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--- Working Draft – Please do not cite without permission Jeffrey K. McDonough Department of Philosophy Harvard University jkmcdon@fas.

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Leibniz’s Philosophy of Physics Although better known today for his bold metaphysics and optimistic theodicy, Leibniz’s intellectual contributions extended well beyond what is now generally thought of as philosophy or theology. Remarkably in an era that knew the likes of Galileo, Descartes, Huygens, Hooke and Newton, Leibniz stood out as one of the most important figures in the development of the Scientific Revolution. This entry will attempt to provide a broad overview of the central themes of Leibniz’s philosophy of physics, as well as an introduction to some of the principal arguments and argumentative strategies he used to defend his positions. The merits of Leibniz’s criticisms, contributions, and their relations to his larger philosophical system remain fascinating areas for historical and philosophical investigation.

1. The Historical Development of Leibniz’s Physics 2. Leibniz on Matter 2.1. The critique of atomism 2.2. The critique of Cartesian corpuscularianism 2.3. The passive powers of bodies 3. Leibniz’s Dynamics 3.1. A brief demonstration 3.2. The active powers of bodies 3.3. Forces and metaphysics 4. Leibniz on the Laws of Motion 4.1. Refuting the Cartesian laws of motion 4.2. A system of conservation principles 4.3. Absolute or relative motion? 1

5. Leibniz on Space and Time 5.1. Against Absolute Space and Time 5.2. Space and Time as Ideal Systems of Relations Bibliography Other Internet Resources Related Entries 1. The Historical Development of Leibniz’s Physics In his earliest days, Leibniz read a wide range of traditional works drawn from his father’s considerable library. Later he was formally educated at the University of Leipzig (1661-1666), briefly at the University of Jena (1663), and finally at the University of Altdorf (1666-1667). From these sources, Leibniz gained an early acquaintance with the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, as well as a taste of neo-platonic themes common in Renaissance humanism. By his own account, he quickly “penetrated far into the territory of the Scholastics,” and derived “some satisfaction” from “Plato too, and Plotinus” (G III 606/L 655). Although he consciously broke with the Scholastic tradition while still quite young, its doctrines clearly made a lasting impression on him, and served him both as a font of ideas and a readily available target of criticism. Indeed, one can justifiably see many of Leibniz’s mature doctrines as reactions – either positive or negative – to the Scholastic views that he first became acquainted with while still a student in Germany. According to his own recollection, it appears that Leibniz threw himself into the mechanical philosophy sometime around the year 1661. 1 In a well-known letter to Nicolas Remond, Leibniz – then in the twilight of his years – recounted his early conversion: After having finished the trivial schools 2 , I fell upon the moderns, and I recall walking in a grove on the outskirts of Leipzig called the Rosental, at the age of fifteen, and deliberating whether to preserve substantial forms or not. Mechanism finally prevailed and led me to apply myself to mathematics. (G III 606/L 655) Although we have no records of Leibniz’s work from the years immediately following his youthful adoption of mechanism, there is abundant evidence that by the late 1660’s,

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he had studied the writings of a wide range of mechanistic philosophers, 3 committed himself to the “hypothesis of the moderns, which conceives no incorporeal entities within bodies but assumes nothing beyond magnitude, figure, and motion,” 4 and had begun to search for ways in which to improve upon the mechanistic philosophy of his predecessors. 5 The early influence of natural philosophers such as Gassendi and Hobbes -whom Leibniz would later characterize as working in the Epicurean tradition – is particularly apparent in his first pair of systematic works written on motion. In the Theoria motus abstracti (TMA), dedicated to the French Academy in 1671, Leibniz introduces a set of abstract laws of motion (A VI.ii.261-276/L 139-142). At the heart of those laws is the Hobbesian notion of conatus, which Leibniz describes as “the beginning and end of motion,” and which he seems to conceive of as a tendency to motion in a particular direction. Leibniz argues that the motion of a body in isolation is determined entirely by its own conatus, and that the motions of colliding bodies are determined solely by the combination of their respective conatuses. In this way, Leibniz’s abstract theory of motion assigns no role whatsoever, with respect to the fundamental laws of motion, to the sizes or masses of material bodies. According to the TMA, a tiny pebble with a certain velocity striking a large boulder at rest would, under idealized conditions, continue to move with the boulder with the same velocity that it had initially. Leibniz, of course, recognized that the laws of motion sketched in the TMA are radically at odds with the testimony of everyday experience. After all, it would seem to be the case that if the world were governed by the laws of the TMA, it should be no more difficult to move a planet than a pebble. 6 Leibniz sought to close this gap between the fundamental laws and experience with the publication of his Hypothesis physica nova (HPN) also known as the Theoria motus concreti, which he also dedicated in 1671, this time to the Royal Society of London (A.VI.ii.221-257). In the HPN, Leibniz argues that the laws of the TMA yield the Huygens-Wren laws of impact when taken together with the contingent structure of the actual world. Central to Leibniz’s strategy is the idea that all bodies in the actual world are elastic due to a pervasive aether, and are composed of

