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Blank, Andreas. Leibniz: Metaphilosophy and Metaphysics 1666-1686.

BLANK, Andreas. Leibniz: Metaphilosophy and Metaphysics 1666-1686. Analytica. Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 2005. 207 pp. Cloth, $78.00--This volume consists of a set of eight distinct essays, with an appendix, some of which have been previously published. The work derives its unity from its subject, which is Leibniz's early metaphysics, together with the author's reflections on the method Leibniz uses to produce that metaphysics. Thus, we are far from considering Leibniz's thought as completely represented in the Monadology or Discourse on Metaphysics; the texts discussed in the work all predate these treatises. In fact, as his subtitle indicates, Blank restricts himself to what Leibniz produced starting in 1666, the date of the Dissertation on the Art of Combinations, and ending in 1686, that of the aforementioned Discourse on Metaphysics. This is the time from Leibniz's graduate education in Leipzig and Altdorf, through his first position with the Elector of Mainz and his journey to Paris, concluding with his establishment in Hanover. The philosophical highlights of this period are constituted by some fairly obscure works, including the treatise "On Transubstantiation" (1668), some dissertations on jurisprudence, together with Elementa juris naturalis (1666-69), the Preface to the edition of Nizolius (1670), the two-part physics of 1671, Theoria Motus Abstracti and Hypothesis Physica Nova, the Paris Period notes under the rubric De Summa Rerum (1675-76), some increasingly critical comments on Spinoza (1678 on), and "On the Method of Distinguishing Real from Imaginary Phenomena" (circa 1683-86).

Blank's various chapters touch upon all of the above essays. In Chapter 1, "Dalgarno, Wilkins, and Leibniz," Blank analyzes Leibniz's early views on the nature of metaphysical concepts from the perspective of Leibniz's responses to the artificial languages developed by George Dalgarno and John Wilkins; he claims that those artificial languages, including Leibniz's, are best understood as attempts to express structures of thought and reality and not simply as formal representations of basic definitions and axioms. In Chapter 2, "Definitions, Sorites--Arguments, and Justice," he argues that Leibniz's analytic theory of justice is based on definitions that are intended as explanations of our everyday concepts. In Chapter 3, "Ether, Mind, and Pneuma," he rejects the assertion that the ontology of Hypothesis Physica Nova construes material objects as collections of immaterial entities, emphasizing instead the role of analysis for Leibniz's conception of mind and matter; he claims that Leibniz achieves his notorious "momentary minds" by "searching for epistemically basic concepts that provide the categories to describe both the nature of mind and the nature of matter" (p. 80). In Chapter 4, "Confused Perception and the Union of Soul and Body," Blank explores the tensions in Leibniz's approach to corporeal substance. This is continued in Chapter 5, "Substance Monism and Substance Pluralism," where it is argued that there are two different concepts of substance at work in Leibniz's early metaphysics. Chapter 6, "The Response to Spinoza," contrasts the temporal structure of Leibniz's analysis of reflection with Spinoza's synchronic conception of ideas of ideas. The puzzling doctrine of "striving possible" substances is examined in Chapter 7, "Striving Possibles and the Cognitivist Theory of Volition." There Blank asserts that the doctrine "is closely connected with Leibniz's view that the laws of rational deliberation involve reasons that incline without necessitating" (p. 155), and that this governs both the Divine evaluation of possible worlds and the series of thoughts of human beings. Finally, in Chapter 8, "Rules as Instruments," Blank argues that the examination of rules as instruments of actions shows that there are two aspects to Leibniz's view of the nature of a calculus, namely, the usual formal one, but also a causal one that one starts with physical objects and everyday actions.

These chapters, in one way or another, all argue that Leibniz's philosophical method is best understood from the perspective of "descriptive" as opposed to "revisionary" metaphysics (using a dichotomy made famous by Peter Strawson). Why one would want to argue such a thesis is not made clear until the appendix, "The Emergence of the Logical Conception of Substance." There the target is the interpretation of complete concept, or logical conception, of substance by Louis Couturat (and by extension Bertrand Russell), which Blank concedes, "often is thought to provide strong evidence for the importance of a methodology that is both deductive and ... revisionary" (p. 177). Against this interpretation, Blank argues that, from the point of view of the earlier metaphysics, "Leibniz developed the logical conception of substance only after he had formulated most ingredients for a theory of individual substances" (p. 177). The point should be well taken, though one would have thought that we had already overcome the image of Leibniz the logician deriving his metaphysics from self-evident premises; it should be quite evident that Leibniz has basic commitments deriving from language, physics, and especially theology. Though the overall thesis seems to be fighting old ghosts, the actual work being done in each chapter is quite valuable.--Roger Ariew, University of South Florida.
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Author:Ariew, Roger
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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