Die philophischen schriften von Gottfried Wilheim Leibniz, vol. III
C. I. Gerhardt (ed)
pp 618-624

Date: July 1714

Translated from the French

View this translation in PDF format (23k)

Back to home page

Search texts by category:



[G III p618]

     I had hoped to enclose with this letter some explanation on the Monads which you have requested, but it remains at hand, unfinished, and many distractions have prevented me from finishing it soon. You indeed know, Sir, that these kinds of matters require thought. But I did not wish to delay any longer responding to the honour of your letter - in which I find a continuation of the uncommonly good opinion you have of my thoughts (that I would hope to be able to justify) - by raising difficulties which may yet give you pause.
     It is true that my Theodicy does not suffice as an entire statement of my work, but if you add to it what I have written in various journals, i.e. from Leipzig, Paris, and to Bayle and to Basnage, not much is missing - at least when it comes to basic principles. In Venice, there is a French scholar named Bourguet who has made some objections to me; I believe he is known to Abbé Conti. But his objections were sent to Herman, so I found them upon my return to Hanover; I had not wanted them sent here, where I am too busy. Messieurs Herman and Wolff have received the comments of Abbé Conti about my system; I hope that they share them with me and I will attempt to profit from them. You are not the first, Sir, who has spoken to me of this [G III p619] illustrious Abbé as having an excellent mind, and I am eager to see his writings to make good use of them, for I do not doubt that they will enlighten me.
     Mr Wolff has embraced some of my opinions, but as he is rather occupied with teaching - especially mathematics - and as we have not had much communication with each other about philosophy, he would scarcely know anything about my thoughts other than what I have published about them. I have seen something which some young students under him have written; I find much that is good in it, though there are passages with which I do not agree. If he has written something about the soul, in German or otherwise, I will attempt to read it in order to comment on it.
     Since my verses have not displeased you, nor Abbé Freguier, I am not surprised that the Cardinal de Polignac has not been unsatisfied with them. I beg you, Sir, to give my respects to His Eminence and to thank him in advance for the fine gift [of words] directed to me. I hope that it appears soon, so that I can indeed profit from it to perfect my own thoughts. I beg you to give my compliments as well to Abbé Conti, whose person and attainments I greatly esteem.
     Count Jörger is here; he is from one of the best families of Austria and is thinking of making a tour of France where he has visited before. He had previously been the chief chamberlain to Emperor Joseph and has been employed in the Foreign service as Special Envoy to England and Turin; besides doing everything that can grace a courtier, he has outstanding knowledge, especially in that area of physics which deals with the refining of elements through fire. However, he has the further outstanding quality that - being a connoisseur of the General Art of the celebrated Raymond Lully - he knows how to make use of it, not to give idle discourses as ordinary people do, but to think about it and to apply it to realities. He prefers Lully to all the moderns - even to Descartes. As he could decide to go to France when I am no longer here, he has asked me, Sir, to write you in advance, so that, having been captivated by your letters, he may one day have the honour of your acquaintance. His good qualities will become evident to you from every side, but he also values people like yourself, of which he would wish that the number were greater.

[G III p620]

     When I was younger, I took some interest in the Art of Lully; however, I thought I discovered many defects in it, about which I said something in a short student essay, entitled de Arte Combinatoria,1 published in the year 1666, and which has been reprinted later against my wishes. But since I reject nothing that quickly (except for the arts of divination, which are frauds pure and simple), I still found something valuable in the art of Lully, and in the Digestum Sapientiae2 of Father Ives, the Capuchin, which greatly pleased me, because he has discovered the means as well for applying the generalities of Lully to useful particulars. However, it seems to me that Mr Descartes has quite another kind of depth. Nevertheless, philosophy - although it has greatly advanced our knowledge - also has its flaws, which cannot be unknown to you at present.
     As for Mr Gassendi, about whom you wish to know my opinion, Sir, I find him to possess great and extensive erudition, well-versed in the reading of the ancients, in secular and ecclesiastical history and in every field of learning; however, his ideas satisfy me less at present than they did when I started to reject the opinions of the Schools, still a schoolboy myself. Since the Theory of Atoms would satisfy the imagination, I gave it great credit, and the void of Democritus and of Epicurus - along with the indestructible particles of these two writers - seemed to me to remove all difficulties. It is true that this hypothesis can satisfy unsophisticated physicists - and assuming there are such atoms - and granting them the appropriate movements and configurations, there are scarcely any material conditions which it would not be possible to meet, if we knew enough details about things. Consequently, one could make use of the philosophy of Mr Gassendi to introduce young people to the knowledge of [physical] nature, but only in telling them that one employs atoms and the void as an hypothesis - and that one may be allowed one day to fill this void with a fluid so subtle that it barely affects the phenomena, and [furthermore] not to understand the indestructibility of the atoms in the strict sense.
     However, having made progress in my thinking, I have found that the void and the atoms cannot exist. In the Memoires de Trevoux, some letters which I had exchanged with Mr Hartsoeker have been published, where I have formulated some overall reasons - drawn from higher principles - which subvert the atoms, but I can produce many others, for my whole system is opposed to them.

