Disentangling Leibniz's views on relations and extrinsic denominations

Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (2):pp. 171-205 (2010)
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Most commentators agree that Leibniz advocates some version of a doctrine of the ideality or reducibility of relations, but there is considerable disagreement about what exactly this doctrine means. I argue that Leibniz’s views on relations are more complex than has been previously appreciated, and that, despite some ‘reductionist’ strands in Leibniz’s position, it is seriously misleading to describe him as a reductionist about relations without adding some important qualifications. The complexity of Leibniz’s views on relations tends to be obscured by the common assumption that they can be captured in one unified thesis, or a small number of closely related theses, and by the widespread neglect to take Leibniz’s division of reality into several ontological levels into consideration. I disentangle ten Leibnizian theses about relations, extrinsic denominations, and their relation to intrinsic denominations. Some of these theses express a kind of dependence of extrinsic denominations on intrinsic ones, and some of them can even be counted as articulations of a form of reductionism. But, overall, the general tenor of Leibniz’s position on extrinsic denominations remains non-reductionist.



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Anja Jauernig
New York University

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