GOD AS BOTH THE UNITY AND MULTIPLICITY IN THE WORLD
Christia Mercer
GOD AS BOTH THE UNITY AND MULTIPLICITY IN THE WORLD
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The two-part notion of unity and multiplicity stands at the center of

Leibniz’s philosophy and science. As the titles of the other papers in this

collection suggest, it is a topic that extends to most areas of his thought. In

this paper, I would like to excavate Leibniz’s original understanding of this

notion. I will argue that, once we place Leibniz’s early texts in their proper

philosophical context, we will be able both to identify the theological roots

of this two-part notion and to grasp its most fundamental meaning.

Nearly from the beginning of his philosophical career, Leibniz main-

tained that the harmony of the world was constituted of unity and multi-

plicity. While it is clear that Leibniz took each of these features to be a cri-

terion of goodness, their exact interrelation has not been easy to discern.

Not unreasonably, some commentators have argued that they are in tension

with one another. According to Rescher, for example, the “striking feature”

of the criteria is that they “are opposed to one another and pull in opposite

directions”.1 Some recent commentators have rejected Rescher’s conclu-

sion, but have acknowledged the difficulties in resolving the tension.2 I will

argue here that there can be no genuine tension between these good-mak-

ing criteria because it is God who is both the unity and the multiplicity in

the world: for Leibniz, the supreme being is the unity in the sense that the

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unity in the world is constituted by it; it is the multiplicity in the sense that

the variety in the world is merely its essence diversely manifested. This is a

radical thesis and not one that has previously been advanced. Previous

scholars have missed this fundamental fact about Leibniz’s metaphysics be-

cause they have been unaware of his early Platonism.

That Leibniz’s early thought owes a great deal to Platonism will come

as a surprise to many. The Platonism extant in seventeenth-century Ger-

many has not generally been recognized and the Platonism of the professors

in Leipzig has not been noted. Many recent scholars have identified Pla-

tonic and kabbalistic elements in Leibniz’s mature writings and have spe-

culated about their source. Most have assumed that the recognizably Pla-

tonic flavor of some of Leibniz’s mature writings was due to his increasing

familiarity in the 1680s with the views of the Cambridge Platonists, while

some have speculated about its scholastic and ancient sources.3 These

scholars have been correct in their recognition of Platonic elements in Leib-

niz’s later thought, but they have looked too far afield for its source. Leib-

niz drank from the Platonic fountain as a young student in Leipzig. In his

typical fashion, Leibniz took these raw materials and made them distinctly

his own, but there is no doubt that he acquired a thorough familiarity with

them as a university student and that they are the primary source of his

conception of the relation between God and creatures. According to my ac-

count of the development of Leibniz’s metaphysics, the basic features of his

Platonism were in place in 1671-72, several years before he acquired a thor-

ough familiarity with the thought of Henry More, Anne Conway, Francis

Mercury van Helmont, or any other Cambridge Platonist.473

A question arises at this point: if Leibniz made active use of Platonic

ideas early in his career, then why didn’t he call attention to it in the same

way that he did to his use of Aristotelian thought? From his early period to

his late, Leibniz proudly proclaims his rehabilitation of the philosophy of

Aristotle. In an important publication of 1670, he argues that the new me-

chanical physics must be corrected with the philosophy of Aristotle; and in

the first publication of a major part of his system in 1695, he spends nearly

a fifth of the text justifying his use of the Aristotelian philosophy.5 Why

didn’t he call similar attention to the benefits of the philosophy of Plato?

Leibniz was not motivated to explain his Platonism because that philosophy

had not become the object of ridicule. On the contrary, the vast majority of

Leibniz’s contemporaries were themselves inclined to turn to the Platonic

tradition, both pagan and Christian, for inspiration concerning divine top-

ics. However much Leibniz’s Platonism might come as a surprise to us, it

did not surprise his contemporaries. As Leibniz explains in the Specimen of

Dynamics
of 1695, “[j]ust as our age has already saved from scorn... Plato’s

ideas”, he will now “make intelligible the teachings of the Peripatetics con-

cerning forms or entelechies” (GM VI 234f: AG 118f). In brief, I am mak-

ing two claims: one about the intellectual context in which Leibniz’s meta-

physics developed, the other about the content of that metaphysics. The

first claim is that the philosophy of Plotinus, Proclus, Augustine, Ficino,

Pico della Mirandola, and of course Plato himself was widely known and

highly regarded throughout the seventeenth century and formed a major

part of the intellectual context in which Leibniz’s cut his philosophical

teeth. The second is that some of the most fundamental doctrines of Leib-

niz’s metaphysics are thoroughly Platonic. In the present discussion I will

give little support for the first claim except insofar as I argue for the sec-

ond. In the late 1660s, Leibniz took his extensive background in Platonism

and molded it to fit his own conception of substance. By combining his no-

tion of God with his theory of individual substance, Leibniz went beyond

the Platonism of his teachers and contemporaries and made that tradition

his own.

I have argued elsewhere that the conception of substance developed by

Leibniz during the 1660s has its roots in the Aristotelian philosophy, as he

74

interpreted it.6 In order to grasp the complicated details of Leibniz’s philo-

sophical proposals about unity and multiplicity in the period of 1668-72, it

is necessary to recognize that Leibniz intended to combine elements from

the Platonic tradition with those from the Aristotelian. Although the texts

of this period are obscure, they contain some of the crucial steps made by

Leibniz on the way to the development of some of the fundamental doc-

trines of his metaphysics. We will be able to discern these steps once we

recognize that within these texts Leibniz turns to a Platonic model when he

has to articulate the relation between God and creatures (what I call his

metaphysics of divinity) and to an Aristotelian one when he has to describe

the features of individual created substances (what I call his metaphysics of

substance).

Background to Leibniz’s Platonism

Before turning to the pure form of Platonism that Leibniz imbibed as a

student, it is worth noting the unpure form that was also available to him.

Recent scholars have emphasized the fact that scholastic philosophy itself is

full of Platonism, and it has been argued that Leibniz’s use of Platonic doc-

trine may have come from such sources.7 While it is no doubt true that

both Leibniz and his contemporaries imbibed large doses of Platonism

along with their scholasticism and therefore that their Aristotelianism was

by such means tainted, this was not the primary source of Leibniz’s Pla-

tonic tendencies. What has not been previously noted - and what is impor-

tant for an understanding of Leibniz’s two-part notion of unity and multi-

plicity - is that as a student in Leipzig he learned a pure form of Platonism

which was clearly distinguished from the thought of Aristotle and which

continued to influence him for years to come. Let us now turn to those

sources.

