LEIBNIZ AND EPISTEMOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
Marcelo Dascal
LEIBNIZ AND EPISTEMOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
15

It was a tie; the heavenly vote was split right down the middle - two in favor;

two against. At issue - “Should man be created?” The ministering angels formed

parties: Love said, “Yes, let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love”;

while Truth argued, “No, let him not be created, for he is a complete fake”. Righ-

teousness countered, “Yes, let him be created, because he will do righteous deeds;

and Peace demurred, “Let him not be created, for he is one mass of contention”.

The score was even. Love and Righteousness in favor, Truth and Peace against.

What did the Lord do? He took Truth and hurled it to the ground, smashing

it into thousands of jagged pieces. Thus he broke the tie. Now, two to one in favor,

man was created. The ministering angels dared to ask the Master of the Universe,

“Why do You break Your emblem, Truth?” for indeed Truth was His seal and

emblem. He answered, “Let truth spring from the earth”.
1

Ne voit-on pas qu’il y a cette différence entre Dieu et l’âme de l’homme, que

Dieu est l’Etre sans restrictions, l’Etre universel, l’Etre infini, et que l’âme est un

genre d’être particulier? [...] Dieu [...] connait ce qu’il a fait avant même qu’il y

eut rien de fait. Mais l’âme ne peut voir en elle ce quelle ne renferme pas; elle ne

peut même voir clairement ce quelle renferme; elle ne peut que le sentir confuse-

ment.
2

[...] quod nos nisi homines sumus... 3

I

The Academia dei Lincei, that co-sponsors this colloquium, is very rele-

vant for the topic of my talk. For I am going to speak about the Leibniz

16

that views the achievement of knowledge as a collective/cooperative enter-

prise. For this purpose, as is well-known, he strived to create scientific

academies and similar organizations, and he sometimes mentioned the

Academia dei Lincei as an example to be praised. This aspect of his activity

is usually ranged under the heading of “scientific policy”, and not much

philosophical significance is granted to it. I believe, however, that such a

policy, like many other “practical” endeavors he undertook, is intimately

connected with “theory”: it stems from the need - both theoretical and

practical - to develop an epistemological praxis capable to lead us, finite

humans, to acquire and increase our knowledge of “reality”, as it is con-

ceived in terms of Leibniz’s metaphysics. Leibniz’s efforts to cope with this

need led him to the acknowledgment of epistemological diversity as an asset

to be exploited rather than as a liability to be overcome. This amounts to a

kind of epistemological eclecticism - some of whose aspects I want to ex-

plore in the present paper.

II

For a start, let us address the topic of this symposium, namely unity and

diversity in Leibniz’s thought, by considering his “system”, as represented in

the ensemble of his oeuvre. We may undertake this task in two ways. (A) Tak-

ing advantage of our ex post factum vantage point, we may examine the oeu-

vre
as a more or less complete whole, with the purpose of finding the

thread(s) that unify it, i.e., the “systematicity” that connects all or at least

most of its ramifications, and thereby also accounts for whatever diversity it

displays. (B) We may try to put ourselves in the place of Leibniz as he is

pulled by a variety of interests, tasks, problems, and circumstances, at differ-

ent stages of his career, striving to appropriate as much as he can from avail-

able knowledge coming from different sources, elaborating his own views in

many different areas, and eventually systematizing them partially and, hope-

fully, also globally. Approach (A) considers the system as a given, and ac-

counts for its unity and diversity, as it were, sub specie aeternitatis, while ap-

proach (B) considers the system in-the-making, as a continuous struggle to

produce unity out of contingently encountered diversity. Broadly speaking -

and, as we will see, somewhat misleadingly - approach (A) can be dlibbed

“struttural”, whereas approach (B) can be dubbed “genetic”.

Most of the attempts to answer the question of the unity and diversity

of a philosopher’s thought tend to take approach (A), for, presuming that

philosophy is systematic, they assume the existence of some underlying

unity, to which the diversity of the philosopher’s productions must ulti-

17

mately be reduced. This unifying “core” may consist in a key idea or theme,

a concern with a special kind of problematic, a method of argumentation

and exposition, a set of basic principles, etc. The reduction of diversity to

unity usually takes the form of retrieving and/or reconstructing the author’s

(often implicit) deductive chain - what Gueroult called “the order of rea-

sons” - that leads from the latter to the former. Some philosophers, like

Descartes, Spinoza or Kant, who tried to present their own work in a

tightly systematic/deductive way, are more fit than others to this type of ap-

proach - provided one conveniently overlooks the steps through which they

painstakingly reached the stage of (global) systematization.

In Leibniz’s case, though it is harder to ignore the steps since their

traces can be found everywhere in his corpus, there are enough recurrent

themes, principles, projects, declarations, plans, and architectonic sketches

to permit this kind of approach to his thought. It was in fact taken by some

of the greatest interpreters of Leibniz, and led to the well-known attempts

to provide an overarching “formal” structure of his system, whose “core”

each of these interpreters believed to lie in a different layer of Leibniz’s

work - e.g., logic, epistemology, metaphysics, mathematics, mystical theol-

ogy, semiotics, or jurisprudence.

Given the inability of each of these proposed reductions to account de-

ductively for large portions of the leibnizian oeuvre, Michel Serres (1968)

proposed the ingenious hypothesis that the systematicity of Leibniz’s system

is of a different kind. Rather than being strictly deductive, it is “analogical”.

The system would thus be grounded in (and would illustrate) the metaphys-

ical-semiotic notion of “expression”: just as each monad mirrors the totality

of the universe, so too each segment of the system mirrors the system as a

whole; none of them, therefore, is the core out of which all the rest flows,

and all of them are legitimate and fruitful “entries” or “points of view”

through which the whole can be accessed - in fact, only in such multi-per-

spectival way can the unity of the system be grasped. This is a tempting

suggestion, and it has been well documented by Serres. Yet, perhaps even

more than the deductive reductions, it grants the author of such a system a

capacity of design that approaches omniscience and omnipotence.