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discrete particles. Although mass continues to play no foundational role in his applied system of physics, Leibniz is cleverly able to argue that larger bodies will generally be more resistant to motion due to the larger number of particles from which they are constituted. A pebble striking a planet will thus fail to have any significant effect because the pebble’s velocity is propagated to the planet not at a single blow but particle by particle; its motion is consequently diluted – and even reversed – as it is repeatedly summed with the velocity of each subsequent particle. In 1672, Leibniz was sent to Paris as part of a diplomatic mission where he stayed – short trips aside – for the next four years. His time spent in the intellectually vibrant French capital proved crucial to the development of his mature views in physics. While in Paris, Leibniz gained an expert’s knowledge of the mathematics of his time, embarked on an intensive study of Cartesian physics, and made contact with many of the leading natural philosophers of his day. In such fertile circumstances – which included tutoring by Huygens himself and direct access to Descartes’s unpublished notebooks – Leibniz quickly fashioned his own penetrating critique of Cartesian physics. As early as 1676, 7 he had found what he considered to be a fatal flaw in Descartes’s cornerstone conservation law, namely, that it violates the principle of the equality of cause and effect. When Leibniz published essentially the same objection in his Brief Demonstration of a Notable Error of Descartes’s and Others Concerning a Natural Law in 1686, it sparked a now famous dispute among natural philosophers that has become known as the vis viva controversy (GM VI 117-119/L 296-298). 8 For Leibniz the argument of the Brief Demonstration marked not only an important event in his understanding of the Cartesian system, but also a turning point in the development of his own distinctive physics. On the one hand, the argument of the Brief Demonstration forced Leibniz to rethink the foundations of his early theory of motion. For the charge of violating the principle of the equality of cause and effect that he leveled against Cartesians spoke at least equally well against the laws of the TMA and the HPN. The paradoxical result of the ideal laws of the

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TMA – that a tiny body moving with a given speed might impart the same speed to a relatively enormous body – appeared, at least intuitively, as an example of a potentially even greater increase in local force than anything allowed by Descartes’s rules of impact. Conversely, according to the phenomenal laws of the HPN, since the combination by impact of two conatuses can fall short, but never exceed, the strict sum of the conatuses of the two individual bodies, the total conatus present in the world must naturally decline over time – another violation of the equality principle. In short, in the argument of the Brief Demonstration, Leibniz found a devastating criticism not only of Cartesian physics, but also of Early Leibnizian physics. On the other hand, Leibniz’s embrace of the principle of the equality of cause and effect helped inspire his development of a series of ambitious positions that would collectively serve as the moorings of his mature physics. The failure of Descartes’s conservation law encouraged Leibniz to attach new significance to an alternative conservation principle that he had learned from Huygens by 1669 at the latest. 9 Leibniz came to see that if force is taken to be equivalent to the quantity of vis viva – rather than the quantity of motion as Descartes had implied – then, in cases such as those highlighted by the Brief Demonstration, no violation of the principle of equality of cause and effect need be tolerated. In subsequent works, including his Dynamica de Potentia et Legibus Naturae corporea (1689), Essay of Dynamics on the Laws of Motion . . . (1690), and Specimen Dynamicum (1695), Leibniz attempts to build on this discovery by suggesting further implications not only for the conservation of force, but also for the laws of motion and even the fundamental nature of physical bodies. Thus one can reasonably see in his devastating critique of the Cartesian conservation law the seeds of much of what is distinctive in his own mature physics. Although Leibniz continued to refine, develop, and extend his views on the laws of motion and impact, his work in the philosophy of physics was most prominently capped by his famous correspondence with Samuel Clarke – Newton’s parish priest, intellectual disciple, and possible mouthpiece. 10 The controversy began when the Princess of Wales passed along to Clark in 1715 a letter written by Leibniz decrying the decline of religion