The nature of Platonism in seventeenth-century Germany has not been

systematically studied and my own research to date has been cursory. But it

is perfectly clear that the professors and students in Leipzig were thor-

oughly acquainted with that philosophical tradition. They were not scholars

of Plato, but they were inheritors of a vast literature of writings which they

75

called Platonic and which they considered a treasure trove of ideas. Making

frequent use of images that one finds throughout the history of Platonism,

they speak of that philosophy both as a source of divine wisdom which like

the sun illuminates everything it shines upon and as a fountain of truth

which has flowed through the thinkers of many centuries and which nour-

ishes their own thought.8 The scope of their erudition in this area is im-

pressive: they refer to the whole range of ancient, medieval, and Renais-

sance thinkers and move easily between pagan and Christian authors. It is

important to emphasize that these German philosophers often do not dis-

tinguish among sources, but tend to treat Platonism as a warehouse of ideas

to rummage through. What I would like to do now is to offer a summary of

the Platonic doctrines which are proposed in the texts of Leibniz’s prede-

cessors in Leipzig and which influenced the development of his early con-

ception of unity and multiplicity.9

A journey through this Platonic terrain may strike some readers as diffi-

cult going. Some of its landmark doctrines (e.g., emanation, levels of being)

are not easy to grasp from our philosophical perspective. That some of the

great philosophical minds in the history of philosophy have found such

views obvious is small comfort. While I cannot hope to expand our philo-

sophical intuitions here, I would like to make the background assumptions

of Leibniz’s metaphysics of divinity as plausible as possible. The very fact

that some of these doctrines are extremely odd to us helps to explain why

their full significance in Leibniz’s philosophy has not been adequately ap-

preciated by twentieth-century scholars. We must do what we can to under-

stand these doctrines. For our present purposes we will have to be satisfied

with the briefest of accounts and the most cursory of analyses. Although it

is virtually impossible to determine which original sources most interested

the young Leibniz, he was surely aware of the philosophy of Plotinus and

Augustine. I have chosen to focus on the thought of these two philosophers

76

more than others for three reasons: their versions of Platonism were ar-

guably the most influential in history, they are frequently cited by the pro-

fessors and students at Leipzig, and Leibniz’s early metaphysics of divinity

bears a striking resemblance to many of their proposals. We cannot ascer-

tain whether or not Plotinus and Augustine were the main sources of Leib-

niz’s Platonism, but we can be certain that Leibniz learned about their

thought as university student in Leipzig.

Unity and reality

For many ancient thinkers, ontological priority was to be explained pri-

marily in terms of self-sufficiency. As one scholar makes the point, “that

which stands in need of nothing for being what it is is ontologically prima-

ry”.10 For Platonists, there was a hierarchy of self-sufficiency and being such

that the lower stratum in the hierarchy was supposed to depend on and be

caused by the higher. In Plato’s Republic the sensible things depend on the

Ideas or Forms which themselves depend on the Good. For many of the

philosophers who followed Plato, it was taken to be obvious that unity and

perfection were intimately related to being so that the more reality some-

thing has, the more unified and perfect it must be. For both Christian and

non-Christian Platonists, the idea seems to be that there is a supremely per-

fect, wholly simple, and unified being on which all else depends. The impli-

cation was that only the highest being was wholly perfect, self-sufficient,

simple, and real and that the beings in the lower strata had diminishing de-

grees of these features. What is less a unity, for example, is less real and

what is less real is constituted and explained by what is more unified and

hence more real.

The third century philosopher, Plotinus (205-270/71), focused primar-

ily on the unity of the supreme being and maintained that the greater the

simplicity or unity, the greater the reality, self-sufficiency, and perfection.11

He writes:

there must be something simple before all things, and this must be other

than all the things which come after it, existing by itself, not mixed with the

things which derive from it [...] For if it is not to be simple, outside all co-

incidence and composition and really one, it could not be a first principle;

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and it is the most self-sufficient, because it is simple and the first of all: for

that which is not the first needs that which is before it, and what is not sim-

ple is in need of its simple components so that it can come into existence

from them (V.4.1.6-15).12

From our twentieth century perspective, it is difficult to grasp why unity or

simplicity should be the key metaphysical and ontological notion. Nor is a

satisfactory justification of this assumption very easy to construct. Part of

the motivation behind the assumption is the belief that what is eternally and

immutably itself is what is most real. It is fascinating that for Plotinus and

many other thinkers (e.g., many kabbalists) the supreme being did not ad-

mit of predication because to attribute anything to the One was to make a

division between subject and property. Such thinkers believed it improper

to attribute to the supreme being positive features and preferred instead to

claim that the One just was perfection or being itself. The simplicity or

unity of the One might be understood as what contains every positive at-

tribute without distinction or division. It is like a storehouse of being within

which there is neither distinction nor division and yet where every positive

possibility exists potentially. There can be a distinction or division within

being only outside the One. Plotinus is fairly straightforward about the rela-

tion between being and unity in the products of the One. He writes that

“nothing is real which is not a unity” (VI.6.13.30) and moreover that “a

thing is a unity by the presence of the One” (VI.6.14.27-28).

According to Plotinus, the “unbounded” perfection of the One is such

that it “overflows” with being. As soon as something is produced or cre-

ated, there is multiplicity in that the being and perfection of the One is

manifested in a number of ways. When the being of the One overflows, it

produces the world of Ideas. Although there are multiple Ideas, they are as

unified as anything can be other than the One itself. In the words of one

Plotinus scholar, they are “a unity-in-multiplicity”.13 The being of the

world of Ideas itself overflows and eventually becomes the multitude of

things in the material world. Of course, the Plotinian image of the over-

flowing of Being would not do for Christian Platonists. Orthodoxy de-

manded the free choice of God and many Christians turned to a model of

God according to which the divine mind contained all positive essences or

78

Ideas.14 From Augustine (354-430) onward, the standard Christian concep-

tion of God was that of an infinite divine mind which contained the Ideas

and which freely created a world modelled on them.15 Each Idea was sup-

posed to be a positive attribute that God chooses to instantiate in some

way in the world. However, the result of the Christian account was like that

of the Plotinian one: everything in the created world was understood to be

a manifestation of the divine One. Glossing over details, the basic idea is

that the multiplicity and diversity in the world is the essence of the supreme

being variously manifested. It is noteworthy that the same basic idea ap-

pears in the thought of many Jewish kabbalists where the divine attributes

are supposed to emanate to all levels of creation so that every being partici-

pates in all of them. Christian kabbalists like Raymond Lull and Johann

Reuchlin, who were widely known in Germany in the seventeenth century,

followed in this tradition and maintained that every creature exemplified all

the divine attributes. For Lull, each creature is infused with all the divine

features so that one can grasp them at every level of being.16 The basic idea

here is nicely expressed by Philo, the first century Jewish Platonist, who

writes: “he [...] fills the whole world with himself”.17

The supreme being as transcendent and immanent, as unity and multiplicity

Some obvious problems arise at this point. The supreme being is sup-

posed to be wholly self-sufficient, yet it is said to be in everything. Crea-

tures are supposed to be finite and limited, yet they are said to be in the

supreme being and to share its features. The supreme being is supposed to

79

be in the creatures, yet they are supposed to be in it. What are we to think?

While I dare not take on anything like a full account of the relation be-

tween the supreme being and its products, I would like to summarize cer-

tain aspects of that relation. There are three closely related questions which

are particularly relevant to Leibniz: (1) how can the supreme being or the

One be transcendent from its products while they are in it? (2) how can the

supreme being be both transcendent from its products and immanent in

them? and (3) how can the One be both the unity and the multiplicity in

the world? Answers to these questions will place Leibniz’s own conception

of the relation between God and creatures in its proper perspective.

Before facing these questions, however, it will be important to remind

ourselves that they apply with equal force to the Judeo-Christian God. As

Paul writes to the Ephesians, there is: “One God and Father of all, who is

above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4: 6). In Acts we are

told: “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28); and

in the Book of Psalms, we find that the “Lord, art high above all the earth”

(Psalms 97: 9) and yet is intimately related to all things. At Psalm 148 (3-8),

the entire universe is told to pay tribute to God who not only created all

things, but also is their constant source:

Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all you shining stars.

Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were

created;

He established them forever and ever; He gave them a duty which shall not

pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all depths;

Fire and hail, snow and mist, storm winds that fulfill His command.

