis of the transformation. But until now the hypothesis of seminal animals has appeared to me to be the most plausible. It has also appeared that way to Mr Huygens, Mr Hartsoeker and to others. I do not say this in order to contradict Mr Vallisnieri, nor to anticipate his judgement (which in my opinion carries great weight), but to further inspire him to clarify this important matter.'
2. G. W. Leibniz, "Protogaea," Acta eruditorum (Jan. 1693), pp. 40-42. English translation available here.
3. 'oil produced by deliquescence'.
4. Leibniz is referring to the dispute between François Fénelon and Jacques Bénigne Bossuet over disinterested love, which occurred between 1697 and 1699 following the publication of Fénelon's Explication des Maximes des Saints [Explanation of the Maxims of the Saints] (1697). The dispute was finally halted on 12 March 1699 by the condemnation of Fénelon's book by Pope Innocent XII.
5. 'Conflicts so fierce, By the tossing of a little dust are quelled and laid to rest' .Virgil, Georgics IV.86-7.
6. Here Leibniz wrote and then deleted the following: 'The difficulty that we make for ourselves over the communication of motion ceases when we consider that material things and their movements are only phenomena. Their reality exists only in the agreement of the appearances of monads. If the dreams of one and the same person were followed exactly, and if the dreams of all the souls agreed with one another, one would not worry about anything else in order to make bodies and matter from them.'
7. By Nicolas Malebranche.
8. By John Locke.
9. Here Leibniz wrote and then deleted: ', of which I will establish the framework upon which Mr Herman will be able to clarify and elaborate. He is very capable indeed of saying fine things on his own initiative.'

© Lloyd Strickland 2004
With gratitude to Elizabeth Vinestock for advice and suggestions.