I do not dispute the fact that Leibniz’s writings are connected to each

other in an impressive variety of ways, both deductive and analogical. But

neither I nor, I presume, Leibniz, would like to account for this fact in terms

of the unfolding of a system completely designed and, thus, entirely prefig-

ured in Leibniz’s juvenile mind or, for that matter, in his monad. For this rea-

son, I think it wise to distinguish the “genetic” approach (B) sketched above

from a kind of genetic reductionism that merely replaces the “logical” core

by a “genetic” one. On such a view, the aim is to reconstruct the evolutionary

18

story of the system, showing how the “genes” (or rather their cultural coun-

terparts, the “memes”, to use Dawkins’s (1976) terminology) that define its

unity/identity survive through the system’s successive adaptations to the

challenges of the changing theoretical and practical “environment”.4

In terms of leibnizian metaphysics, it is true that the individual sub-

stance “Leibniz” must contain, from the moment of its inception, the total-

ity of the productions that the human being Leibniz will ever put forth. It is

also true that such productions unfold due to the inner law that commands

and unifies the activities of that individual substance. Yet, these metaphysi-

cal claims refer to the realm of divine, not human, design. While we hu-

mans may form an idea of the divine principles that rule over the universe,

we are unable - due to our essential limitations - to know the infinity of de-

tails that flow from such principles. That is to say, the details of his doings

(which include his thinkings) and of their gradual unfolding are not known

nor knowable in advance by the individual human being Leibniz, who must

exercise his best judgment and freedom of choice, under conditions of un-

certainty and finitude, in order to implement a divine design which be-

comes known to him only in bits and pieces. His problem as a limited hu-

man knower is to plan and coordinate his epistemic efforts so as to yield as

much knowledge of the divinely designed universe as can be gathered from

those bits and pieces.

Properly understood, approach (B) undertakes to study the construc-

tion of systematic knowledge from the point of view of such an epistemi-

cally limited human knower. At the theoretical level, it purports to identify

the epistemological options open to such a knower in the light of the

philosopher’s conceptual framework. At the factual level, it studies the

philosopher’s actual system-building or unity-building recommendations

and practices, which may or may not conform with the theoretical con-

straints; either way, they reveal the implications of such constraints. Such a

study may also provide valuable indications about the philosopher’s pre-

ferred option, which in turn may be of theoretical significance. It is such an

approach that I will try to apply to Leibniz, within the limitations of this

paper.

19

III

Leibniz’s metaphysics suggests two quite different epistemological

strategies. Since each monad expresses the totality of the universe, one

strategy might consist in the in-depth study of a single monad. The goal

would be to transform into clear and distinct knowledge what it expresses

or “knows” only confusedly - or, in the language of the 1678 paper Quid

sit idea
, to transform the “distal” ideas (in the sense of “remote capacity of

thinking of all things”), which are impressed in us, into “proximal” ideas

(in the sense of a “near ability to think about a thing”) (GP VII, 263). In

this way one would acquire knowledge not only of the particular monad

studied, but of the rest of the universe as well. The most natural monad for

a researcher to study in depth would be the one she is most directly and in-

timately acquainted with, namely itself. In fact, according to the mature

doctrine presented in paragraph 26 of the Discours de Metaphysique (1686),

which espouses (with modifications) the Platonic theory of reminiscence,

this would be the only epistemological alternative, since it is a mistake to

believe that our soul has “doors and windows” through which “messengers”

bringing information from the “outside” can penetrate: hence, “nothing

can be taught us the idea of which is not already in our minds, as the mat-

ter out of which our thought is formed” (GP IV, 451; L 320).

Regardless of its eventual exclusive status, such a self-centered strategy

would have its own merits. For example, it would provide one of the two

kinds of undemonstrable propositions upon which all knowledge is based,

namely those consisting in “an inner experience which cannot be further

rectified by indices or testimony, because it is immediately present to me

and there is nothing between it and myself, e.g. the propositions I am, I

feel, I think, I want this or that thing”
In addition to being undemonstra-

ble and incorrigible, the propositions given in inner experience are also

prior “in the order of knowledge” to those that are prior “in the order of

nature”, i.e., the necessary truths.6 Furthermore, they are those that afford

us to learn that there are things other than ouserlves, which cause the vari-

ety in our thoughts (GP I, 372).

20

In spite of its metaphysical pedigree and epistemologically grounding

status, Leibniz doesn’t seem to be happy with the self-centered strategy.

Perhaps because its implementation in the 17th century had been epito-

mized by Descartes’s cogito-based procedure in the Meditations and, as is

well-known, Leibniz over the years became very critical of Cartesianism.7

According to Leibniz, Descartes’s emphasis on the power of pure in-

tellectual intuition - the “natural light” of the intellect - was completely

mistken. Its general rule, namely, that “whatever I perceive clearly and dis-

tinctly is true” is unreliable, for “one must have signs (marques) of what is

clear and distinct; otherwise the visions of those self-praising persons who

mention all the time their ideas would be authorized” (GP I, 384).8 Such

signs include, first, the elaboration of (nominal) definitions which transform

clear but confused ideas into distinct ones, for - unlike Descartes - for

Leibniz not all clear ideas are distinct, and only through the latter can one

attain general demonstrable propositions.9 But even such definitions are

logically insufficient, because, not being based on a complete analysis of the

defined concept, they may contain hidden contradictions; this is why they

must be supplemented by “real” definitions, which prove the possibility of

the concept, and give us adequate ideas.10 Furthermore, even if we restrict

the scope of the Cartesian rule to this kind of ideas, we would be mistaken

to equate them with what can be intuited, i.e., fully perceived by a single

glance of the mind. Any complex idea and, a fortiori, any lengthy reasoning

goes far beyond our capacity of simultaneous perception, and requires

therefore reliance on signs (in the semiotic sense) standing for their compo-

21

nents. This is what Leibniz calls blind thought, which is by far more useful,

common, and also reliable than intuitive thought.11

This criticism of the “general rule” applies with particular severity to the

further Cartesian assumption that, due to our direct acquaintance with our

thinking, we actually know what thought in general is and what is contained

in our own thoughts. “I agree that the idea of thought we have is a clear one,

but all that is clear is not distinct”, he says (GP II, 121). In this respect, Leib-

niz endorses Malebranche’s claim that we know much less about our soul

than about external things, whence it follows that self-knowledge cannot

serve as a basis or as a blueprint for knowledge in general. “We know

thought only through inner feeling [sentiment interieur] (as Father Male-

branche has already noticed12); but all one can know by feeling are the things

one has experienced; and since we have not experienced the functions of the

other forms, one should not be surprised that we have no clear idea of them,

even if there was agreement that there are such forms” (GP II, 121). The

“other forms” Leibniz is referring to here are those individual substances or

monads that are endowed with “perception” but not necessarily with

“thought” or “reflection”. What he is suggesting is that, since our “inner ex-

perience” is that of the particular kind of monads we are, we cannot infer

from the nature of this experience the non-existence of other kinds of

monads or souls, whose inner life, whatever it may be, our own limitations

prevent us from being able to experience.13 Hence Arnauld (and Descartes)

are wrong in denying that animals, for example, have souls. Beyond this par-

ticular consequence, however, the argument points out a serious drawback of

“inner experience” as a source of universal knowledge, and suggests that

such a drawback could be overcome only if we were able somehow to put

ourselves in the position of experiencing things as other monads do.