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Not surprisingly then. and Clarke defending the view that space is something more like a container in which bodies are located and move. While Leibniz himself was attracted to such a conception of body in his early years. many of Leibniz’s arguments 6 . the letters are best known for the opposing views of space and time which they offer: Leibniz defending roughly the view that space is an ideal system of relations holding between bodies. early modern atomists generally affirmed that complex bodies are to be understood as being composed of naturally indivisible material atoms moving about in an independently existing space.in England inspired by the rise of Newton’s natural philosophy. with Clarke. In spite of this general sympathy. he eventually came to see atomism as deeply antithetical to his general understanding of the natural world. having the last word. and possibly weight. From the time of his youthful conversion in the Rosental. he was also one of the most penetrating critics of the dominant conceptions of matter in the mechanistic tradition. The critique of atomism Although there was much disagreement over details. Among the many topics covered in the correspondence. 2.1. Clark responded in Newton’s defense and a series of five letters and replies were exchanged. This section looks first at Leibniz’s critiques of the two most important of those conceptions before turning to his own positive account of the passive powers of bodies. The increasingly detailed and pointed exchange ended only with Leibniz’s death in 1716. in the historical sense at least. however. Such atoms were commonly held to lack all but a few basic properties such as size. Leibniz on matter Leibniz’s views on the nature of matter are subtle and layered. 2. Taking place against the backdrop of a bitter dispute over the priority of the calculus. he remained broadly sympathetic to the explanatory project of the new mechanical philosophy and its ambition to explain natural phenomena in terms of matter and motion rather than in terms of a wide range of irreducible formal natures. shape.

again.. it would follow that there would be a change through a leap. and therefore must have parts. 11 One such argument highlights a tension between Leibniz’s principle of continuity – according to which “no change happens through a leap” – and the common assumption that material atoms must be perfectly hard and inflexible..” That principle. this contains. lose their force. both determinate and hard. an instantaneous change. without passing through the intermediate steps. inflexible atoms would violate the principle of continuity since – being unable to flex or give – their directions and speeds would have to change instantaneously upon contact. Leibniz insists that continuity presupposes elasticity.against atomism attempt to show how common atomist commitments conflict with central principles of his mature natural philosophy. the analysis proceeds to infinity” (SD.. Leibniz draws the inevitable conclusion that all bodies must be elastic. and furthermore . He thus concludes that “no body is so small that it is without elasticity. Another line of argument offered by Leibniz against material atomism highlights a tension with what might be called his “principle of plentitude. unless we assume that the bodies come to rest immediately after the collision. contrary to the central thesis of atomism. Rather.. (SD II. and instantaneous change from motion to rest. Taking for granted this supposed perfect hardness and inflexibility.. that is. grounded 7 . there are no elements of bodies . a change through a leap. Leibniz argues that the collision of any two atoms would lead to a discontinuous change in nature: [I]f we were to imagine that there are atoms. beyond the fact that it would be absurd in other ways. and that elasticity in turn presupposes having parts that can move relative to one another. Given that the original argument can be invoked no matter how small the colliding bodies.. Tacitly rejecting the possibility that continuity could be preserved by action at a distance. that is. nor are there little solid globes .45/AG 132-133). bodies of maximal hardness and therefore inflexible. that is.II.3/AG 132) Leibniz’s suggestion here is that collisions between perfectly hard. For at the very moment of collision the direction to the motion reverses itself.

there is no space wholly empty.” In the Principles.in Leibniz’s broader theological and metaphysical views. Concerning these propositions. God could have placed some matter in it without derogating. maintains that existence itself is good. but especially intriguing line of argument takes off from a position defended by Descartes in his Principles of Philosophy and touches on Leibniz’s work on the so-called “Labyrinth of the Continuum. therefore.377-378/AG 332). I lay it down as a principle that every perfection which God could impart to things. and (iii) such circular motion presupposes the “infinite. that every motion in filled space involves circulation and that matter must somewhere be actually divided into parts smaller than any given quantity” (L 393). division of the various particles of matter” as they adjust and shift to accommodate a continuous flow around bends and through narrows (AT VIIIA. A third. Leibniz approvingly remarks. He thus draws the characteristic conclusion that “The least corpuscle is actually subdivided in infinitum and contains a world of other creatures which would be wanting in the universe if that corpuscle were an atom. from all other things. therefore. all is full. Naturally. or indefinite.59/CSM 1:239). 8 . the world could still contain more variety. therefore. a body of one entire piece without subdivision” (G VII. For. Leibniz argues. but also against the possibility of simple indivisible atoms themselves. richness. namely. and being if they were more finely divided. has actually been imparted to them. Leibniz uses the principle of plentitude not only to argue against the atomists’ postulation of empty space. in any respect. without derogating from their other perfections. “What Descartes says here is most beautiful and worthy of his genius. somewhat obscure. no matter how small one imagines atoms to be.378/AG 332) Interestingly. that is.. Now let us fancy a space wholly empty. and as a consequence God creates as much being as is consistent with the laws of logic and his own moral goodness. as long as they are reckoned internally simple and homogenous. he has actually placed some matter in that space. Leibniz sees the principle of plentitude as being inconsistent with the existence of a barren void or interspersed vacua: [T]o admit the void in nature is ascribing to God a very imperfect work . Descartes had argued that (i) the world is a plenum.. (ii) all motion in a plenum must be circular. (G VII.

