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1.0 INTRODUCTION..........................................................................................................1

2.0 A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF LEIBNIZ..........................................................................2

3.0 LEIBNIZ AND MATERIALISM..................................................................................3

4.0 LEIBNIZ AND DUALISM...........................................................................................4

5.0 LEIBNIZ’S PRE-ESTABLISHED HARMONY...........................................................5

6.0 THE PRE-ESTABLISHED HARMONY: A CRITIQUE.............................................6

7.0 CONCLUSION..............................................................................................................8


The seventeenth century was a period of profound transformation in philosophy,

science and theology, and in the conception of human life. The scholastic philosophy of the

universities was challenged, and many themes still at the centre of philosophical debate were

initiated. It is at the centre of all these that Descartes’ through his Meditations introduced a

strong dichotomy between body and mind albeit also propounding an interaction between

them. This theory of dichotomy on one hand and its interaction on the other grasped the

attention of many philosophers if not all and has (and is) being grappled with by

philosophers worldwide either with a bid to support Descartes, to modify Descartes’ view or

even to invent their own radically different stance. Despite the differences inherent in the

theories that these philosophers have proffered to solve this Cartesian dichotomy, their

solutions/theories can be broadly grouped into two: materialist and non-materialist theories

on the mind-body problem. Without any prejudice to our aforesaid, it is apt to assert here that

there are nonetheless, some solutions to the mind-body problem that cannot be strictly

grouped under the materialist or non-materialist theories. It is among this group of theories or

solutions that the solution of Leibniz can be placed and rightly so. The philosophical import

of Leibniz under this group is enormous and thus, it is our aim in this work, to concisely

expose the solution he proffered to the mind-body problem and further give the implications

or consequences of his contributions. In other to execute this plan, we have chosen to briefly

discuss the background which produced Leibniz, his stance on materialism and on dualism,

the theory of pre-established harmony—his solution to the mind-body problem and then the

logical implications of his theory of pre-established harmony.


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in 1646 into a family of Bohemian origin at

Leipzig. It is recorded that his father was a professor of moral philosophy in the University of

Leipzig. Of the many books we used in our search on the life of Leibniz, one description of

the young Leibniz seems to be recurring and this is the fact that the young Leibniz is often

described as a precocious person.1 It will not be out of place to infer that Leibniz must have

tapped greatly from his father’s library—that which must have contributed greatly to his early

mental development. Apart from this, Bertrand Russell asserts that four successive influences

contributed to his education and these are: Scholasticism, Materialism, Cartesianism, and


Imbued with the spirit of discovery and that of method, Leibniz attained the status of a

respected philosopher, mathematician and statesman. Leibniz was considered a universal

genius by his contemporaries and his works encompasses not only philosophy and

mathematics but also law, diplomacy, theology, politics, history, philology and physics.

“With Descartes he shares the merit of having a more authoritative insight into the method

and value of mathematics and physics than any other philosopher of the first rank. And with

Hume he shares the honour of setting the stage for the rejuvenation of modern philosophy in

the critical philosophy of Kant.”3 Having contributed that which his lifetime permitted him

to, he died in 1716.


Before going ahead, we have deemed it fit to comment on Leibniz’s take on

materialism, one of the main groups that was and is still involved in the quest for providing

an answer to the mind-body problem. Leibniz was strongly against materialism. For Leibniz,

the realms of the mental and the physical form two distinct realms but though, not in a way
1 1 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy Vol. 4 (New York: Image Books, 1994), p. 264; Mary
Morris, Philosophical Writings by Leibniz ( London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1934), p. 1.
A precocious person is one who becomes developed or matured, especially mental, at an unusually early age.
2 2 Cf. Bertrand Russell, A Critical Exposition of The Philososphy of Leibniz ( London: George Allen & Unwin
Ltd, 1958), p. 5.
3 3 Mary Morris, Philosophical Writings by Leibniz (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1934), p. VII.
conducive to dualism. Leibniz was opposed to materialism since according to him, perception

and consciousness cannot be possibly explained mechanically, and, hence could not be

physical processes. A perception, for him, is a state whereby a variety of content is

represented in a true unity, perception cannot be brought about by that which is not a true

unity—that which is divisible and so, it follows for Leibniz that if matter is infinitely

divisible, matter cannot form a true unity; it cannot explain perception and this for Leibniz

consequently render materialism false. This system of argument by Leibniz has found even

strong adherents in contemporary philosophy since many contemporary philosophers have

objected to some versions of materialism on the basis of thought experiments like Leibniz's,

furthermore, experiments designed to show that qualia and consciousness are bound to elude

certain materialist conceptions of the mind are preponderant today. Leibniz further asserted

that materialism is false by using an analogy to show the impossibility of artificial

intelligence since no matter how complex the inner workings of a machine may be, nothing

about it reveals that what is running in it are the inner workings of a conscious being.


One would have ordinarily thought that a rejection of materialism by Leibniz should

have led him to an embrace of the Cartesian dualism but the opposite is the case since he

pours as much aversion on the Cartesian dualism as he did on materialism. According to the

Cartesian dualism, the world fundamentally consists of two disparate substances: extended

material substance (body) and unextended thinking substance (mind).4 Leibniz declared

dualism false on the grounds that the existence of genuine extended material substance is

actually not correct. For Leibniz, “being” and “one” are equivalent and in order for something

to count as a real being—a substance—it must be “truly one,” or an entity endowed with

genuine unity. Furthermore, he argues that for something to be genuine unity, it must be a

simple and indivisible entity. “Substantial unity,” he writes, “requires a complete, indivisible

4 4 Cf. Nicholas Bunnin and E. P. Tsui-James, The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, Second Edition
(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2003), pp. 650-651.
and naturally indestructible entity” (to Arnauld, 28 November 1686).5 But matter is extended,

and thus, Leibniz believes it is infinitely divisible. Hence, there is no such thing, for Leibniz,

as material substance.