[G III p621]

     Concerning the disputes which have occurred between Gassendi and Descartes, I have found that Mr Gassendi is correct to reject some of Descartes' supposed proofs of God and the soul; however, in the main, I believe that the views of Descartes are preferable, even though they have not been adequately proven. Whereas Gassendi has seemed to me to waver too much on the nature of the soul and, in a word, on natural theology.
     According to a letter of Locke to Molyneux, found in the posthumous correspondence of Locke, apparently this clever Englishman did not accept objections happily. Since he never communicated with me that he had responded to mine, I could not reply to his. I do not know if they are found complete in this collection.
     I have stated my opinion in the Theodicy on the question of the actions of God and His creatures, so controversial at present; it appears to me that after further investigating the matter, I must hold fast to my view. Nevertheless, I will not be unhappy to see one day what was objected to of Reverend Father Malebranche's and how he has responded to it. These matters lack precision, not having proper definitions.
     I have seen the first edition of the profound work of de Montmauer at a friend's; but I will be happy to receive the second edition of it, which doubtlessly will be enriched with significant new investigations. I wish that an able man would write a discourse on all types of games - from the point of view of mathematics and physics. The human mind excels at such games - almost more than at anything else.
     Abbé Fraguier gives lustre to ideas as ordinary as mine with verses of excellent beauty - what would he not do if dealt with an important subject and with sublime matters? If I could contribute, through some explanations, to encouraging him to implement the fine plan he appears to have - by giving substance and style to ideas contained in the deepest philosophy - I will have rendered a great service to mankind. Waiting, I pray Sir, [for you] to give him my humble thanks, etc.

[G III p622]


[Gerhardt says that Leibniz added this following section and sent it off with corrections and emendations - though not yet done ('...noch nicht abgegangen. Jul. 1714') to Remond]

     I have learned from Mr Hugony that you are finding some difficulties understanding my units or Monads. I would like to know what they are. I will try nevertheless to explain myself. I believe that all creatures in the world are made up solely of simple substances or Monads and of combinations of them. All of them have perception (which is nothing but the representation of multitude in unity) and appetite (which is nothing but the inclination of one perception to another) - which is called passion in animals and will [in humans] where the perception is cognitive. One cannot even conceive of there being anything else other than this among simple substances and consequently in all of nature. The combinations [of Monads] are what we call bodies. Of such mass, that which in bodies one deems to be passive and uniform throughout, one calls matter or rather passive force or primitive resistance; however, the primitive active force is what one may call Entelechie - and in that the mass is varied. But all these bodies, and everything that one ascribes to them, are not substances, but only well-founded phenomena or the foundation of appearances, which are different for different observers, but which are related to one another and grounded in the same foundation, as different views of the same city seen from various points. Far from being a substance, space is not even an existent. It is an order, like time, an order of co-existents, as time is an order between existences which are not contemporaneous. Continuity is not an ideal thing, but that which is real, which is found in this order of continuity. In the ideal or continuum, the whole is antecedent to the parts, as arithmetical unity is antecedent to the fractions which divide it - and which can be fixed arbitrarily, the parts existing only potentially; but concerning the real, the simple is antecedent to its combinations, so the parts are actual, existing previous to the whole. These reflections raise problems concerning the [theory of the] continuum, which assumes that the continuum is something real, has parts [G III p623] anterior to any division, and that matter is a substance. Of course, it is not at all necessary to conceive of extension as a continuum of real space, strewn with points. These are fictions appropriate for pleasing the imagination, but which reason finds of no account. Nor is it necessary to conceive of the Monads as points in real space - moving and propelling themselves or touching one another; it is sufficient that phenomena make it appear such and that this appearance is veridical insofar as the phenomena are [well-] founded, that is, constant. The motions and paths are only an appearance, but a well-founded appearance, [one] which never deceives us - like accurate and on-going dreams. Motion is the phenomenon of change according to place and time; the body is the phenomenon which changes. The laws of motion, being based upon the perceptions of simple substances, originate from final causes or from relations [convenance], which are immaterial and [found] in each monad; but if matter were substance, they would originate from brute causes or from geometrical necessity, and would be quite different than they are. There is no other action of substances except for perceptions and appetites - all other actions are phenomena like all other activity. Plato would appear to have understood something of it; he considered material objects as scarcely real, and members of the Academy have questioned whether they exist outside of us at all - which can be explained reasonably, by saying that they are nothing save perceptions and that they gain their reality from the congruence of the perceptions of apperceiving substances. This congruence originates from the pre-established harmony among substances, since each simple substance is a mirror of the same universe, [its perceptions being] as enduring and as broad as it - although these perceptions of creatures are able to be clear only with regard to little all at once; they are differentiated by the relative places or, so to speak, by the perspectives of the mirrors, which cause the identical universe to be multiplied in any infinity of ways as so many living tableaus, each representing itself in its own manner. One can thus say that each simple substance is an image of the universe, but that each mind is, over and above that, an image of God, having knowledge not only of the facts and of their empirical connections - as non-rational souls, which are only sense-perceiving, do - but also possessing knowledge of the [logical] necessity of eternal truths, [capable of] understanding as well the causes of the facts and following the Divine plan - and being able, because of that, to enter into fellowship [G III p624] with Him and to become a member of the city of God, the best governed realm of all, as the word itself is the most perfect of all structures, and the best-framed physically and the best-framed morally.
     But I fear that this letter, full of thoughts so abstract and far removed from received opinion, will put you off. I do not want you to think all about the above too much; I would prefer to return to it again. I wanted you, nevertheless, to recognize how I value and respect you, by writing what I could not easily write to others. Thus this letter should be only for your eyes. Many others would find it absurd or unintelligible.


1. On the Art of Combinations.
2. Digest of Wisdom.

© Daniel J. Cook 2006