While mechanistic physics appeals to exact shapes like cubes. Leibniz maintains that every part of matter is everywhere moving. But Leibniz is not done. Similarly. the actual infinite division of matter reveals that these can be at best approximations of the shapes of real bodies.ii. he argues that Descartes’s initial considerations lead not “merely” to the conclusion that there are no smallest bodies. but furthermore show that strictly speaking no determinate shapes can be ascribed to bodies at all. rather than apparently restricting the infinite division of matter to some select moving parts.60/CSM 239) Leibniz pushes for a stronger conclusion.But whereas Descartes had insisted only on the “indefinite” division of “merely some part of matter” (AT VIIIA. for Leibniz. nor other perfect shape will ever be found in body. One will always find there inequalities to infinity. but every part of matter is divided to infinity (Levey 1998. of course. namely. 6. I uphold another paradox.565f. spheres and hooks. 112) 12 Although how to best interpret Leibniz’s arguments for the ideality of exact shape – and indeed how to best interpret his admittedly paradoxical conclusion – remains open for debate. [W]ith respect to shape. . but in the thinker. sufficient to rule out any standard picture of material atomism since any body that might lay claim to being an indivisible atom would itself be actually subdivided into smaller sub-bodies. the general idea here seems clear enough. Thus. . that there is no shape exact and real. Dismissing Descartes’s cautious “indefinite division” as “being not in the thing. For the shapes of real bodies must – again at best – be infinitely complex since they are everywhere divided into bodies actually distinct in virtue of their differing accommodating motions. Sleigh 1990. it is nonetheless not 9 . not only are some parts of matter actually infinitely divided. Although Leibniz’s conclusion is especially bold and enigmatic. (translated.264). nor parabola.” he takes the argument to show that every part of matter is actually infinitely divided (A VI. 6.58f).3. Even more radically.3. fn6)! The actual infinite division of all matter is. and so the sort of accommodation envisioned by Descartes must occur everywhere (A. and that neither sphere. That comes about because matter is actually subdivided to infinity. .

In order to better appreciate Leibniz’s line of reasoning here. 2. Nonetheless he was equally concerned to rebut the Cartesian account of matter according to which the whole essence of matter is extension – that is. But if bodies were wholly and essentially passive. or that God acts directly to bring about the lawful regularities that are observed in the world. Leibniz. The critique of Cartesian corpuscularianism Leibniz allied himself with Descartes and most later Cartesians in opposing material atomism. The first of these arguments presses on the relationship between the nature of matter and the laws of motion. Leibniz maintains that the first horn is inconsistent with the true laws of motion. in effect. they would necessarily be entirely indifferent to motion.untypical for him in suggesting that mechanism carefully thought through points towards a radically different underlying metaphysical reality. argues that the thesis that the whole essence of matter is extension saddles Cartesians with a dilemma: they must either hold that the laws of motion are grounded in the nature of extension. while the second horn leads to the untenable postulation of perpetual miracles. Behind Leibniz’s rejection of the first horn lies the assumption that if bodies were nothing but matter. it will perhaps best serve our purposes to focus on three especially important arguments all rooted in the guiding idea that the notion of extension is simply too impoverished to provide an intelligible foundation for physics.2. and matter nothing but extension. it might be worth unpacking a little his thinking with respect to each horn of the dilemma. and consequently they would obey radically different laws of motion than the ones we actually observe: If there were nothing in bodies but extended mass and nothing in motion but change of place and if everything should and could be deduced solely from these 10 . the thesis that matter is something like geometrical extension made concrete. Although Leibniz characteristically offers a wide range of arguments against the Cartesian identification of matter with extension. then bodies would be wholly and essentially passive. Leibniz reasons.