For Leibniz, the (unjustified) Cartesian appeal to the certainty of “inner

experience” as a basis for knowledge is also connected to his en bloc dis-

missal of earlier theories as being mere prejudice. Much as we are unaware

of the potential confusion in our own inner experiences, which we must

elaborate carefully in order to transform into clear and distinct ideas, so too

22

we carelessly reject other doctrines without making the effort to understand

them and extract from them what is truthful.14 In fact, the exclusive reliance

on “the inner testimony of the mind” precludes the possibility of such

“corroboration”, for it does not allow for discussion and, thereby, for the

public assessment of conflicting theories.15

Descartes was - Leibniz fully acknowledges - a man of genius. Had he

employed a rigorous filum meditandi, i.e., a concrete and publicly checkable

method of inquiry accessible to everyone, he might have achieved the task

of establishing the foundations of metaphysics. Instead, he trusted too

much his selective “inner experience”, and failed. Among other things, he

focused exclusively on one of the “absolute truths” provided by such an ex-

perience - that we think - overlooking the other one, which is no less im-

portant, namely “that there is great variety in our thoughts”.16 Both are in-

contestable truths, and both are independent of each other. “From the for-

mer it follows that we are, from the latter, that there is something other

than ourselves, i.e., something other than what thinks, which is the cause of

the variety of appearances” (GP I, 370).17 Presumably, Descartes set aside

variety in order to achieve unity. For the same reason, he undertook to ac-

complish his work alone. But no man, even of the stature of a Descartes,

“can do everything by himself” (GP I, 371).18

23

In short, “looking inside ourselves” may be one way to produce know-

ledge, but it is far more demanding than assurned by the Cartesians. For it

requires a sustained effort to sift the reliable “inner experiences” from a

mass of unreliable ones, an effort that should make use of “external” tools,

such as carefully created systems of signs. Furthermore, even with the help

of these tools, we must be aware of the dangers of generalizing on the basis

solely of our own or our own kind’s particular type of “inner experience”.

Variety is no less important than unity in the construction of knowledge,

and its exploration requires the consideration of a multiplicity of different

points of view, which, in turn, mandates cooperative work.

IV

From this criticism of Cartesianism, a different epistemological strategy

emerges, which might be called “multi-perspectivism”. Whereas the former

strategy is self-centered, its alternative is other-oriented. It emphasizes co-

operation rather than work performed in isolation, public debate rather

than lonely meditation, the need to elevate oneself above one’s epistemic

limitations by trying to look at things from the perspectives of other monads

rather than concentrating exclusively on one’s own perspective. All this in

order to be able to see the global as well as the punctual, complexity and

variety as well as unity, so as to account for the harmony of the universe,

which is nothing but unity in multiplicity.19

Like the self-centered strategy, multi-perspectivism is prima facie in ac-

cordance with Leibniz’s metaphysics. To be sure, strictly speaking only sim-

ple substances or monads and their perceptions and inner laws (“ap-

petites”) possess reality. But insofar as the phenomenal world is grounded

in such a reality, the due to its “reality”, i.e., to the fact that it is not merely

a dream, lies in the coherence (consensus, harmony) between the multiplic-

ity of perceptions - not only those of a single self, but also those of various

percipients.20 Furthermore, the multiplicity of “representing substances” in-

creases the variety of the world infinitely, which amounts to an increase in

its perfection, i.e., in its reality.21 From this point of view, the basic experi-

24

ential truth that we have many perceptions takes precedence over its Carte-

sian counterpart - that we think. For it brings us closer to the discovery of

the infinite richness of reality, provided of course we take into account not

only our own perceptions but also those of other beings. A multi-perspecti-

val system, a network-like structure that highlights these multiple represen-

tations of reality and their “liaisons”, seems also to correspond closer, ana-

logically, to the reality it is supposed to represent - and Leibniz, as is well-

known, attaches much importance to such analogical correspondences.22

V

We might depict the differences between the two epistemological

strategies discussed above as follows (Figure 1):

God’s view

25

At bottom, each individual substance, from its own point of view,

strives to achieve as much clarity as possible regarding the complete struc-

ture and richness of the universe. It is immersed in a mass of stimuli - its

inner experiences - out of which those relating to its immediate surround-

ings are stronger and presumably also clearer. Initially, it has therefore,

mainly “local” knowledge, of little “general” value. We might call this situ-

ation “the ground view”. At the other extreme, the “top”, lies God’s eye

view of the universe. It encompasses all of the universe, in all its rich vari-

ety, with perfect clarity. Due to their epistemic limitations, individual sub-

stances cannot, of course, reach the top. Their problem is to approach the

top as much and as effectively as they can.

One possibility consists in trying to do that, as it were, in a straight

quasi-vertical line, by deepening one’s self-awareness. Through this “analyt-

ic” procedure, a given monad would come closer to knowing its own unify-

ing principle, the “inner law” or “axiom” that defines its “point of view”,

and according to which it unfolds in synchrony with the other created be-

ings - whose nature and behavior would thereby be explained through the

clarification of their representations in the knowing monad. This strategy

would, thus, aspire to derive its explanatory power from the very core of

metaphysical reality, and its unity from the deep and direct knowledge of

metaphysical units.

Another possibility consists in proceeding, as it were, in a multi-linear

way. Instead of focusing on its own point of view and attempting to dis-

close its inner law, whence it would finally learn about its fellow monads,

the monad striving for knowledge would attempt to elevate itself above the

ground view by incorporating from the outset as much as it can from the

experiences of its fellows. Progress would consist in encompassing an in-

creasing variety of perceptions coming from different points of view and in

providing successive “syntheses” of them. Rather than seeking to derive

knowledge directly from an acquaintance with metaphysical units, it would

address the layer of phenomena, through which it would then indirectly

lead to knowledge about metaphysical units.

None of these strategies would, of course, reach the top. Due to human

limitations, both would be able to reach only some intermediary level of

knowledge. But in their rise towards the top, each of them would seem to

emulate primarily (stepwise and partially, of course) a different subset of

the aspects of God’s vision: the former, simplicity, parsimony of causes, de-

ductive architecture, and ultimate reality; the latter, variety, exhuberance of

effects, inter-connected architecture, and reflected or representational reality.

The two strategies do not exclude each other, and there is no princi-

pled metaphysical reason to assume that Leibniz should prefer or recom-

26

mend the one over the other. After all, if the aim is to attain knowledge of

reality and if God’s eye view represents the perfection of such a knowledge,

we should strive to emulate all of its aspects. The best way to achieve this

would seem to be the complementary use of both strategies. And indeed,

there are indications that he proceeded in this way. For example, he con-

tended that the correct method should include both “analysis” and “synthe-

sis”, each of them valuable both for discovery and for validation, as well as

for exposition and learning.23

VI

I would like to illustrate the complementarity of the two strategies by

an example taken from a text where the issue is not scientific method per

se,
but rather the relationship between reason, faith, and moral action.

