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The Monadology (La Monadologie, 1714) is one of Gottfried Leibniz’s best known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads.

Text Edit

File:Leibniz Monadology 2.jpg

During his last stay in Vienna from 1712 to September 1714, Leibniz wrote two short texts which were meant as concise expositions of his philosophy. After his death Principes de la Nature et de la Grace fondés en raison, which was intended for prince Eugene of Savoy, appeared in French in the Netherlands. Christian Wolff and collaborators published translations in German and Latin of the second text which came to be known as The Monadology. Without having seen the Dutch publication they had assumed that it was the French original which in fact remained unpublished until 1840. The German translation appeared in 1720 as Lehrsätze über die Monadologie and the following year the Acta Eruditorum printed the Latin version as Principia philosophiae. [1] There are three original manuscripts of the text: the first written by Leibniz and overcharged with corrections and two further emended copies with some corrections appearing in one but not the other.[2] Leibniz himself inserted references to the paragraphs of his Theodicy, sending the interested reader there for more details.

The metaphysics of The MonadologyEdit


The "monad", the word and the idea, belongs to the western philosophical tradition and has been used by various authors[3]. Leibniz, who was exceptionally well read, could not have ignored this, but he did not use it himself until mid-1696 when he was sending for print his New System[4]. Apparently he found with it a convenient way to expose his own philosophy as it was elaborated in this period. What he proposed can be seen as a modification of occasionalism developed by latter-day Cartesians. Leibniz surmised that there are indefinitely many substances individually 'programmed' to act in a predetermined way, each program being coordinated with all the others. This is the pre-established harmony which solved the mind body problem at the cost of declaring any interaction between substances a mere appearance, something which Leibniz accepted. Indeed it was space itself which became an appearance as in his system there was no need for distinguishing inside from outside. True substances were explained as metaphysical points which, Leibniz asserted, are both real and exact, mathematical points being exact but not real and physical ones being real but not exact[5]. Clearly, besides metaphysics, the developing of calculus had also provided some grounds for seeking universal elementary constituents. At the empirical level, use of the microscope also corroborated Leibniz's view. "Scientists have had great difficulties over the origin of forms, entelechies or souls" notes §74 of The Monadology [6]while displaying his synonyms for "monad".


The rhetorical strategy adopted by Leibniz in The Monadology is fairly obvious as the text

  • begins with a description of monads (proceeding from simple to complicated instances),
  • then it turns to their principle or creator and
  • finishes by using both to explain the world.

(I) As far as Leibniz allows just one type of element in the build of the universe his system is monistic. The unique element has been 'given the general name monad or entelechy' and described as 'a simple substance' (§§1, 19). Relying on the etymology of the Greek word (§48), Leibniz posits quantitative differences in perfection between monads which leads to a hierarchical ordering. The basic order is three-tiered: (1) entelechies (2) souls and (3) spirits. Whatever is said about the lower ones (entelechies) is valid for the higher (souls and spirits) but not the obverse. As none of them is without a body (§72), there is a corresponding hierarchy of (1) living beings and animals (2), the latter being either (2) non-reasonable or (3) reasonable. The degree of perfection in each case corresponds to psychic abilities and only spirits or reasonable animals are able to grasp the ideas of both the world and its creator.

(II) God is also said to be a simple substance (§47) but it is the only one which is necessary (§§38-9) and without a body attached (§72). Creation is a permanent state so "[monads] are born from one moment to the next by continual flashes of lightening from the divinity"[7]. Any perfection comes from being created while imperfection is a limitation of nature (§42).