God’s wisdom extends to every worldly object. As Yahweh asks Job: “Who

has put wisdom in the clouds, or given understanding to the mists?” (Job

38: 36). The answer of course is the supreme being. At the very first of

the Confessions, Augustine worries aloud to God: “Without you, whatever

exists would not exist. But does what exists contain you? I also have being

[...] which I would not have unless you were in me. Or rather, I would have

no being if I were not in you”. To add to the confusion, Augustine quotes

Paul, according to whom God is: “of whom all things are, through whom

all things are, in whom all things are” (Rom. 11: 36).

How can the One be both transcendent and immanent? The problem

is acute: according to Plotinus, the One is “alone by itself’ and simple,

while it is also “everywhere” and “fills all things”. As Plotinus puts it:

“How then do all things come from the One, which is simple and has in it

80

no diverse variety?” The solution to the problem lies in a distinction be-

tween the One insofar as it is supremely self-sufficient and the One insofar

as it is the principle on which all else depends. Plotinus writes: “The One is

all things and not a single one of them: it is the principle of all things, not

all things, but all things have that other kind of transcendent existence”

(V.2.1, 1-4). The crucial point here is that the One is “all things” insofar as

it is their principle or source and it is “not a single one of them” insofar as

it is the perfect, self-sufficient, and unified reality. He continues: “All these

things are the One and not the One: they are he because they come from

him; they are not he, because it is in abiding by himself that he gives them”

(V.2.2.24-26). The One is transcendent in that it is self-sufficient and in

need of nothing else. Plotinus writes in a passage we have seen: “there must

be something simple before all things, and this must be other than all the

things which come after it, existing by itself, not mixed with the things

which derive from it...” (V.4.1.6-10). But the One is also immanent in that

it is the source of everything else and that on which everything constantly

depends: the One “is the principle of all things [...] because as principle it

keeps them in being [...] and because it brought them into existence”

(V.3.15.27-29). These texts suggest a solution to our general problem as to

how the One can be both transcendent from its products and immanent in

them. In order to understand this, we need only recognize what one scholar

has called their “nonreciprocal dependence”.18 The One is transcendent in

that it exists wholly independently of all its creatures and needs nothing

else to be what it is. For creatures, this is not the case; they depend fully

and constantly on the One.

To conceive the complicated way in which the One is immanent in the

world, we must turn to our first question: how the supreme being or the

One can be transcendent from its products while they are in it? To grasp

how the products of the One are in it while it exists independently of them,

one must understand that their nature and being comes from the One and

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never exist independently of it while it exists independently of them. Think

of a fountain which is unconnected to any source of liquid and yet which

spews forth streams of water. The existence of the fountain in no way de-

pends on the water and yet the nature and being of the water depends en-

tirely on the fountain. Like the fountain, the One exists independently of

what flows from it; like the water, the products of the One continually de-

pend on their source. In this case, the products of the One and the water of

the fountain “exist in” their source in that their very existence depends on

it. The ‘exists in’ relation here consists in ontological dependency. In this

sense, a being B exists in a being A just in case the whole being and nature

of B depends continually on A. To speak metaphorically, B exists in A be-

cause the being and nature of B flows from A.

Let’s now turn to our second question, namely, how the supreme being

can be both transcendent from its products and yet in them? According to

Plotinus and other Platonists, the One is entirely apart from and “beyond”

its products and yet in them and constitutive of them. To grasp how the

One is transcendent and yet in its products, we have to turn to the causal

relation between it and them. In Plato’s Republic the Good is supposed to

be the cause or source of the Ideas which themselves are supposed to be

the cause or source of the sensible things. In the Platonic literature, there

are three standard ways to describe the causal relation between higher and

lower strata in this ontological hierarchy. In the participation relation, the

individual on the lower stratum is supposed to participate in that of the

higher; in the model-image relation the higher is said to be a model for the

lower or to generate the lower as an imperfect image of itself. It is impor-

tant for our purposes that a lower level object can be said to have a prop-

erty though in an inferior way to an object on the higher level. The at-

tributes or properties of a higher sphere are transmitted to those of the

lower but in a less perfect form.19 The third way of describing the causai re-

lation in the hierarchy and the one most relevant to Leibniz is that of ema-

nation. Drawing on Plato’s analogy to the sun in the Republic and assuming

the other causal notions, this relation compares the One to the Sun whose

rays flow from it. Oversimplifying somewhat, we can say that: if the perfect

A has an attribute f, then A can emanate f-ness to a lower being B. In the

emanative relation, A loses nothing while B comes to instantiate f-ness. A

remains transcendent and pure, while B becomes an imperfect image of the

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perfect f. The emanative process is assumed to be continual so that B will

participate in f-ness and have f even imperfectly only as long as A acts or

emanates f-ness. It is important to emphasize the fact that, in the emanative

causal relation (as with the other two), the f of A is greater and more per-

fect than that of B and yet that the f in B resembles its cause.20 We are now

prepared to explain how it is that the One is transcendent from its products

and yet in them. The perfection and transcendence of the One remains un-

changed while it continually emanates its attributes to its products, which

then have those attributes in an imperfect and hence distinctive manner.

Recent scholars have insisted, in a way that is quite relevant to Leibniz, that

Plotinus is not a pantheist and does not believe that the being of the One

constitutes the being of its products. The causal theory of emanation helps

to see how this is so. As Plotinus writes in a passage quoted above: “all

[created] things have that other kind of transcendent existence...[T]he

One is simple and has in it no diverse variety” (V.2.1.1-5). For any attribute

of a creature, that attribute is derived from the One and yet the attribute

exists in the creature in a way quite distinct from that of the One. Plotinus

puts it nicely when he explains that the One “is like the things, which have

come to be” except that they are “on their level” and “it [the One] is bet-

ter” (VI.8.14.33 -34). The One is in the creatures in the sense that it ema-

nates its attributes to them; it remains transcendent from them because it

neither loses anything in the emanative process nor shares any of its perfec-

tions with them. It is perfect; they are not. Plotinus writes: “[the One] must

be other than all the things which come after it, existing by itself, not mixed

with the things which derive from it, and all the same able to be present in a

different way to these other things” (V.4.1.6-8). Elsewhere, he explains “the

One is always perfect” while “its product is less than” the One (V. 1.6.39-40).

The Platonic conception of the causal relation between the supreme be-

ing and its creatures helps to explain how the Judeo-Christian God can be,

in Paul’s words, “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through

all, and in you all” (Ephesians, 4: 6). As Augustine makes the point in his

Confessions:

I considered all the other things that are of a lower order than yourself, and

I saw that they have not absolute being in themselves, nor are they entirely

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without being. They are real in so far as they have their being from you, but

unreal in the sense that they are not what you are. For it is only that which

remains in being without change that truly is...[God] himself ever

unchanged, he makes all things new (VII. 17).

The causal relation between the supreme being and its products offers a

fairly straightforward account of how the One can be both transcendent

and in its products. Here the ‘exists in’ relation is to be understood in

terms of emanation where the basic idea is that attributes of the One em-

anate to its products and, in that sense, exist in them. The One remains

pure and transcendent while its attributes or properties “exist in” the crea-

tures. The crucial point to understand is that the properties exist in the

products in a manner wholly different than the way they exist in the One.

The perfect being A emanates f-ness to B so that B participates in f-ness

and f-ness is in B, but the f-ness in B is inferior to the f-ness in A. A has f

perfectly; B has it imperfectly.