The Conversation du Marquis de Pianese Ministre d’Etat de Savoye, et

du Père Emery Erémite: qui a esté suivie d’un grand changement dans la vie

de ce ministre; ou Dialogue de l’application
qu’on doit avoir à son salut (VE

1786-1823) deals with the question of how to overcome a courtier’s skepti-

cism (which led him to moral indifference) in order to restore his religious

conviction, to sustain it, and to provide guidance for his moral conduct. Os-

tensively, the dialogue confronts two characters - a high ranking minister

and a famous theologian-hermit.25 I think it can be safely assumed, however,

that both represent different “voices” of Leibniz, who argues here with

himself, polyphonically. This text offers, thus, a touching testimony of Leib-

niz’s own dilemmas and of the advice he gives to himself.

After having skirmished successfully against the politician’s skeptical

arguments, the hermit undertakes to satisfy the politician’s request for ad-

vice on how to sustain the state of happiness he feels due to the restoration

of his faith. He proposes two types of means for this purpose, the one “in-

ternar’, the other “external”, which he calls, respectively, “prayer” and

27

“practice”. He defines prayer as “the perpetual search of solid reasons that

make God appear great and lovable to you” (VE 1814). This consists

mainly in disclosing everywhere the “orders, liaisons, and beautiful progres-

sions in all things”, as in “the marvellous harmonies of mathematics and in

those inimitable machines invented by God, which nature reveals to our

eyes”. Such observations permit one to “see God through the senses,

whereas elsewhere one sees Him only through the understanding” (VE

1815). But prayer also includes becoming aware of evil, injustice, failure

and error, and being able to explain them. First, by reminding onself of the

limitations of our “rules of prudence, since we cannot think of everything

and be informed of everything” (VE 1814). Then, by concluding that, since

- unlike us - God takes into account the global economy of the universe,

“there is no evil which should not serve to a greater good” (VE 1814). The

“internal” activity of prayer consists thus in a reflection on external events,

with the aim of harmonizing them with - and thereby confirming - a previ-

ously formed belief in the rationality and justice of God’s harmonious cre-

ation. It is an activity of meditation upon one’s experiences, designed to re-

inforce one’s conviction, an activity oriented towards belief confirmation

rather than towards belief formation.

“External practice” should “infallibly follow from a sincere interior”

(VE 1815). Since, however, we cannot know the details of God’s will, we

must act as best we can on the basis of our own judgment, guided by gen-

eral principles whose validity is undisputable. The most important of these

principles is that of charity. “True charity - Leibniz emphasizes - includes

all men, even our enemies” (VE 1815); “one must have a good opinion

about everyone, as much as reason permits”; “one must even love each per-

son in proportion to the good qualities that remain in him, for there is no

man devoid of many good qualities [and] we don’t know what judgment

God makes about him - maybe [it is] completely different from ours, for

we are misled by appearances” (VE 1819). Fortunately we have the means

to act on the basis of appearances, namely a “logic that discerns the degrees

of appearances of good and bad [deeds] in order to [let us] choose those

that are more feasible and suitable to be performed” (VE 1821). Thanks to

this logic, we are able to implement the principle of charity, which requires

one to take into account “not only [one’s] desires, but also those of the

others”, “to listen attentively to their motives and to weigh them carefully”

(VE 1820).26 Uncertainty, therefore, should not serve as an excuse for inac-

28

tion: “when there is some appearance of well doing, let us engage ourselves

in action, without waiting for all the indications of infallible success” (VE

1817).

So, the “external practice” described by Leibniz does not simply

“flow” from internal conviction; nor does it depend upon its presumable

certainty. In fact, it is possible thanks to the existence of a set of epistemo-

logical “helps” designed to overcome the lack of certainty (which is one of

our epistemic limitations) and permit the formation of beliefs capable of di-

recting reasonable actions. Unlike the self-oriented activity of self-convic-

tion, the helps that inform such actions are essentially other-oriented, in the

sense that they rely upon perspectives other than one’s own for the forma-

tion of one’s beliefs. In addition to the principle of charity, which requires

us to take into account the “point of view of the other”,27 and to the “logic

of appearances”, which permits the weighing of different opinions, this

other-orientation (which is characteristic of the multi-perspectival epistemo-

logical strategy) is apparent also in some of the concrete “rules” for orga-

nizing one’s intellectual work proposed by Leibniz towards the end of the

Conversation (VE 1817-1819). The first of these rules recommends finding

an appropriate “companion of studies”; the second suggests writing down a

detailed project of action for oneself, similar to the “instructions one usu-

ally gives to public ministers”;28 the fifth, to maintain a list of “all that can

be of help, including useful thoughts”, to have always at one’s disposal

leaflets of paper for “noting down quickly whatever is worthwhile remem-

bering in reading, conversing, working, or meditating”; the seventh elabo-

rates once more upon the rule of charity.

One senses in these rules the realities and needs of Leibniz’s own

modus operandi: he collects every bit of relevant information from every

possible source; he records all his thoughts; makes notes on everything he

reads or hears; he writes down dozens of plans and projeets; he proposes

devices for ordering the collected material, for helping his memory, for

forcing himself to carry on his own plans; he needs an efficient secretary

as well as a reliable companion not only to help him in all this but also to

contribute “something of his own” to the huge enterprise, which cannot

29

but be collective.29 But there are also rules which are are entirely self-ori-

ented: the fourth urges a reasonable distribution of one’s time, which

should include some time for meditation; the third recommends checking

daily the pursuit of one’s project; the sixth speaks of controlling one’s pas-

sions so that they don’t interfere with the use of reason. As a whole, these

rules, which are designed to implement both “prayer” and “practice”, il-

lustrate the intermingling of the two epistemological strategies. They show

the complementary orientations of a mind eager not to miss any of the

rich variety of the world, reflected in the thoughts and wishes of other hu-

man beings (“Things have so many faces!” - he exclaims; VE 1822), while

at the same time trying to keep it all under control by carefully managing

its most precious resource - attention (“God gives men attention, and at-

tention makes it all”; ibid.).30

VII

In one of its senses, then, the expression “epistemological diversity”

should refer to the complementary use of the two epistemological strategies

discussed in the preceding section. In another sense, applicable particularly

to the multi-perspectival strategy, the expression refers more specifically to

the implications of having to handle the variety of theories, methods, and

sources of knowledge with which a truly “cooperative”, epistemically limit-

ed, human knowledge seeker must cope. Some of these implication for

Leibniz’s epistemic practices were already mentioned in the preceding sec-

tion. I will now examine other aspects of Leibniz’s work in the light of his

use of this particular epistemological strategy.

