I wonder if Leibniz, somewhere deep inside himself, had this overwhelming feeling of giddiness when he wrote “Primary Truths”?
While he couldn’t predict the future, something within the eternal truth of himself must have tingled with the thought of philosophy students—350 years later—reading his words. Some part of his subconscious swelling because the version of his perfected-self, the version that God decided would be best for the world, was one where he is to be echo throughout history and pop culture.
Ah, but Gottfried was modest; “every individual substance contains in its perfect notion the entire universe” (266). He’ll be the first to admit the profound nature of a leaf or blade of grass—and that his mind is no better than yours or mine.
I don’t know if I so much as agree with Leibniz, as much as I find him entertaining. Enjoyable. Thought-provoking. The father of fantastic fiction. The bold claim of “the complete or perfect notion of an individual substance contains all of its predicates, past, present and future,” begs you to ask for more. However, when you dip beneath the surface you find that he’s mainly playing a game of logical linguistics. He reaches his claim by explaining there are no extrinsic denominations. It’s not that we’re all that special, or the universe is dazzling and fantastic, but that everything falls into a category of necessary truths—and all inclusionary truths can be reduced to a primary truth. If we had the time or desire, we could eventually find the contingent truth of Sean in the vastness of the universe. “Truth, simply, is the predicate being ‘in’ the subject” (Forman).
Well, that’s disappointing. But of course, there’s more to it, for, there is a reason we continue to talk about inclusion theory. Leibniz continues to explain that the universe is intelligible; “nothing is without reason,” and “there is no effect without a cause.” Divine knowledge is this combined contingent of truths to infinium (and beyond), something us a priori thinking mortals could never comprehend or quantify. “Individual concepts contain the universe from a point of view, and God’s point of view is that without a particular perspective on the universe” (Forman).
Solid so far, but now we’re naturally curious of this divine being he speaks of. What is the extent of God’s power, particularly over the individual? “The notion of an individual substance includes once and for all everything that can ever happen to it and, by considering this notion, one can see everything that can truly be said about it” (230). Well, how come if this God is all-knowing and all-powerful and can see my (and every other thing’s) past, present, and future—why would God ever intentionally bring into existence someone with the capacity of committing evil? Leibniz believes that God only chooses the good and only creates the best possible world—so then explain Charlie Manson to me, G’Fried.
“But it seems this would eliminate the difference between contingent and necessary truths, that there would be no place for human freedom, and that an absolute fatalism would rule all our actions as well as all the other events of the world.” Yep… “To this I reply,” Leibniz continues, “that we must distinguish between what is certain and what is necessary” (230).
This is where Leibniz loses me and I feel he begins to argue his point because he’s good at arguing and not necessarily because he believes in what he is saying. To me, it seems Leibniz felt he had to save Western civilization (or Christian values) by being an equally controversial counterbalance to Spinoza. While the Church might not like either of them, at least Leibniz made a half-hearted effort to salvage man’s freewill. If God creates you knowing how you will act in the past, present, and future, and he brings the version of you into the world that is most likely murder people—how can you be held accountable for your actions? You were sabotaged from the start. God created you to kill people, you had no choice in the matter.
Leibnitz gets all lawyery with compatiblism and says something about the glove not being able to fit; “oh, no—while it was hypothetically necessarily for you to kill those people, you didn’t absolutely have to do it… even though you’d be completely going against your nature and the expression of your conception.”
According to Leibnitz, God didn’t “actually” create you to kill people, he just created the version of you that was certain to kill. Remember, you pulled the trigger with your own freewill. Your individual natural truth (*cough, soul) was inclined to murder due to same rules that binds the almighty and all-powerful God to simple arithmetic—you killing people was necessary because “this deduction occurs in the eternal truths, for example, the truths of geometry” (231). Which, as we all know, God has no business in messing with geometry. See, we’re all good—you could have, and should have, defied God and your nature and never committed those murders.
Now, I dare say, Leibniz gets a bit brash. Not only must we agree that some souls are marked for murder due to eternal truths—but that we must also not complain about it. He will allow us to grumble about why God would allow such a murderous soul on earth, but he has come up with a good reason for that too. “Because God is doing the best he can, guys.” God is good, God wants good, and God does only what’s best for this world… And sometimes killing some babies is what’s best—that’s why every generation needs a genocide. “God found it good that Judas should exist, despite the sin that God foresaw, it must be that this sin is paid back with interest in the universe, that God will derive a greater good from it, and that, in sum, the sequence of things in which the existence of that sinner is included is the most perfect among all the possible sequences” (242). Again, to be able to quantify and explain such a decision would require infinite considerations—something mere mortals are not capable of.
But wait, Leibniz has the other side of his mouth to talk out of: “But who is to blame? Can the soul complain about anything other than itself? All these complaints after the fact are unjust, if they would have unjust before the fact” (242). Again, it’s your own freewill that wasn’t able to defy God—even though it was him that foresaw your sin and exploited it for the greater good of the universe.
I feel that Leibniz continues to bury himself in a highly interesting, but utterly chaotic and hypocritical notion of man’s freewill. Leibniz debates Arnauld and maintains that “all human events occur out of hypothetical necessity… My assumption is not merely that God wanted to create an Adam whose notion was vague and incomplete, but that God wanted to create a particular Adam, sufficiently determined as an individual” (248). He then goes on to relate God to a basketball. The important part is that Leibniz throws in a dig at Arnauld; “I see that Arnauld has not remembered, or at least did not concern himself with, the view of the Cartesians, who maintain that it is through his will that God establishes the eternal truths…”
However, if our souls are eternal truths that can be flawed with sin, and God created the eternal truths—didn’t he then create the sin? And if he chooses to bring a sinning soul into the world, how is it the fault of the individual when he sins? I can’t seem to understand how Leibniz compatibilist freedom allows for any human freedom or freewill.
Leibniz, to me, is amazing for what he inspired—especially in regard to fiction—unlimited possible versions of oneself, an infinite number of worlds that could exist, a romantic view of destiny with the past, present, and future all being tied into one. And the thing is—he might be right. However, personally, I feel a lot like Dostoevsky and if God is the way Leibniz describes, I’d gladly return my ticket to the eternal because I cannot accept “the greater good.” The juice is not worth the squeeze.
Ariew, Roger, and Eric Watkins. Modern philosophy: an anthology of primary sources. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co., 2009. Print. GW Leibniz, Primary Truths. GW Leibniz, "Discourse on Metaphysis". GW Leibniz, "From The Letters To Arnauld".
Forman, David, Dr. "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz." PHIL 403/603: Early Modern Philosophy. University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas. 3 Apr. 2017. Lecture.