With this account of the causal relation between the supreme being

and its creatures in hand, we are prepared to answer our third question,

namely, how the transcendent One can be both the unity and multiplicity in

the world. That the One is the multiplicity in the created world is fairly

straightforward: when the One overflows its being and attributes, it neces-

sarily produces a multiplicity. It exists in the multiplicity in the sense that it

is immanent in its products. But they also necessarily participate in the

One. In his discussion of the relation between individual souls and Nous or

what is sometimes called the world soul, Plotinus is fairly explicit about

how the unity of the former relates to the many. He writes:

How, then, is there one substance in many souls? Either the one is present

as a whole in them all, or the many come from the whole and one while

it abides [unchanged]. That soul, then, is one, but the many [go back]

to it as one which gives itself to multiplicity and does not give itself; for

it is adequate to supply itself to all and to remain one; for it has power

extending to all things, and is not at all cut off from each individual thing;

it is the same, therefore, in all.21

The more perfect being remains unchanged and transcendent despite the

fact that all the less perfect and multiple beings acquire their unity and be-

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ing from it. According to Plotinus, each of us is a unity because the One

emanates its oneness to us. The One is perfeetly unified, each of us is im-

perfectly unified. But whatever unity each of us has is due to the continual

emanation of the perfect oneness or unity. In this sense, each of us exists

and is one because the One emanates its unity to us and each of us thereby

participates in it.22

Platonism in Leipzig

The works of the two most prominent professors at Leipzig in the mid-

dle of the seventeenth century, Johann Adam Scherzer (1628-83) and Jakob

Thomasius (1622-84), show a thorough acquaintance with Platonism.23 In

the works of Scherzer, we find kabbalistic doctrines as well as Renaissance

Platonism. For our purposes, suffice it to say that Scherzer accepts some-

thing very like the Plotinian account of the relation between God and crea-

tures. He writes that God contains all things while remaining fundamentally

simple; God acts constantly to conserve his creatures while “nothing in him

is changed, nor is it depleted”;24 that the emanation of God follows “natu-

rally from a subject” as a result of its properties or modes;25 that “a proper

unity is nothing other than God”;26 that God, as what is most simple and

immutable is contrasted with accidents or creatures which are multiple and

mutable;27 that the unity of God is “effused” throughout the world;28 and

finally that God is “the reason of reasons, the fountain of all things, the uni-

form and omniform form, [...] the unity in the multitude”.29

It may come as a surprise to many scholars to discover that Jakob

Thomasius, Leibniz’s mentor and a well-known Aristotelian, wrote a good

deal about both Platonism and the kabbalistic tradition. Thomasius pro-

duced a number of books in which he refers to the whole range of Platonic

philosophers, both pagan and Christian, early and late. Thomasius is firmly

85

Aristotelian in his conception of substance, but thoroughly Platonic in his

account of the relation between God and creatures.30 According to Thoma-

sius, God is “the fountain of features which flow into creatures”, but he in-

sists that this flowing or emanation be understood in the right way, namely,

as that which God wills.31 He contrasts the divisibility of the mutable world

with the unity and simplicity of God and notes that according to some Pla-

tonists “the essence of God permeates” everything32. Nor did Leibniz’s

early exposure to Platonism end with his university studies. Most of his fa-

vorite authors during the 1660s were those who wrote extensively on the

kabbalah and “the divine Plato”.33

Unity and Multiplicity in Early Leibniz

With this background in place, I would like to turn to Leibniz’s early

philosophy in order to discern his conception of the relation between God

and the world and the role that unity and multiplicity play in that account.

Between 1668 and 1676, during the time he was developing the core fea-

tures of his metaphysics of substance, he was also enormously interested in

the Platonic philosophy. When he began to work on the relation between

God and the world, he turned to the Platonic model that he had learned as

a student in Leipzig. As he wrote in 1671: Plato’s Timaeus is “a specimen of

the most profound Platonic philosophy” because, with the Parmenides, “it

admirably accounts for the one and Being, that is, God” (A, VI ii 475).

So, what did Leibniz learn from his teachers? How does he conceive

the relation between God and creatures? In the very early works of the

mid-1660s, Leibniz says almost nothing about the relation between God

and the created world. In the texts written between 1663 and 1668, there is

neither serious discussion of the relation between God and creatures nor

extensive use of the Platonic metaphysics articulated above. Leibniz’s pri-

mary interest during the middle years of the 1660s was the wholesale re-

structuring of legal practice although he was also concerned to erect his

own mechanical physics. Leibniz mentions the divine Ideas in passing in his

university Disputation of 1663 (A, VI i 18), refers frequently to a variety of

86

Platonists during the period, takes notes on Platonist texts, but makes mini-

mal use of Platonic doctrines. We need not jump to conclusions however;

the young man had not shed the Platonism of his teachers. In the well-

known Dissertation on the Combinatorial Art of 1666, Leibniz briefly turns

to the topic of the relation between God and creatures in a way that dis-

closes his dormant Platonism. After the title page of the published text,

Leibniz presents some “corollaries” which are supposed to follow from this

combinatory art and which fall into four categories: logic, metaphysics,

physics, and practical. One of the metaphysical corollaries is: “God is sub-

stance; creature is accident” (A, VI i 229: L 75). Throughout the 1660s,

Leibniz uses the Latin term ‘accidens’ in a fairly standard scholastic way: an

accident is a non-essential property which can be said “to flow” from the

essence of the thing of which it is a property. Micraelius, for example,

writes in his Lexicon Philosophicum that an accidental property “flows from

the essential principles” although it is not “part of the essential consti-

tuents”.34 Leibniz’s use of this term in describing the relation between

God and creatures is important. It implies that creatures both flow from

God’s nature and reflect that nature, but do not do so necessarily. In other

words, the passage suggests that, during the time he was working on physi-

cal and legal topics, Leibniz accepted the Platonism of his teachers and sim-

ply had no reason to use it.

But he soon would. When Leibniz turns his attention to theological is-

sues, his Platonism makes its grand entrance. It is in the Catholic Demon-

strations
of the late 1660s where Leibniz first confronts the sorts of theolog-

ical problems that require a precise analysis of the relation between God

and creatures. In developing his views about this relation, he turns to the

Platonic model. The results are profound. It is in this context that Leibniz

begins to construct his metaphysics of divinity and to articulate for the first

time the notion of harmony at its core.

Prior to 1667, the only references to harmony that we find in Leibniz’s

papers appear either in legal and logical contexts (and have nothing to do

with metaphysics) or in the notes which Leibniz took on Johann Bisterfeld’s

book.35 In 1667, Leibniz asserts in a lengthy legal work that there is “an ele-

87

gance and harmony in the world that coincides with the divine will” (A, VI

i 344), but he does not develop this provocative idea. In his essay On Tran-

substantiation
, Leibniz presents for the very first time some of the details of

his metaphysics of divinity. Concerning the general relation between God

and creatures, he proclaims his account to be similar to “Plato in the

Timaeus about the world soul”, to “Aristotle in the Metaphysics and

Physics about the agent Intellect”, to the Stoics and others. Like these other

philosophers, he maintains that God is “diffused through everything”.36

Leibniz is fairly clear about how this diffusion occurs: God chooses “among

the infinitely really diverse Ideas” in his mind to create some so that “[t]he

substance of each [non-human] thing is not so much mind as it is an Idea

of a concurring mind” (511-12: L 118). For each non-human substance,

there is a corresponding Idea in God’s mind. As I argue elsewhere, these

Ideas play an important metaphysical role in this essay.37 What is important

for us here is that Leibniz conceives of each Idea as a product of God. In

some marginal notes, he refers to an Idea as “an act” of God (A, VI i 513)

and writes:

Ideas are the same thing as the Substantial forms of things. Ideas are in

God as an action is in an agent, as Creation is in God. If someone should

ask: Is an Idea a created thing or not? It should be reponded: Is a creature

a created thing or not? (A, VI i 510)

The relation between God and creatures articulated here conforms to the

interpretation offered of the “metaphysical corollary” in Dissertion on the

the Combinatorial Art.
The substances of non-human things are products of

God which flow from his nature and belong to that nature. The Ideas are

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distinct from one another, but they are all Ideas in God. In the Confession

of Nature Against the Atheists
Leibniz defines an action of substance as a

variation of essence. In On Transubstantiation, each Idea is a variation of

the essence of God and in that sense it “flows” from the divine nature.