First, the multi-perspectival strategy has, as we have seen, a “public”

dimension which implies that it cannot be seriously pursued without a seri-

ous and sustained collective investment. If scientists are supposed to coop-

erate in the production of knowledge, they are supposed to have (and to

develop) the means necessary for organized cooperation. That is to say,

30

some sort of institutionalization, eventually in the form of scientific

academies, is needed. The “companion of studies” must become a team of

researchers; the gathering of data from all over the world involves the acti-

vation of field workers, the sending of missions to remote regions, the ob-

tention of permission and support of local rulers; a system for cataloguing,

archiving, and indexing documents and other forms of information must be

devised and as widely as possible strictly enforced; a standard language -

preferably universal - for representing and transmitting such information,

must be put together; scientific journals should see to it that the informa-

tion is widely disseminated; encyclopedias, compendia, and other forms of

systematic organization of information must be compiled, in order to make

extant knowledge readily available and to avoid duplication of efforts; and

so on. These and other life-long leibnizian projects no doubt stem from the

fact that he took very seriously the multi-perspectival epistemological strat-

egy, and can be understood in its light.

Second, the multi-perspectival strategy is intimately tied to the develop-

ment and use of a rigorous comparative method. Different points of view

provide different views of the “same” phenomenon, and it is through their

comparison that we can discover order, invariance, lawfulness, and, ulti-

mately, truth and unity. Thus, one can discern the common roots of all lan-

guages only by comparing many languages;31 similarly, it is through the com-

parative study of the ensemble of languages that one can learn about the

“operations of the mind” they mirror;32 and, within one language, in order

to find the meaning of an expression, one should collect all the different lo-

cutions where it appears, including its metaphorical uses, in order to form a

hypothesis about its meaning.33 Through the comparison of multiple repre-

sentations, we can overcome the arbitrariness that might be involved in

31

single representation.34 The broader the comparative basis, i.e., the more

perspectives one takes into account, the better the chances of elevating our-

selves above the “ground level” by generating reasonable hypotheses which

provide an increasingly synoptic and comprehensive view of things.

Third, the epistemic value of the guiding principle of the multi-per-

spectival strategy, which demands one to try to see things from “the place

of the other” lies in the fact that such a “place” is different from ours. Such

a difference should not be obliterated by the need to coordinate the re-

search effort, but rather carefully preserved. The community of researchers,

therefore, should not behave like a cohort of yes-men, entirely subservient

to the director of the project. Although the aim of the joint effort is ulti-

mately to disclose the consensus, convenientia, or harmony between the vari-

ous points of view, it would be ill-served by disregarding from the outset

divergence and difference. Instead, one should look for outlooks widely dif-

fering from ours, in their basic assumptions, cultural framework, temporal

and spatial distance, methodological procedures, etc. This is why we have

much to learn from the Ancients, the Chinese, the American Indians, as

well as from the Scholastics, the Mystics, and every other tradition. Further-

more, none of them can be excluded a priori as being entirely erroneous

and therefore worthless. Some parcel of truth must be among the “good

things” that must be found in them, according to the principle of charity,

for their perspectives provide, within their limitations, truthful representa-

tions of the universe. These must be somehow incorporated in a compre-

hensive account thereof. Leibniz was well aware of the difficulties involved

in reconciling wide apart and apparently conflicting conceptual frame-

works. His interpretation of Confucianism as a “civil cult”,35 which would

permit its peaceful coexistence with Christianity, was finally rejected by the

church, and he didn’t succeed in persuading much closer traditions, such as

Protestants and Catholics, and even the Protestants among themselves, to

accept the common ground he proposed for reuniting them. But such fail-

ures only confirmed Leibniz’s pessimism about people’s resolve to employ

wisely their energies and make the mental effort necessary to overcome the

limitations of their points of view (which include, of course, their way of

32

understanding their own interests).36 Nevertheless, he believed reconcilia-

tion of apparently conflicting doctrines was possible in principle, though it

requires sustained attention, i.e., “application”. Therefore he didn’t give up,

and his fame as a man capable of detecting the truthful contributions of

diverging doctrines and integrating them, at least in philosophy and the

sciences, became widely recognized.37

Fourth, the difference of points of view often manifests itself in the

form of mutual criticism, which may lead to disputes and controversies. Un-

like “meditative” thinkers, like Malebranche, who considered public de-

bates as disturbances that deviated them from their self-centered task of

system-building,38 Leibniz did not dismiss them as irrelevant or pernicious

for the advancement of knowledge. He in fact thrived in debate, and sought

it actively. Provided, of course, debate is taken seriously as a way of advanc-

ing knowledge, and not as a kind of amusement.39 And seriously indeed he

took it. Not only did he engage in public and private controversies with

major thinkers of the time, to which he even devoted his two major philo-

sophical books, but throughout all of his life he strived to develop a theory

of controversies and a method to resolve them. The widespread belief that

such a method would consist in a mere application of the Characteristica

Universalis
, which would allow to resolve controversies by straightforward

“calculation”, overlooks the vast amount of writings where Leibniz, draw-

ing from his juridical, theological, logical, probabilistic, hermeneutical, and

33

political work, undertakes to develop the means to deal with controversies

that cannot be strictly formalized and resolved by simple calculation.40

I think Leibniz’s deep interest in controversy is directly related to the

multi-perspectival epistemological strategy. Mainly because it is in (seriously

conducted) controversies that the differences of “points of view” are sharp-

ened, clarified, understood, and eventually appropriated for the construc-

tion of more integrative theories. When properly conducted, a controversy

forces one to fully appreciate the force of the opponent’s arguments, in or-

der either to rebuff them properly or to modify one’s own position on their

strength. In this sense, it is in controversy that one fully implements the de-

mand of positioning oneself in “the place of the other” and thereby to tran-

scend one’s “mental set”. Furthermore, if one is able to disengage oneself

from a partisan attitude and, even while taking part in a controversy, regard

it as a “disinterested judge”, then one has the opportunity of envisaging the

object of the dispute from all sides (“faire le tour de la chose” is the beauti-

ful phrase employed by Leibniz), to weigh conscientiously the pros and

cons before one adopts one side or the other.41 In so doing, one elevates

oneself to a position whence one can benefit fully from the conflicting per-

spectives, and make a significant step towards the top of the diagram in

Figure 1. The very existence of and actual participation in serious contro-

versies is, thus, a privileged and specific contribution to the implementation

of the multi-perspectival strategy, which is not available to a solitary practi-

tioner of the self-centered strategy. In addition to that, a theory of contro-

versies, which would develop Leibniz’s dream of an encompassing “new

logic”, whose broader notion of “form” would include the principles and

methods for “weighing” conflicting arguments, would become an invalu-

able epistemological tool for the success of that strategy.

