Contingency and Freedom in Leibniz's Metaphysics

Dissertation, The University of Rochester (1994)
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My dissertation is a study of Leibniz' theory of individual substances and several concomitant problems. These are the problems of substantial identity , contingency with respect to the existence and properties of individual substances, and how those individual substances which are also persons can be said to be free. ;In the first chapter, I begin with an overview of Leibniz' life, and of the historical and philosophical climate within which Leibniz thought and wrote. I then set the stage for subsequent chapters by discussing how Leibniz approaches his investigation of the nature of individual substances through a family of closely interconnected sub-theories; especially the containment theory of truth, and the theory of complete concepts. ;In the second chapter, I consider the case for reading Leibniz as committed to the doctrine known as "super-essentialism," according to which every property of an individual substance is essential to it. I defend the superessentialist reading against some recent criticisms; the first by Jan Cover and John Hawthorne, and the second by Robert Sleigh, Jr. In the process, I distinguish between several varieties of essentialism, and identify the sense in which Leibniz may properly be said to be a superessentialist. ;In the third chapter, I take up the problem of how propositions about individual substances can be contingent if Leibniz is, as is argued in the previous chapter, a superessentialist. Leibniz has several different, and apparently conflicting, theories of contingency, but saw these theories as grounded in a common base, viz., divine freedom. I argue that this grounding leads Leibniz' account of contingency into an apparently vicious circularity. ;In the fourth chapter, I continue to pursue the topic of freedom, now with respect to both divine and human actions. An asymmetry emerges in Leibniz' accounts of divine and human freedom. Leibniz attempts to provide an ultimate ground for freedom in reason. I argue that the attempt cannot succeed unless the asymmetry between human and divine freedom can be eradicated. I conclude that Leibniz' account of freedom cannot be reconciled with his commitment to superessentialism



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Eric Sotnak
University of Akron

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