However, even at this early stage, Leibniz is careful to insist that the

supreme being chooses which Ideas to create and that it do so among an in-

finite number of possibilities. But the underlying assumption here remains

that God’s essence is diffused through every created thing in the world. It is

this assumption that constitutes the fundamental idea in Leibniz’s original

notion of harmony. In this essay, the diversity (or variety) among created

substances arises from the fact that the Ideas are distinct; the unity (or iden-

tity) among them comes from the fact that they are all acts or emanations of

the same thing.

Besides On Transubstantiation, the most important theological text that

treats harmony is the Conspectus, an outline of Leibniz’s Catholic

Demonstrations, which includes a stunning array of theological and


philosophical topics. When Leibniz turns to the possibility of the beatific

vision in his outline, he writes: “the beatific vision or [seu] the intuition of

God, face to face, is the contemplation of the universal Harmony of things

because GOD or [seu] the Mind of the Universe is nothing other than the

harmony of things, or [seu] the principle of beauty in them” (A, VI i 499).

We need to proceed carefully here. Since the whole point of the Catholic

Demonstrations
was to avoid heresy and promote religious concord, we

should not read this passage as an heretical harangue. Leibniz is here dis-

cussing the topic of beatific vision and how it is that human beings might

come “face to face” with God. According to Leibniz here, the goal of hu-

man life is the recognition of harmony where that is the same thing as the

intuition of God: when we “contemplate the universal Harmony of things”,

we are face to face with the divine. In the writings of Plotinus, we find the

idea that the beatific vision is something like an intuition of how all things

are one. Leibniz suggests the same thing. The beauty or harmony in things

just is the supreme being who has made itself present in the various mani-

festations of itself.

But we need to do some explaining at this point. It is one thing to say

that God is diffused throughout the world, it is another to equate this di-

vine emanation with beauty and harmony. The use of such aesthetic criteria

is itself noteworthy. What does Leibniz have in mind? For an answer to this

question, we need to turn to Leibniz’s other major project during the late

1660s. At the same time that he was developing the metaphysical theology

of the Catholic Demonstrations, he was thinking about matters of ju-

risprudence. In a series of notes written between 1669 and late 1671 he in-

89

vestigates a wide range of theological, metaphysical, and ethical topics.

These texts, entitled Elements of Natural Law, treat a number of related

topics: human virtue and goodness, divine and human justice, and universal

harmony. That Leibniz would discuss such heady metaphysical topics in a

text about jurisprudence should not come as a surprise: in a published

work of 1664 he is quite explicit about the fact that “the greatest mysteries”

must be considered by the student of jurisprudence because unless such

things are known before hand one cannot judge properly about the just and

unjust. In this work of 1664, entitled Example of Collected Philosophical

Questions Concerning Law
, Leibniz proclaims that it is philosophy afterall

that sits “on the throne of wisdom” (A, VI i 73). It is not surprising there -

fore that the Elements of Natural Law contains brief solutions to some of

the grand philosophical questions in an attempt to construct the proper ba-

sis for an analysis of legal matters. The text also offers clues to his original

conception of harmony.

In the Elements of Natural Law, Leibniz describes the dominant feature

of God’s world for the first time as universal harmony which he defines

both as “diversity compensated by identity” (A, VI i 484) and as “identity

compensated by diversity” (477). He offers some important clues about

how he envisages the interrelation between the two parts of this notion.

The basic intuition here is that there is a single thing which underlies all the

diversity and to which it is all ultimately reducible. Leibniz writes: “There is

greater harmony when there is greater diversity, which nonethess is reduced

to identity. (For there cannot be grades in identity, but in variety)” (479).

But it does not follow from this fact that harmony is a function of variety.

Things must be various, but the unity underneath must be evident. He ex-

plains: “Variety delights but only when it is reduced to a unity”, it must be

“elegant, conciliatory” (484). About variety, Leibniz proposes that “identi-

cal propositions” are not pleasing “because [...] they conform too much” to

one another, as do rhythmic verses which return “to the same ending”. The

right sort of variety consists in the juxtaposition of the same elements in dif-

ferent ways. For example, to make a pleasing song “it is sufficient for the

last part of the ending to repeat with a changed beginning” and that the

“dissonances” be “brought into harmony in the end” (485). There is an

aesthetic criterion at work here where the beauty of an object is a function

of how much the elements of the same thing can be made to vary in subtle

ways while the unity or singleness of the thing remains evident. The basic

point seems to be that the harmony of the world is a function of the variety

of ways in which the same essence of God is diffused in the world while re-

maining recognizably the same thing. God is like an infinite melody played

in infinitely complex ways.

90

That this melody is recognizably the same, despite the diversity, is

crucial to Leibniz’s early proposals in ethics. He agrees with his Platonist

predecessors that the perfection of God is diffused in the world and

therefore that emanation or harmony plays an important moral function.

According to Leibniz in the Elements of Natural Law, the process of be-

coming a good person is that of stripping away the chaos and “constant

confusion of human affairs” and coming to grasp “the infinity” of God.

For the good person, “the dissonance” of things will be compensated

“through consonance”. From the contemplation of harmony, we will be

“lead away from all desire and sadness, and all other affections” until we

eventually “increase our admiration” of God (485). According to Leibniz,

“the Good is when harmony is understood thoroughly” (478); “once we

elevate our eyes to universal harmony” it becomes “obvious that every-

thing loves everything” (481). We can avoid the complications of the

moral epistemology here and direct our attention to the implied metaphys-

ical lessons. To oversimplify somewhat, in the Elements of Naturai Law,

the goal of life is to come to recognize that within all the enormous diver-

sity everything is fundamentally an emanation of God and hence that e-

verything is a proper object of love. In a letter to Antoine Arnauld of 1671,

Leibniz summarizes his position: “I am planning to treat the Elements of

Natural Law
in a short book in which everything will be demonstrated from

definitions alone. I define a good person [...] as one who loves all people

[...]; harmony as diversity compensated by identity. For variety always de-

lights us, once it is reduced to a unity...I show that it is the same thing to

love others and to love God, the seat of universal harmony (A, II i 173-174:

L 150).

At this point a summary is in order. In the late 1660s Leibniz was

working on a number of interrelated projects which required that he articu-

late for the first time his conception of the relation between God and the

world. For a model of that relation, the young man turned to the Platonism

of his teachers according to which a single, unified supremely perfect being

chooses to emanate its perfections into every part of the created world.