42

34

VIII

Maybe what we have been doing in this paper - and in this colloquium -

namely, searching for the unity of Leibniz’s system/thought is based on a

big mistake. For we sort of assumed that, if the world that the system is

supposed to describe has some unity, then the system too should have one.

But true unity, the unity that characterizes “reality”, says Leibniz, is sub-

stantial unity.
In a letter to Arnauld, he warns us not to attribute unity of

this kind to mere “abstractions of the mind” (GP II, 101), to those “fic-

tions of the mind” (p. 102) we tend to carelessly assume to be reai. They re-

sult from the tendency of the mind to grant reality, i.e., unity, to whatever

can be “combined in thought and given a name” (p. 101). But this in no

way can lead us to “establish solid and real principles” (p. 102), which must

be based on the identification of “truly accomplished beings or substances”

(p. 102). As long as we have not done this, we are dealing merely with

“phenomena, abstractions or relations”, i.e., with “beings by aggregation”

(p. 101).

What, then, if the system is nothing but an abstraction, a set of rela-

tions, an aggregate of propositions lacking “substantial unity”? As a cre-

ation of a mind, however powerful and clever it may be, a philosophical

system is unlikely to be much more than that. But then, it belongs to the

realm of phenomena, and its unity cannot therefore be of the same kind as

the metaphysical unity underlying reality. That is to say, whatever unity a

system has cannot be more than the “accidental unity” typical of phenom-

ena. Far from despising this kind of unity, however, Leibniz acknowledges

its existence and importance. He claims, for example, that there is truth in

phenomena (GP II, 521); that this truth consists in the “consensus” of

many perceptions (ibid.). He is interested in finding laws (= unity?) in phe-

nomena. He admits the existence of different degrees of accidental unity, all

of which derive from thoughts and appearances, a fact that does not

prevent us from calling them “real”.43

So, if the system is barred from having “substantial unity”, i.e., of actu-

ally mirroring monadically the unity of the universe, whatever unity it may

35

aspire to have is that of the highest degree phenomena or aggregates are ca-

pable of. The criterion is the “amount of inter-relations between the ingre-

dients”: the more there are such relations, the more appropriate it is to con-

sider an aggregate as possessing “unity”. “More” here must mean - accord-

ing to Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason - not merely “many” but

“many different”. And “different” must mean coming not only from one

point of view or monad, but from many. Thus, a system built according to

the multi-perspectival strategy, as a cooperative enterprise of many minds,

which emphasizes precisely the multiplicity of sources of knowledge and

hence of their relations, stands a good chance to reach a high degree of

unity, by this criterion. But Leibniz seems to have in mind additional crite-

ria. For example, a shared design or intention. By this criterion, a group of

individual acting under a common (set of) intention(s) is an aggregate en-

dowed with more unity than, say, a mound of stones, whose only connec-

tion is physical contact. Again, none of these aggregates has anything even

remotely similar to substantial unity, but still, it is more appropriate to see

unity in the former than in the latter.44 There are, then, some relations (e.g.,

intentionality) that weigh more than others (e.g., physical contact) in assess-

ing the unity of an aggregate.

This might lead one to think that a system developed through the self-

centered strategy would also have a fairly high degree of unity, since it

is likely to reflect the unifying effect of it author’s design. Would such a

system’s unity be higher than that of its multi-perspectival competitor? It

seems to me that, regardless of the weight Leibniz assigns to each of the

two criteria, the scales would favor the latter. For we should not forget that

intentionality is itself multiplied by the cooperative work involved in the

multi-perspectival strategy. So, a system based on the self-centered strategy

would definitely lie somewhere in between: it would certainly have more

unity than that of a mound of stones, for it would be based on the suppos-

edly unitary intentionality of its creator; but it would be bound to display

an impoverished texture of relations and variations if compared to a system

produced by a cohort of savants, united by a common purpose, and keep-

ing their independence of mind and their particular perspectives on things.

Once we place the system where it belongs - the phenomenal world - the

self-centered strategy seems thus to be inferior, according to Leibniz’s crite-

36

ria, to its multi-perspectival counterpart, for it can at best yield a lesser de-

gree of “accidental unity”. Whoever insists in privileging that strategy, or in

attempting to find in a system some higher, substantial unity, bears the bur-

den of proof.45

REFERENCES

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pp. 21-38.

Beyssade, J.-M. and Marion, J.-L. (eds.). 1994. Descartes: Objecter et repondre. Paris:

Presses Universitaires de France.

Couturat, L. 1901. La Logique de Leibniz. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Dascal, M. 1978. La Sémiologie de Leibniz. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne.

Dascal, M. 1987. Leibniz. Language, Signs, and Tbougbt. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Dascal, M. 1990a. “The controversy about ideas and the ideas about controversy”. In F.

Gil (ed.), Scientific and Philosophical Controversies. Lisboa: Fragmentos, pp. 61-

100 .

Dascal, M. 1990b. “Leibniz on particles: Linguistic form and comparatism”. In T. de

Mauro and L. Formigari (eds.), Leibniz, Humboldt, and the Origins of Compara-

tivism.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 31-60

Dascal, M. 1993. “One Adam and many cultures: The role of political pluralism in the

best of possible worlds”. In M. Dascal and E. Yakira (eds.), Leibniz and Adam. Tel

Aviv: University Publishing Projects, pp. 387-409.

Dascal, M. 1994a. “Le langage dans la maison de l’esprit: une tirade de parallèles”. In

Q. Racionero and C. Roldan (eds.), G. W. Leibniz: Analogia y Expresión. Madrid:

Editorial Complutense, pp. 57-77.

Dascal, M. 1994b. “Strategies of dispute and ethics: Du tort and La place d’autruy. In

Leibniz und Europa (VI. Internationales Leibniz-Kongress), Vortrage II. Teil, pp.

108-115.

Dascal, M. 1995. “Epistemologia, controversias y pragmàtica”. Isegoria 12: 8-43.

Dascal, M. 1996. “La balanza de la razón”. In O. Nudler (ed.), La racionalidad: su poder

y sus limites.
Buenos Aires: Paidós, pp. 363-381.

Dascal, M. 1997. “Critique without critics?”. Science in Context 10: 39-62.