Having rejected the materialist position by arguing that consciousness and thought

cannot be captured by purely mechanical principles and the dualist position by discrediting

their bifurcation of the universe into two different kinds of substances and the later

interaction of these two different kinds of substances, Leibniz went ahead to posit that that

which is consists solely of one type of substance, though there also exist infinitely many

substances of this one type. These substances are partless, unextended entities, some of which

are endowed with thought and consciousness, and others of which are found the

phenomenality of the corporeal world. Although Leibniz argued in favour of the existence of

only one type of substance as we have shown above, it is interesting that we note that he also

held that the mind and body are metaphysically distinct. What he meant by this metaphysical

distinction has been a debate over the years “but on any plausible interpretation it is safe to

assume (as Leibniz seems to have done) that for any person P, P’s mind is a distinct

substance (a soul) from P’s body. With this assumption in hand, we may formulate the

central issue in the form of a question: how is it that certain mental states and events are

coordinated with certain bodily states and events, and vice-versa?” It is to this poser that

Leibniz proffered his pre-established harmony theory in which he asserted that each created

substance is programmed at creation such that all its natural states and actions are carried out

in conformity with all the natural states and actions of every other created substance and it is

in accordance to this that he argues that what normally appear to us to be real causal relations

between mind and body are, in metaphysical reality, the mutual conformity or coordination of

mind and body with no interaction or divine intervention involved. Furthermore, in this

5 5 Mary Morris, Philosophical Writings by Leibniz ( London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1934), pp. XI-XV

theory of his, inter-substantial causality is denied and intra-substantial causality affirmed.

According to the former, no state of a created substance has as a real cause some state of

another created substance and according to the later, every non-initial, non-miraculous, state

of a created substance has as a real cause some previous state of that very substance.

It appears to us that one of the important motivations for Leibniz assertion of intra-

substantial causation is his account of substance. Leibniz defines a substance in terms of a

complete concept, that is, a concept which contains within itself all that will ever be true of

that substance. In view of this, the changes that occur in a substance are simply the result of

the unfolding of its complete concept, a process that occurs through the spontaneous activity

of the basic force of appetition that each substance possesses. Since each substance contains

all of its predicates within itself, there is no need for the causal activity of other substances

(i.e., no need for inter-substantial causation).6 This explanation reveals why it is fitting for

Leibniz to use the term "pre-established"; all the predicates that will ever be true of a

substance are 'pre-determined' or 'pre-established' in its complete concept. The "harmony"

Leibniz describes arises because God has created substances that mirror each other

completely in their internal changes.


Reading through Leibniz’s theory of pre-established harmony, we have come to

observe that his theory somewhat coheres with religion since it emphasizes God’s perfections

(for example, necessary existence, free agency, providence, power and knowledge). Flowing

from this theory is the belief of the existence of a God: a God that is brought in to solve the

problem in view. A critique to this would be that Leibniz brings a God, his supernatural pre-

establisher, to provide an explanation to the mind-body problem (Deus ex machina7 ). Thus,

the validity of his theory is dependent on the existence of this supernatural being whose

existence is even debatable among philosophers. Furthermore, it appears to us that even if

6 6 Cf. Mary Morris, Philosophical Writings by Leibniz ( London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1934), p. XI-XII
7 7 Peter Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy (1981), s. v. “dues ex machine.”
this necessary supernatural being of Leibniz exists, his theory may still not solve the problem

of interaction since this supernatural unextended being would still be presented to be the pre-

programmed causation of effects later observed and thus taking us back to the original

problem: where and how can an unextended substance interact with an extended substance?

Another thing which may falsify Leibniz’s claims would be a submission of his

theory to that which is known as the law of parsimony or Ockham’s razor for with this

methodological tool, Leibniz’s theory which introduces a third entity (that is, God) in its bid

to provide solution to the mind-body problem would be knocked out by theories with lesser


Again, we must note here that Leibniz’s rejection of materialism using the analogy of

the impossibility of artificial intelligence can be faulted for if he asserts that no matter how

complex the inner workings of a machine may be, nothing about it reveals that what is

running in it are the inner workings of a conscious being, then the question to him by

proponents of artificial intelligence may be: what are those inner workings of a conscious

being that cannot be exhibited by a machine?

Besides the above, Leibniz’s theory also seems compatible to the nature of human

beings since its denial of inter-substantial causation gives emphasis to the independence of

human beings from other creatures and its assertion of intra-substantial causation highlights

both the perfect spontaneity and the immortality of the soul.


Having perused through Leibniz’s theory of pre-established harmony, we can assert

here that no critical mind would deny Leibniz’s attempt to build a coherent system.

Nonetheless, we are of the opinion that Leibniz's Pre-established Harmony does not

satisfactorily explain the union of the mind and the body. In other words, Leibniz’s theory

does not clarify or solve the problem of interaction between the mind and the body

introduced by Descartes’ Meditations. If this is the case, then we can categorically posit that
despite the contributions of Leibniz’s pre-established harmony to the mind-body problem, the

problem remains unsolved.


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Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy Vol. 4. New York: Image Books, 1994.

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"" (12 Dec 2009)