Leibniz’s original conception of harmony develops from that tradition. As

the texts presented above make clear, in Leibniz’s original conception of

harmony, the supreme being emanates or diffuses its essence into its pro-

ducts. Because those products are emanations of its essence, its unity is in

the world. In a note of 1671, Leibniz asserts that harmony “is the unity of

many things, that is, it is unity compensated by variety. Moreover God is

the one who is everything” (A, VI ii 283). In another text of the same year,

Leibniz asserts that “the origin [ratio]” of things will be “in Mind, that is,

in the one in the many. Therefore, [it will be] in Harmony, that is, in the

91

unity of many things, or [seu] diversity compensated by identity. Moreover

God is the one among everything”.38

Leibniz is explicit in the texts of 1668-71 that God is the unity in the

world; he is less so about the fact that God is the multiplicity in things. As

noted, he clearly maintains in his essay On Transubstantiation that it is an

Idea of God that constitutes the substantial nature of a non-human sub-

stance and moreover that each Idea is different from every other.39 It fol-

lows that the Ideas of God constitute the diversity among the non-human

substances of the world. In other words, despite the scarsity of explicit tex-

tual support, it seems clear that Leibniz took God to be the multiplicity as

well as the unity in the world. For someone as firmly rooted in the Platonic

tradition as Leibniz was, there was no reason to make an issue of this aspect

of the world. That the fullness of the being of God would make the world

as full and diverse as possible is one of the most fundamental of Platonic

tenets, as is the view that the resulting diversity is merely a manifestation or

emanation of God.40 Moreover, as we will see, it would not be long before

Leibniz does become quite insistent about the fact that God is the multi-

plicity in the world. This happens when he begins to combine his meta-

physics of divinity with his metaphysics of substance. He does this in

1676.

Soon after developing his account of the relation between God and

creatures, Leibniz went to Paris. Between his arrival in 1672 and the au-

tumn of 1675, Leibniz applied most of his enormous intellectual energies to

92

mathematics. One of the results of this intensive work was a break-through

on the development of the calculus in the second half of 1675. It was in the

spring of 1676 when Leibniz once again began to investigate seriously the

metaphysical relation between God and creatures. He elaborates on his ear-

lier account of God as unity and he develops more fully his conception of

God as multiplicity. Leibniz asserts that things are to God as properties are

to essence. He writes:

It can surely be said that all things are one, that all things are in God, in the

same way the effect is contained in its full cause [causa sua plena] and a

property of any subject [is contained] in the essence of that same subject.

For it is certain that the existence of things is a consequence of the Nature

of God, which brings it about that only the most perfect things can be

chosen (A, VI iii 370).

In another text, Leibniz writes:

There is the same variety in any kind of world, and this is nothing other

than the same essence related in various ways, as if you were to look at the

same town from various places; or, if you relate the essence of the number

6 to the number 3, it will be 3 x 2 or 3 + 3, but if you relate it to the number

4 it will be 6/4 = 3/2, or 6 = 4x3/2. So it is not surprising that the things

produced are in a certain way different (A, VI iii 523: P 83).

The multiplicity in the world results from the fact that the essence of God

is emanated or expressed in an infinity of ways. But he also maintains that

all things share the same essence, namely, the essence of God. He writes:

The attributes of God are infinite, but none of them involves the whole

essence of God, for the essence of God consists in the fact that he is the

subject of all compatible attributes. But any property or affection of God

involves his whole essence [...] But when all other attributes are related to

any attribute, there result modifications in it. Hence it comes about that the

same Essence of God is expressed wholly [expressa sit tota] in any kind of

World, and so God manifests himself in an infinity of ways [infinitis modis]

(A, VI iii 514: P 69-71).

There is no tension between unity and multiplicity as good-making criteria.

Unity is what God is as transcendent and perfect; multiplicity is what he is

as immanent. The reason the world is so good is because the essence of the

perfect One is expressed in the world in as many ways as possible.

Some of the passages quoted above and others like them in the papers

of De summa rerum have suggested to some scholars that during the period

of 1676-78 Leibniz was deeply influenced by Spinoza. The result of this in-

93

fluence is supposed to be that he became a pantheist. As Robert Adams

puts it in his recent book, Leibniz denied “the ontological externality” of

creatures.41 But Leibniz is no more a pantheist than is Plotinus. That is, this

is not pantheism, it is Platonism. He writes:

It seems to me that the origin of things from God is of the same kind as the

origin of properties from an essence; just as 6 = 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, there-

fore 6 = 3+3, = 3x2, = 4 + 2, etc. Nor may one doubt that the one ex-

pression differs from the other, for in one way we think of the number 3 or

the number 2 expressly [expresse], and in another way we do not; but it is

certain that the number 3 is not thought of by someone who thinks of six

units at the same time. It would be thought of, if the person were to impose

a limit after three had been thought. Much less does someone who thinks

of six units at the same time think of multiplication. So just as these proper-

ties differ from each other and from essence, so do things differ from each

other and from God
(A, VI iii 518 f: P 77; my emphasis).

The point here is that the attributes of the supreme being will be manifest

in any of its products. Since possible worlds and possible individuals are

products of God, each is an emanation of the divine essence. As Leibniz

concieves the relation now, the divine attributes of God will be manifest in

any of its products. But while the essence and being of the supreme being

emanate to its products, each creature is an inferior image or expression of

that essence and is not identical to it. Leibniz was not a pantheist during

the period of 1676-77 and what sounds like pantheism is seventeenth-cen-

tury Platonism.

We have arrived at Leibniz’s original conception of harmony. But it is

reasonable to ask at this point exactly what relevance this conception has

for his later thought. There are two points to make. First, Leibniz’s Platonic

conception of the relation between God and creatures developed hand-in-

hand with his Aristotelian conception of substance. I have argued elsewhere

that there is a theory of substance in the texts of 1668-70. For example, in

On Transubstantiation, Leibniz defines a substance as that which has its

own principle of activity and as a being which subsists per se.42 In Paris,

Leibniz defines substance in exactly the same way, but he also makes acti-

94

vity the source of harmony. In some essays written in 1672, he maintains

that individual created minds are the source of the harmony in the world.

As he emphasizes in the first few months of 1672, “nothing is more won-

derful in all of philosophy” than that from the activity of mind “follows

harmony, that is, diversity compensated by identity” (A, VI iii 57; also A,

VI iii 67, 101). In an essay entitled On the True Method in Philosophy and

Theology
written in the middle of his Paris stay, he claims: “every substance

is active and every active thing is called a substance” (A, VI iii 158). Not

only does Leibniz continue to describe minds as fundamentally active, even

during his so-called pantheistic period, he develops a version of what later

becomes his principle of the identity of indiscernibles. In a text of 1 April

1676, entitled Meditation on the Principle of the Individual, Leibniz makes it

clear that every finite thing has its own principle of activity or mind and

that no two minds are the same. Or, as he writes at the end of a text quoted

above: “So just as these properties differ from each other and from essence,

so do things differ from each other and from God” (A, VI iii 518f). It fol-

lows that finite things differ from one another because each has its own

unique mind and that each mind is itself a different expression of God’s

essence. Each mind has a principle of activity by means of which it can ex-

press that essence. God is transcendent from it and immanent in it.43

In short, according to my interpretation of Leibniz’s philosophical de-

velopment, beginning in the late 1660s and continuing throughout his ca-

reer, Leibniz’s most basic assumption about finite created substances was

that they were causally autonomous from God. The reason God gave every

substance its own principle of activity was so that it would be distinct. But

this distinctness amounts to no more than that each substance is just an-

other expression, among a multiplicity of expressions, of the oneness of

God. It is this idea that stands at the center of the philosophy of the Di-

scourse on Metaphysics and Leibniz’s later works. Leibniz does not use

the same language in the latter texts, but he persists in believing that God is

both the unity and multiplicity in the world. To cite only a couple of

texts:

In Discourse on Metaphysics 14 he writes that “Now, first of all it is very

evident that created substances depend upon God, who preserves them and

who even produces them continually by a kind of emanation, just as we

produce our thoughts. For God, so to speak, turns on all sides and in all

ways the general system of phenomena which he finds it good to produce in

95

order to manifest his glory, and he views all the faces of the world in all

ways possible...” (AG 46).