(III) Composite substances or matter are "actually sub-divided without end" and have the properties of their infinitesimal parts (§65). Some understanding how this is possible has been provided by the recent development of fractals. A notorious passage (§67) explains that "each portion of matter can be conceived as like a garden full of plants, or like a pond full of fish. But each branch of a plant, each organ of an animal, each drop of its bodily fluids is also a similar garden or a similar pond". There are no interactions between different monads nor between entelechies and their bodies but everything is regulated by the pre-established harmony (§§78-9). Leibniz concludes that "if we could understand the order of the universe well enough, we would find that it surpasses all the wishes of the wisest people, and that it is impossible to make it better than it is — not merely in respect of the whole in general, but also in respect of ourselves in particular" (§90).

The simplicity of monads is the fundamental principle of the monad’s existence. And this characteristic is far too often overlooked. To first understand the nature of monads we must know why their existence is a necessity to our reality. Leibniz exemplifies a theory that creates a gap between the simple and the complex in this analogy: “The rainbow's colored bands are the appearance to us of a multitude of water droplets refracting different wavelengths of light". (Rutherford 374).  Leibniz offers an explanation to the unknown nature of our universe by stating that the existence of a complex thing is dependent on its simple parts. This creates a distinction bewtween the complex and the simple and its critical to understanding the how behind Leibniz logic. He uses this to argue that things in our reality are far too complex and that a simple piece to the puzzle is required. William Paley supports the claims this claim in his, Watch an the Watchmaker. “Suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place…. We perceive that several parts are framed and put together for a purpose.”(Paley) Paley’s analogy here, is a probabilistic argument that reveals the need for  a creator to build and create something so complex and functional. Applies the analogy to prove that our world is complex and thus it requires a creator.  With the distinction bewtween simple and the complex and the importance behind the necessity of the simple, we can apply this to monads. Our “created world consists only of monads and of things whose existence and properties can be explained in terms of monads” (Rutherford). In this example, Rutherford, a renowned scholar and contributor to The Oxford Handbook of Leibniz, reveals that the current reality that we live in, is broken down into individual monads.

When we think of complex things we often think of advanced multicellular ecosystems or our seemingly limitless galaxy, but Leibniz points out that everything we know is in fact complex. “There is nothing simple, in my opinion, but true monads which have neither parts nor extension" (Fifth Letter to Clarke, §24; GP VII 394/AG 333-4). Monads are the only explanation to our reality because they are the only truly simple thing. These sub units of time are simple because they are the basic perceptual units of our reality. Monads by nature only have two qualities, their perception and appetite. “I hold perception to be the representation of plurality in the simple, and appetite to be the striving from one perception to another” (Rutherford). The nature of appetites allows for complex things to exists because of the harmony between the perception of each monad (Rutherford).  And Appetites on the other hand, allow change to be present within the monad itself. All monads possess both qualities. Although one could argue that with this two qualities monads are no longer simple, ghe attributes must be present because first “If they didn’t have qualities they would not be real things” and second, “If they did not have differences in qualities than they would be no changes in the world- would make all matter the same” (Leibniz). Over all, Complexities create a requirement of simplicities, and Leibniz’s monads fix this requirement through their very nature.


Controversy in rationalism Edit

When it was written, the Monadology tried to put an end from a monist point of view to the main question of what is reality, and particularly to the problem of communication of substances, both studied by Descartes called mind-body dualism. Thus, Leibniz offered a new solution to mind and matter interaction by means of a pre-established harmony expressed as the Best of all possible worlds form of optimism; in other words, he drew the relationship between “the kingdom of final causes”, or teleological ones, and “the kingdom of efficient causes”, or mechanical ones, which was not causal, but synchronous. So, monads and matter are only apparently linked, and there is not even any communication between different monads, as far as they act according to their degree of distinction only, as they were influenced by bodies, and vice versa.

Leibniz fought against the Cartesian dualist system in his Monadology and tried to surpass it through a metaphysical system considered at the same time monist (since only the unextended is substantial) and pluralist (as far as substances are disseminated in the world in an infinite number). For that reason the monad is an irreducible force, which makes it possible for the bodies to have the characteristics of inertia and impenetrability, and which contains in itself the source of all its actions. Monads are the first elements of every composed thing.