37

Dascal, M. and Gruengard, O. (eds.) 1989. Knowledge and Politics: Case Studies in the

Relationship between Epistemology and Political Philosophy. Boulder: Westview

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Dawkins, R. 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hoffmann, R. and Leibnowitz Schmidt, S. 1998. Old Wine in New Flasks: Reflections

on Science and Jewish Tradition.
New York: W. H. Freeman.

Malebranche, N. [1979]. Oeuvres, vol. I. Ed. by Geneviève Rodis-Lewis. Paris: Galli-

mard.

Marion, J.-L. 1994. Le statut originairement responsorial des Méditations In

Beyssade and Marion (eds.), pp. 3-19.

Serres, M. 1968. Le système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématique, 2 vols. Paris:

Presses Universitaires de France.

1.
This is a paraphrase of Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 8:5, by Hoffmann and Leibowitz

Schmidt (1998: ix). The authors add to the story the following interpretation: “From then on

truth was dispersed, splintered into fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle. While a person might find a

piece, it held little meaning until he joined with others who had painstakingly gained different pie-

ces of the puzzle. Only then, slowly and deliberately, could they try to fit their pieces of Truth to-

gether. To make sense, some sense of things”.
2.
Malebranche, 10th Éclaircissement sur la Recherche de la Vérité. In Oeuvres, vol. I, p. 92.
3.

“...for we are only humans” (Leibniz; C, 40). All the translations of Leibniz’s quotations

are mine, except when a reference to a translation is also given.

4.
These are, of course, other strategies used by authors and their interpreters to establish

the connections between the different parts of their systems and thereby their systematicity. For

an analysis of such strategies, see the introductory essay in Dascal and Gruengard, eds. (1989).
5.
VE 1804. (There is an apparent mistake in the text provided in VE: where it says “puis-

qu’elle n’est pas immediatement” it should say “puisqu’elle m’est immediatement”.) The other

type of unprovable propositions are, of course, the necessary ones.
6.
“[...] although the existence of necessary [truths] is the first of all in itself and in the order

of nature, I agree that it is not the first in the order of our knowledge” (GP I, 370).
7.
In fact, the whole “way of ideas”, characteristic of seventeenth and eighteenth century

philosophy might be considered as privileging this strategy, in so far it contends that one’s ideas

are the only direct source of knowledge. This may be traced back to the influence of skepticism in

shaping modern philosophy; more specifically, to the skeptical doctrine that all one can know are

“appearances”.
8.
Compare: “I searched for a criterion of truth other than the one so praised today, na-

mely that whatever is perceived clearly and distinctly is true. That is, I understood that this [cri-

terion] is liable to be misused, and that it has no value unless signs of the clear and distinct are

provided. For anyone who is strongly impressed by something thinks he understands it very

clearly and distinctly” (from Specimen demonstrationum catholicarum seu apologia fidei ex ra-

tiones;
Grua, 30).
9.
For example, “if I can prove that there are no second degree figures other than the conic

sections, it is because I have a distinct idea of these curves, which is what grants me the means to

reach a precise division” (GP II, 121).
10.
GP I, 384-385. It is the lack of such a proof of possibility that impairs, of course,

Anselm’s and Descartes’s demonstration of God’s existence. But Leibniz gives here, in addition to

this well-known example, another one, which contrasts two different definitions of the circle.
11.
For references and an analysis of “blind thought”, see Dascal (1978: 206-210). For Leib-

niz’s conception of the role of signs in mental processes, see also Dascal (1987 and I994a).
12.
“[...] we don’t have an idea of our soul because the idea we have of our soul is not clear,

not any more than those of our mysteries [of faith]” (Malebranche, 3rd Eclairdssement; in Oeu-

vres,
vol. 1, p. 822). See also the quote used as a motto for this paper.
13.
“We cannot say in what consists the perception of plants, and we cannot even conceive

that of animals” (GP 3, 581).
14.
“I thus understood that the opinions of the ancients should not be demolished, but rather

they should be explicated and corroborated, for they are presently condemned and held in con-

tempt for no other reason than [the fact] that their meaning (vis and potestas) is ignored” (Speci-

men…;
Grua, 30).
15.
“[...] if someone appeals to the internal testimony of the mind, all dispute with him ceases,

and an incurable mistake remains in the soul. Therefore, what is needed is not some private sign of

truth, but a public one, just as much in philosophy as in religion” (Specimen…; Grua, 30).
16.
“There are everywhere actual variations and never a perfect uniformity, and two pieces of

matter are not entirely similar to each other, macroscopically as well as microscopically (dans le

grand comme dans le petit)”
(GP VII, 563).
17.
See also GP IV, 327.
18.
In fact, Descartes’s own system-building procedure was not quite as self-centered as his

account in the Meditations suggests. At the end of the Discours de la Méthode he asked for rea-

ders’ reactions, and the Meditations in fact respond to criticisms and queries about the metaphysi-

cal part of the Discours. He also sought reactions to the Meditations themselves, which he under-

took then to publish together with the text and his own replies. His work, thus, involves coopera-

tive interaction, manifested in this “schéma responsorial”, as it is dubbed by Marion (1994). See

also the other chapters in Marion and Beyssade (1994), especially the one by Beyssade (1994). I

would add, however, that such an interaction was entirely subordinated to his desire to impose on

his system a strict ordre des raisons, the objections being nothing more than the occasion to fur-

ther spell out this order. Descartes in fact considered debate as useful only in so far as it exempli-

fies what I call (Dascal 1995) a “discussion”, i.e., in so far as it follows a decision procedure that

fully determines who is right.
19.
“Harmonia autem est unitas in multitudine” (GP I, 232).
20.
“[...] matter and movement are not so much substances or things, but phenomena of per-

cipients, whose reality is located in the harmony of the percipients with themselves (at different

moments) and with other percipients” (GP II, 270). “[...] the truth of phenomena consists in the

mutual consensus of percipients” (GP II, 521).
21.
“What is marvellous is the fact that the sovereign wisdom has found the means to vary the

same world at the same time infinitely through the representing substances; for, since the world

has already an infinite variety in itself and is varied as it is and expressed diversely by an infinity of

different representations, it receives an infinity of infinities, and could not be better fit to the na-

ture and intentions of its ineffable author, who surmounts in perfection all that we can think of

Him” (GP IV, 554).
22.
“My statements are usually universal and they respect analogy” (GP II, 311).
23.
Compare: “Those who like to push forward the details of sciences disdain abstract and

general inquiries, while those who deepen the principles rarely occupy themselves with particula-

rities. For my part, I appreciate equally both, for I have found that the analysis of principles serves

to develop particular inventions” (GP I, 403). For a discussion of the many-sided aspects of the

Leibnizian concepts of analysis and synthesis and their interconnections, see Dascal (1987, 129 ff.