In Monadology, 47 he explains that “God alone is the primitive unity or the

original simple substance; all created or derivative monads are products,

and are generated so to speak by continual fulgurations of the divinity [...],

limited by the receptivity of the creature, to which it is essential to be limit-

ed” (AG 219).44

There remains much to be said about Leibniz’s many remarks concern-

ing unity and multiplicity in the world. I do not mean to suggest that the

brief analysis offered here will solve all the interpretive problems that arise

concerning such comments. It will not. But, by excavating Leibniz’s original

understanding of this two-part notion, I do hope to have placed such re-

marks in their proper philosophical context and to have offered a crucial

clue to their deciphering. That God is the unity and multiplicity in the

world is a fact about Leibniz’s metaphysics that has gone unnoticed for too

long.

1.
Nicholas Rescher, Leibniz’s Metaphysics of Nature (Dordrecht: 1981), 11. In the recent di-

scussions by Rescher and others, scholars have focused on those texts by Leibniz in which the

good-making criteria are described as simplicity or identity and diversity or variety. For my di-

scussion here, there is no significant difference between this terminology and that of unity and

multiplicity.
2.
See esp. David Blumenfeld, “Perfection and Happiness in the Best Possible World”, in N.

Jolley, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz (1995), 382-410; Donald Rutherford, Leibniz and

the Rational Order of Nature,
New York: Cambridge University Press (1995), passim. For citations

to other literature on the topic, see Rutherford and Blumenfeld.
3.
For example, in her recent book, Allison Coudert correctly identifies a number of Plato-

nic features in Leibniz’s mature thought and then assumes that the source of these ideas must be

the Cambridge Platonists in general and Francis Mercury van Helmont in particular. See Allison

Coudert, Leibniz and the Kabbalah (Boston: 1995). Daniel Fouke proposes that Leibniz acquires

his Platonic tendencies from the Platonism inherent in scholastics like Aquinas. See his “Emana-

tion and the Perfections of Being: Divine Causation and the Autonomy of Nature in Leibniz”, Ar-

chiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 76: 168-194. Some studies have taken seriously the relation bet-

ween Leibniz and ancient Platonists like Plotinus, but they have focused on Leibniz’s later thou-

ght and have not acknowledged the role Platonism played in his philosophical development. The

best of these studies remain Joseph Politella’s “Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Cabalism in the

Philosophy of Leibniz”, unpublished dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (1938);

and Rudolf Meyer’s “Leibniz und Plotin”, Studia Leibnitiana Supplementa V (1971): 31-54.
4.
Most scholars have agreed that the source of Leibniz’s Platonist tendencies was some

member of the so-called Cambridge Platonists, but they have disagreed about which member of

More’s wide circle most influenced Leibniz and when the influence occurred. To cite three exam-

ples, Coudert maintains that the relationship between van Helmont and Leibniz became impor-

tant in the late 1680s and that the former was the major source of Leibniz’s Platonism; Carolyn

Merchant thinks that it was Anne Conway who had the most significant influence and that it took

place in the 1690s; while Catherine Wilson argues that Ralph Cudworth was the Platonist who

most influenced Leibniz and that it began in 1689. See Merchant’s “The Vitalism of Anne Con-

way: Its Impact on Leibniz’s concept of the Monad”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 17

(1979), 255-269; Wilson’s Leibniz’s Metaphysics: A Historical and Comparative Study (Princeton:

1989), 160f.
5.
For the early publication, see A VI, ii 433-444; for the late, see GP IV 477-87: AG

138-145.
6.
See Christia Mercer and R. C. Sleigh, Jr., "The Early Metaphysics to the Discourse on Me-

taphysics", in N. Jolley, ed., The Cambridge Compamon to Leibniz, 67-123. For a more complete

account of that position, see my forthcoming Leibniz Metaphysics: Its Origins and Development

(Cambridge Unversity Press).
7.
See, e.g., Fouke, “Emanation and the Perfections of Being: Divine Causation and the Au-

tonomy of Nature in Leibniz”, 176.
8.
Marsilio Ficino had written about the Platonic philosophy that “all who desire to taste of

the most delicious waters of wisdom must drink from that perennial fountain”. See Ficino, Opera

(Basil: 1576), p. 1945.
9.
R. T. Wallis explains: “‘Neoplatonism’ is a term coined in modern times to distinguish

the form of Platonic tradition inaugurated by Plotinus [...] and lasting in its pagan form down to

the sixth century A.D. from the teaching of Plato’s immediate disciples (the ‘Old Academy’) and

from the Platonism of the earlier Roman Empire (‘Middle Platonism’)”. See Wallis, Neoplatonism

(London: 1972), 1. I follow P. Merlan who thinks that neoplatonism as a term is “misleading, in

that to some it may suggest a more radical difference between the philosophies of Plato and Ploti-

nus than is warranted”. See Merlan’s “Greek Philosophy from Plato to Plotinus” in A. H. Ar-

mstrong, The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge, En-

gland: 1967), 14-132, 14.
10.
E. K. Emilsson, “Cognition and lts Object” in Lloyd Gerson, The Cambridge Companion

to Plotinus
(Cambridge, England: 1996), 217-249, p. 245.
11.
See also Enneads: III.8.10.20-26; VI.2.11.9-18, VI.9.1.14. With some minor variations,

translations are by A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus: Enneads (Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1990).
12.
For a very helpful account of the intuition behind this notion of unity, see E. K. Emilsson,

Plotinus on Sense-Perception: A Philosophical Study (Cambridge, England: 1988), chapter 1.
13.
See A. H. Armstrong, “Plotinus”, The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medie-

val Phitosophy, 241.
14.
In the Timaeus there is the suggestion that the Forms are somehow in the intellect of the

creator who then models the things of the world on them, see 30c-d, 39e.
15.
At first glance, the idea of the supreme being choosing how to emanate itself seems ex-

tremely odd. After all, for Plato and Plotinus the basic idea was that it is the very abundance of the

being of the One that by its nature must overflow. From this perspective, it seems at least odd, if

not absurd, to think that the abundance of being could be controlled so that only part of it would

flow forth. As he did with so many other Platonic doctrines, Augustine cleverly interwove the

basic Platonic assumption and Christian doctrine. The result was a plausible creation story that

became a commonplace among Christian theists.
16.
Johann Reuchlin was a German student of Pico della Mirandola and the first full-fledged

modern Christian kabbalist. For a brief introduction to Reuchlin, see Moshe Idel, “Introduction

to the Bison Book Edition” and G. Lloyd Jones, “Introduction”, both in Johann Reuchlin: On the

Art of the Kabbalah,
trans. by Martin and Sarah Goodman (Lincoln: 1993). There is a good deal

of secondary literature written on Lull. For a basic introduction, see Francis Yates, The Art of Me-

mory
(Chicago: 1966).
17.
De posteritate Caini V. 14; trans. by C. D. Yonge, The Works of Philo (Peabody, Massa-

chusetts: 1993).
18.
The phrase ‘nonreciprocal dependence’ is used by O’Meara who summarizes his account

in the following way: “Reality is a structure of dependence, the posterior depending on the prior,

being constituted by the prior, incapable of existing ‘without’ the prior which can exist without it.

The prior is thus part of, or in, the posterior (as constitutive of it), just as the posterior is poten-

tially in the prior (as coming from it): causes are ‘in’ their effects and effects are ‘in’ their causes.

But while a part of the posterior, the prior is also apart from it as independent of it. Thus the

prior is both immanent in the posterior and transcends it: The One is ‘everywhere’ and ‘nowhere.’

As independent and as prior, the cause is different from the posterior, its effect, superior in per-

fection and more powerful: causes [which are prior ‘by nature’]...are superior to their effects.”