Paradoxes Edit

Monads are manifest, since they are everywhere, and there is no extension without monads. They are, then, the plenum, that is to say, the condition of an infinitely dense universe, but nevertheless they are unextended. However, this doesn’t mean that they lack of any function (as far as they project and reflect force), matter (since they come with it) or that they are extended (considering that they don’t interact with anything in the world).

Extended matter would be the impenetrable quality of the unextended—the monad, without any doors or windows—as passively transmitted according to movements which, together with perception and apperception, compose action. In spite of that, a monad cannot remain placed in matter, which follows the monad itself, previously to the generation of matter in time. So, extension and monads coexist acausally by the means of a timeless creation, although they are reciprocally bound according to the appearances.

In brief, Leibniz states that matter is extended, but not only extended. It is, in addition, formed by unextended monads. Then, is matter both extended and unextended? No, accepting that, as far as monad constitutes matter, matter is nothing in itself[Why is this? Elaboration requested here. This is a rather weak attempt at creating a non-existent paradox(and can be analogized and reduced to the following sentence: matter has a form, and thought not (this is not to be confused with it being non-physical), exceedingly; thoughts exists in matter, thus matter is, but bound to be nothing but exactly: "thought", or at least not to be differentiable from matter, and must thus also be confined to the properties that be those of matter) created, presumably, merely for the sake of criticism, since there can be found at least one possible border in the virtual between the extended and the unextended, even though a border holds no functions, it marks a physical relation to at least two different locations, for since it is already given that there can be an extended part, object or substance in the physical, then is thus also given that at least one function exists for that object, namely; 1. Its creation, 2. It's destruction/reconstruction. Is it impossible for these skepticists to imagine an entity with principal parts that are lesser in functional potential, than that of its components in sum. Therefore, this criticism must have to be re-formulated, so that the meaning is changed in its predicative and linguistical functions, in order to work as a valid and proper argument, in short, two differentiable and principal functions, locations or entities can easily, and very aptly have at least one different property, despite possibly sharing theoretical infinite values]. Monad as an isolated being therefore represents the essence of German idealism.

Philosophical conclusions Edit

This theory leads to:

1. Idealism, since it denies things in themselves (besides monads) and multiplies them in different points of view. Monads are “perpetual living mirrors of the universe.”

2. Metaphysical optimism, through the principle of sufficient reason, developed as follows:

a) Everything exists according to a reason (by the axiom "Nothing arises from nothing");

b) Everything which exists has a sufficient reason to exist;

c) Everything which exists is better than anything non-existent (by the first point: since it is more rational, it also has more reality), and, consequently, it is the best possible being in the best of all possible worlds (by the axiom: "That which contains more reality is better than that which contains less reality").

The “best of possible worlds,” then, is that “containing the greatest variety of phenomena from the smallest amount of principles.” See fractal for a strong relationship.

References and notesEdit

  1. Lamarra A., Contexte Génétique et Première Réception de la Monadologie, Revue de Synthese 128 (2007) 311-323
  2. Leibniz G.W., La Monadologie, edition établie par E. Boutroux, Paris LGF 1991
  3. There is no indication that Leibniz has 'borrowed' it from a particular author, e.g. Giordano Bruno or John Dee, to mention just two popular sources
  4. Woolhouse R. and Francks R., Leibniz's "New System" and associated contemporary texts, Cambridge Univ. Press 1997
  5. New System §11
  6. Leibniz G., The Monadology translated by George MacDonald Ross, 1999; further references are given by paragraph number
  7. The French original uses the oxymoron "fulgurations continuelles" which betrays the uneasiness to offer a rational account cf. Scott D., Leibniz model of creation and his doctrine of substance, Animus 3 (1998)[1]
  • Nicholas Rescher N., G. W. Leibniz's Monadology, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991, [[]], [[]]
  • Savile A., Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Leibniz and the Monadology, Routledge (2000), [[]], [[]]

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