Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Leibniz, bodies and phenomena

Leibniz tells us that bodies are phenomena. He also tells us that phenomena are modes of monads. Now, the modes of monads are appetites and perceptions. But appetites and perceptions are identity-dependent on the monad that they are appetites and perceptions of. Your appetite or perception may be very much like mine, but it is numerically distinct from mine. But this seems to imply that the moon you see and the moon I see are numerically distinct. For the moon you see is a mode of you, and hence identity-dependent on you, while the moon I see is a mode of me, and hence not numerically distinct with the moon that is identity-dependent on you.

Something must go. The identity dependence of modes on the monad is central to Leibniz's argument against inter-modal causation: he insists that the same mode cannot have a leg in each of two monads. My suggestion is that what Leibniz should say, and maybe what he really thinks, is that real phenomena, like the moon, aren't modes of monads in the narrow sense that implies identity dependence, but are grounded in monads, and in that sense are modes of monads in the broad sense. Consider "the committee's opinion." This is grounded in the committee members' minds, but it is not identity-dependent on any one committee member: individual committee members can change their view while the committee is still "of the same mind."

Here is one way to make this go. The moon is a phenomenon and it has a two-fold ground. One part of the ground are monads having "lunar perceivings", like the one I had last night when looking through the telescope, and like the one I am now, according to Leibniz, unconsciously having. But the moon isn't just a lunar perceivings, because your lunar perceiving is distinct from my lunar perceiving. The other part of the ground is what unifies the lunar perceivings in different monads, and that is the monads that are elements (in Robert Adams' phraseology) of the moon. Your lunar perceiving represents the same lunar monads as my lunar perceiving does.

For Leibniz, as for Aristotle, being and unity are interchangeable. To have being, bodies need a source of unity. On this reading, there are two sources of unity in the moon: first, the perception of a monad, say you or me, unifies the many lunar monads that are being perceived; second, the lunar monads unify the perceptions of the many monads. There is no vicious circularity here.

This significantly qualifies Leibniz's alleged idealism. It sounds idealist to say that bodies are phenomena. But they aren't just any phenomena, they are "well founded" phenomena (to use Leibniz's phrase), and a part of what constitutes them into the self-identical phenomena that they are is the monads that are appearing in the appearance.

The above brings together ideas I got from at least two of our graduate students. Another move suggested by one of them is to take the unification of the lunar perceivings to happen through the complete individual concept of the moon which is confusedly found in all of the lunar perceivings. I think this, too, is a possible reading of Leibniz, but I think it makes for poorer philosophy, since I don't think there is any complete individual concept of the moon found in all lunar perceivings, except in the way that the concepts of causes are, by essentiality of origins, found in the effects.

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