See Dominic O’Meara, “The Hierarchical Ordering of Reality in Plotinus” in The Cambridge

Companion to Plotinus
, ed. by Gerson, 66-81, p. 79.
19.
As Emilsson puts it in his Plotinus on Sense-Perception: A Philosophical Study, “It is an un-

derlying feature of Plotinus’ thought that the explanation of any feature must be in virtue of

something that possesses the feature in question in a ‘more perfect’ way than the thing to be ex-

plained” (14).
20.
For some of Plotinus’ comments on emanative causation, see Enneads, V. 1.6.37-39,

IV.3.10.32-42, V.5.9.1-10. The account of emanative causation offered here is based on but varies

slightly from the excellent discussion of Eileen O’Neill, “Influxus Physicus”, in Causation in Early

Modern Philosophy
, ed. by S. Nadler, Steven (University Park, Pa: 1993) 27-55. For more on ema-

native causation in Plotinus, see John Bussanich, “Plotinus’s Metaphysics of the One” in Gerson’s

The Cambridge Compamon to Plotinus, 38-65, esp. 46-58; and O’Meara, op. cit., sects. II, III.
21.
IV.9.5.1-7. See also 1.4.3.16-20. As these passages suggest, it is not obvious how Plotinus

will be able to individuate among souls. For a recent discussion of this problem in Plotinus and

references to other secondary literature, see Henry Blumenthal, “On Soul and Intellect” in The

Camhridge Companion to Plotinus
, ed. by Gerson, 82-104, esp. 84-85.
22.
For more on multiplicity, see III.8.9.3; IV.9.4.7-8; V.4.1.5-15; V.6.3.19-22; VI.9.2.31-2.
23.
For the spring semester of 1663, Leibniz visited the University of Jena where he studied

with Erhard Weigel whose works are also a mixture of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and other phi-

losophies. Unlike Thomasius and Scherzer, Weigel’s Platonism has been noted in the secondary li-

terature. See K. Moll, Der junge Leibniz (Fromann-Holzboog, 1978), Vol. I.
24.
Vade mecum sive manuale philosophicum quadripartitum (Leipzig: 1686), I, 52-53.
25.
Vade mecum..., I, 66.
26.
Trifolium orientale... (Leipzig: 1663), 123.
27.
Collegii Anti-Sociniani (3rd ed., 1702), 98.
28.
Collegii Anti-Sociniani, 131.
29.
Vade mecum, 53.
30.
Although I only discuss Thomasius’ Exercitatio de Stoica mundi exustione here, several of

his other works include long discussions of Platonism.
31.
Exercitatio de Stoica mundi exustione (Leipzig: 1676), 251-253.
32.
Exercitatio de Stoica mundi exustione , 189, 217f.
33.
For example, Leibniz often refers to the works of Athanasius Kircher and Johann Hein-

rich Alsted, both of whom he considers “most learned” (see e.g. A, VI ii 416, 420; A, VI i 74,

278), and both of whose works are full of discussions of Platonists and Platonism.
34.
For the various meanings of accidens in the period, see Micraelius’ Lexicon Philosophicum

terminorum Philosophis unitatorum
, Jena, 1653 and Rudolph Goclenius’s Lexicon Philosophicum,

Frankfurt, 1613 (repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1980).
35.
For the former, see A, VI i 184, 212, 360; for the latter, A, VI i 153, 158. Donald Ruther-

ford has rightly noted a similarity between Bisterfeld’s conception of harmony and that of Leibniz,

and has suggested there might have been a “direct influence” of Bisterfeld on Leibniz. It is highly

improbable that Bisterfeld was a major source for Leibniz’s own conception of harmony. There is

no doubt that Leibniz thought well of Bisterfeld’s book and that some of his ideas are quite like

those of the Herborn philosopher. But there is very little reason to believe that Bisterfeld was as

important as Thomasius, Scherzer, and Weigel in this regard. Leibniz hardly ever refers either to

Bisterfeld or to his book after 1671 and he never includes Bisterfeld in any of the lists of philoso-

phers who influenced him on these matters. See Rutherford’s Leibniz and the Rational Order of

Nature
(New York: 1995) for a discussion of Bisterfeld (36-40) and of harmony in general

(passim).
36.
Although part of the remainder of this provocative text is illegible, the gist of Leibniz’s

proposals seem clear. The relevant text in the Academy edition reads as follows (with the illegible

bits in the text marked with dots by the editors): “Ipse Plato in Timeo animam mundi, Aristoteles

in Metaphysicis et Physicis Intellectum agentem per omnia diffusum, Stoici Substantiam Mundi

Deum statuentes, Averroes Aristotelis Intellectum...propagans, Fracastorius et Fernelius Origi-

nem formarum...in hoc consentiunt omnes: Substantiam, naturam, principium...” See A, VI i

511. It is interesting that Thomasius compares these philosophical positions in his Exercitatio de

Stoica mundi exustione
, 215-216.
37.
I argue in chapter 6 of my forthcoming book that, among other things, these Ideas are the

predecessors of Leibniz’s notion of a complete concept.
38.
“Necesse est in cogitabilibus ipsis rationem esse cur sentiantur, id est cur existant, ea non

est in singulorum cogitatione, erit ergo in pluribus. Ergo omnibus. Ergo in Mente, id est uno in

multis. Ergo in Harmonia id est unitate plurimorum, seu diversitate identitate compensata. Deus

autem est unus omnia” (A, VI ii 283).
39.
In fact, in the essay, Leibniz brags about the fact that the account of substance there arti-

culated solves the problem of the individuation of substance. One of the most difficult questions

facing the interpreter of Aristotle is how the substantial form is supposed to make an individual a

thing distinct from all other individuals. Because Aristode’s texts are not clear on this issue and

because the answer to this question is important to any account of Aristode’s most fundamental

principles, the issue was hotly debated by the schoolmen. The latter differ on whether the form or

the matter or the union of the two is responsible for the individuation among substances. Accor-

ding to Leibniz in On Transubstantiation, the Idea differentiates the matter. See A, VI i 518. For a

thorough account of Leibniz on individuation, see Laurence C. McCullough, Leibniz on Indivi-

duals and Individuation
(Dordrecht: 1996).
40.
Already at this early stage we glimpse (1) a version of the principle of plenitude, where

the idea is that the world will be as full as possible, and perhaps (2) the principle of the identity of

indiscernibles, where the idea is that no two manifestations of God’s essence should be the same.

In other words, the assumption that the world will be as full as possible is closely related to the

view that no two things in the world will be identical. For more details, see Christia Mercer, Leib-

niz’s Metaphysics: its Origins and Development,
New York, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999, esp.

chapters 6 and 10.
41.
See Robert Adams, Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist (Oxford: 1994), 128. Mark Kul-

stad has also argued that Leibniz is a pantheist in his “Did Leibniz Incline toward Monistic Pan-

theism in 1676?”, International Leibniz Congress (1994), pp. 424-428.
42.
For a much more thorough discussion of the development of Leibniz’s original concep-

tion of substance, see Christia Mercer, Leibniz’s Metaphysicis, cit., chapters 3 and 4. For a more

thorough discussion of Leibniz’s relation to pantheism, see my “Leibniz and Spinoza on Sub-

stance and Mode”, Rationalists, ed. Derk Pereboom, Rowman and Littlefield, forthcoming.
43.
For the details of how this is supposed to work, see my forthcoming book, esp. chapters

6, 9-10.
44.
As Professor Heinrich Schepers has pointed out to me, fulgurations and emanations are

not exacty the same; but we can ignore the distinction here.


Christia Mercer . :

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