and passim).
24.
In an earlier version, this text bears the title “Dialogue entre un habile politique et un ec-

clesiastique d’une pieté reconnue”.
25.
Charles Emmanuel Philibert de Simiane, Marquis de Pianese (1608-1677) was indeed Mi-

nister of State of Savoye, and became famous for his conversion.
26.
Presumably, Leibniz is referring here to his work in the logic of probabilities. The notion

of “weighing”, closely related to that of the “balance of reason” is an extremely important meta-

phor he employs in order to characterize a form of rationality that “inclines without necessi-

tating”. See Dascal (1996). This metaphor occurs several times in the text under consideration.
27.
Trying to put oneself in “the place of the other” (la place d’autruy) is a principle which

has for Leibniz not only moral, but also epistemic significance. See Dascal (1993 and 1994b).
28.
Later on this becomes a memorandum (addressed to the prince) containing “everything

that one can desire for the public welfare” (VE 1820).
29.
Although Leibniz had employed, in the later part of his life, several assistants, he often

complained that if he had a team of young scholars working with him, he would have managed to

complete many of his projects (cf. GP III, 605; also Couturat 1901, 576).
30.
Leibniz was very much concerned by the “distractions” that prevented him from devoting

his attention to his most cherished projects. As his interests and his network of informants expan-

ded, he feit submerged in the mass of materials he had accumulated (Couturat 1901, 574). He

thus needed badly, for his own work, to follow the rules the hermit recommended to the

politician.
31.
“...almost all languages aren’t but variations, often quite irregular, of the same roots; but

it is difficult to recognize this, unless one compares many languages, without neglecting jargons...”

(Dutens, VI, 2, 185).
32.
“...languages [les langues, in the plural] are the best mirror of the human mind” (GP V,

313). For a discussion of “particles” as mirroring the operations of the mind according to Leibniz,

see Dascal (1990b).
33.
“To look for the meaning of a term that has been proposed to us amounts to collect the

different locutions involving it, both in current usage and in the usage of our author, which is the

task of dictionaries. One must pay attention mainly to the epithets that are affirmed or denied of

the term; one should then make a list of the subjects, appositions, synonyms (or cognate terms), as

well as of peculiar antonyms, which will all be associated to the term in direct discourse; one must

then move on to the tropes, i.e., to the terms obliquely associated to it. This will lead to a sketch

of a meaning in accordance with all the collected locutions, employing exactly the same method

used for formulating hypotheses that satisfy all the phenomena” (VE 1426-1427).
34.
“It is always true, without any arbitrary choice of ours, that if certain characters are adop-

ted, some definite argument must proceed, and if others are adopted whose relation to the things

signified is known but different, the resulting relation of the new characters will again correspond

to the relation of the first characters, as appears by a substitution or comparison” (GP VII, 193;

L, 185).
35.
See China, 61-65.
36.
“Let us suppose, just for pleasure, that one could find the truth, that one could establish

incontestable principles, and that it is possible to have a sure method for extracting from them

important consequences; and that God himself has sent us this new Logic from heaven. I am ne-

vertheless sure that men wouldn’t stop disputing, as they usually do” (VE 1800-1801).
37.
Two years before his death, he describes his work as “an attempt to unearth and collect

the truth buried and dissipated under the opinions of the different philosophical sects, to which I

think I have added something of my own in order to make a few steps forward” (GP III, 606).

The first part of this self-appreciation was shared by his contemporaries (and appreciated by some

of them). For example, in 1706, the Jesuit Bartholomeus des Bosses asks for Leibniz’s tutoring in

a project of recovering the “true Aristotle” from behind its Scholastic “distortions” (GP II, 293).

He is attracted by Leibniz’s anti-Cartesianism and by the prospect that Leibniz’s physics, which

appealed to the Aristotelian concept of “entelechia”, might be the key for reconciling Aristotelia-

nism with the “moderns”. The ensuing correspondence between Leibniz and des Bosses compri-

ses 128 letters, and was interrupted shortly before Leibniz’s death in 1716.
38.
See Dascal (1990a).
39.
“When we have found some adroit and ingenious reply, that can rebut and confuse the

person who advances a proposition, even if it may be useful and well grounded, we satisfy oursel-

ves with this victory, and move on to other topics, without examining who ultimately is right... All

this comes from the fact that we treat most questions as a sort of amusement or for showing off,

rather than for reaching a conclusion which may have some influence in the practice of our life ”

(VE 1794).
40.
I couldn’t possibly provide here even a hint to the richness and importance of these wri-

tings. A collection of them, along with English translations, under the title Leibniz’s Art of Contro-

versies, has been compiled by Quintrn Racionero and myself, and is being prepared for publica-

tion. See also the forthcoming collection of essays Leibniz the Polemicist, edited by Gideon Freu-

denthal and myself.
41.
“There are confortable and incomfortable, good and bad aspects in all things, sacred and

profane; this is what confuses men, giving rise to the diversity of opinions, since everyone envisa-

ges things from a certain side. There are only very few who have the patience of making a round

trip around the thing, up to the point of putting oneself on the side of one’s adversary; that is,

there are only very few who are willing to employ steady application in the spirit of a disinterested

judge in the examination of the pro and the con, so as to determine the side to which the scales of

the balance shall be inclined” (VE 1794).
42.
“...it is not sufficiently taken into account that form doesn’t consist in this boring quicun-

que, atqui, ergo” (VE 1803); see also C 36, 191-192, 419; GP VII, 515-516, as well as Dascal

(1996). On the relevance of a theory of controversies for contemporary epistemology, see Dascal

(1995 and 1997).
43.
“I agree that there are degrees of accidental unity, that an ordered society has more unity

than a confused multitude and that an organized body or a machine has more unity than a society;

i.e., it is more apposite to consider them as a single thing, because there are more relations bet-

ween the ingredients; but ultimately all these unities receive their accomplishment only from

thoughts and appearances, like colors and other phenomena, which we still call real” (GP II

100).
44.
“...if parts that coalesce in a purpose are more appropriate to compose a true substance

than parts that touch each other, then all the officers of the Dutch Company of the Indies would

make a real substance much better than a mound of stones; but is a common purpose something

other than a resemblance, i.e., an order of actions and passions that our mind notices in different

things?” (GP II, 101).
45.
“...it is then up to those who make up beings and substances without a true unity, to

prove that there is more reality than we have said, and I wait for the notion of a substance or a

being capable of comprehending all these things, after which the parts and maybe even the

dreams will have a claim to it, unless we put very precise limits to this right of citizenship that we

want to grant to beings formed by aggregation” (GP II, 102).


Marcelo Dascal . :

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