Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Are monads in space?

It is often said that Leibniz’s monads do not literally occupy positions in space. This seems to me to be a mistake, perhaps a mistake Leibniz himself made. Leibnizian space is constituted by the perceptual relations between monads. But if that’s what space is, then the monads do occupy it, because they stand in the perceptual relations that constitute space. And they occupy it literally. There is no other way to occupy space, if Leibniz is right: this is literal occupation of space.

Perhaps the reason it is said that the monads do not literally occupy positions in space is that an account that reduces position to mental properties seems to be a non-realist account of position. This is a bit strange. Suppose we reduce position to gravitational force and mass (“if objects have masses m1 and m2 and a gravitational force F between them, then their distance is nothing but (Gm1m2/F)1/2”). That’s a weird theory, but a realist one. Why, then, should a reduction to mental properties not be a realist one?

Maybe that’s just definitional: a reduction of physical properties to mental ones counts as a non-realism about the physical properties. Still, that’s kind of weird. First, a reduction of mental properties to physical ones doesn’t count as a non-realism about the mental properties. Second, a reduction of some mental properties to other mental properties—say, beliefs to credence assignments—does not count as non-realism about the former. Why, then, is a reduction of physical to mental properties count as a non-realism?

Maybe it is this thought. It seems to be non-realist to reduce some properties to our mental properties, where “our” denotes some small subset of the beings we intuitively think exist. Thus, it seems to be non-realist to reduce aesthetic properties to the desires and beliefs of persons, or to reduce stones to the perceptual properties of animals. But suppose we are panpsychist as Leibniz is, and think there are roughly at least as many beings as we intuitively think there are, and are reducing physical properties to the mental properties of all the beings. Then it’s not clear to me that that is any kind of non-realism.

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