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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: February 2013

4 - Phenomenalism and idealism II: Leibniz and Berkeley

from II - Idealism and early modern philosophy


Leibniz, like Malebranche, constructed a philosophical system that is both a Platonic and a phenomenalist idealism. For both Leibniz and Malebranche, God is the ground of Ideas, forms or, as Leibniz often calls them, possibles, and, at the same time, he is the only immediate object of perception. Leibniz claimed that his system could be seen as a development of Malebranche's and that it is to him that he owed his basic metaphysical principles (GM II.294; WFNS 56). However, Leibniz's system differs greatly from Malebranche's owing to his novel conception of substance. There is only one kind of substance in Leibniz's ontology, a reconceptualization of the Aristotelian substantial form, a true unity that he refers to as a “simple substance” or, in his mature metaphysics, as a monad. While Descartes defended the existence of God, extension and thought as three different kinds of substance, Leibniz defends the existence of an infinite number of substances, monads, all of the same kind, differing only according to the distribution of what Leibniz refers to as primitive passive power. In correspondence with the Cartesian Buchard De Volder, Leibniz attempted to highlight the similarity between his concept of substance and the Aristotelian conception by distinguishing between: “(1) the primitive entelechy, i.e. the soul; (2) primary matter, i.e. primitive passive power; (3) the complete monad formed by these two” (G II.252; L 530). A monad is a composition of forces, active and passive, and all monads share this composition except for God, who is the primitive uncreated monad, and who alone is without limitations and thus actus purus.

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