) For Leibniz.definitions by geometrical necessity. his second horn is thus much harder to resist than one might have otherwise supposed. for Leibniz a miracle occurs when a creature performs an action that does not flow from its own natural powers. Thus. however. it would follow .. that upon contact the smallest body would impart its own speed to the largest body without losing any of this speed. might seem to simply put greater pressure on the second horn of Leibniz’s dilemma. and so bodies could obey laws of motion not grounded in their own natural powers only through the advent of a perpetual miracle. then the laws of his abstract theory of motion would hold. while nonetheless continuing to hold that if matter were indifferent to motion. and thus that it would take no more effort to budge a boulder than a bobby pin. bodies must not be indifferent to motion. Leibniz thus concludes that since his early laws of motion do not govern actual bodies. of course. (DM 21/AG 53-54) There is. such a view is equivalent to conceding that the laws of nature hold by dint of divine miracle since “properly speaking. God performs a miracle when he does something that surpasses the forces he has given to creatures and conserves in them (Letter to Arnauld. 30 April 1687. For. in his early theory of motion Leibniz himself held that bodies offer no resistance to being moved. 11 . as we noted above.. and that consequently they do not – as Leibniz seems to assume – follow from the nature of body as such. and we would have to accept a number of such rules which are completely contrary to the formation of a system. of course. G II 93/AG 83). If Leibniz’s understanding of miracles is granted. In his later works. but rather from the nature of God (AT VIIIA 61-62/CSM 1:240). and thus must not be – as Descartes had maintained – simply bits of geometrical extension made real. All of this. some irony in Leibniz’s argument here. Leibniz rejects the ideal laws of motion that he had espoused in the TMA. Descartes himself implies that the laws of motion follow inexorably not from the nature of matter. however. (Indeed. For it might seem that it is open to Descartes’s defenders to maintain that the laws of motion are the result of God’s direct decree.

and a cloud are to be explained not by appeal to intrinsic differences in the elements that constitute them. One might thus imagine – incorrectly of course – that the hardness of ice depends only on water molecules being at rest with respect to one another. it might be supposed that the qualitative differences between a block of ice. nor by appeal to the density of their elements in space.Leibniz’s second argument focuses on the ability of Cartesian physics to account for qualitative variety in the world. The thesis that the whole essence of matter is extension blocks Descartes from holding that matter is itself intrinsically diverse as well as from supposing that matter is differentially distributed in empty space. then it must be qualitatively homogenous over time as well. and there is no motion in an instant. For if the world is qualitatively undifferentiated at each instant. and the etherealness of a cloud only on water molecules moving with an extreme relative speed. the fluidity of water only on water molecules moving with respect to one another at a moderate speed. To take an example friendly to Descartes. Clearly recognizing the constraints imposed by his reductive account of body. that is. but rather in terms of the relative speeds holding between those elements. 13 The second step of Leibniz’s argument charges that if the world is qualitatively homogenous at every instant. Leibniz’s ingenious attack on this Cartesian model of qualitative variety proceeds in two steps. then every instant will be qualitatively identical. it follows that in a Cartesian world there could be no qualitative variety at an instant. but rather in the way in which the parts of bodies move relative to one another. a puddle of water. that “All the variety in matter. depends on motion (Principles 2:23/CSM 1:232). Descartes elegantly maintains that all qualitative variety is to be grounded in the motion of bodies. and thus whose projection would not only be homogenous at each instant. all the diversity of its forms. 12 . the two steps taken together imply that a Cartesian world would be like a filmstrip whose every frame was blank. but through time as well. To use an anachronistic analogy. The first step charges that motion alone is unable to account for qualitative variety at an instant: since all qualitative variety in the Cartesian system depends on motion. Qualitative variety amongst bodies for Descartes thus appears to be grounded not in the intrinsic natures of bodies or their parts. and so the world as a whole will not undergo any qualitative change as it passes from one instant to the next.

according to Descartes’s physics the only principle available to unite bodies – at least as they are studied by physicists – is motion. it would still not be a unity per se. substantial unity. indivisible unities. since. and creatures that are mere accidental unities. Again. “what is not truly one being is not truly one being either” (G II. then by the independence criterion. The unity criterion implies a distinction between creatures that are true. takes issue with the implication that Cartesian bodies – or at least Cartesian matter taken as a whole – might be on a metaphysical par with created minds. No body whose essence is simply extension could therefore be a genuine created substance according to Leibniz. the parts will be more fundamentally real than the wholes which they compose. But this. or “aggregates. Leibniz insists that independence and unity are marks of true substances. and so must be composed of parts. Leibniz argues that the bodies of Cartesian physics fail to meet the standards for created substances twice over. every Cartesian body must be extended and divisible. On the other hand. especially important in connection with Leibniz’s more general metaphysics. as he famously puts it in a letter to Arnauld. and thus would not be “truly one being either” (G II 76/AG 79). Leibniz maintains. drawing on a principle integral to his metaphysics. With his two criteria in hand. is sufficient by itself to show that Cartesian bodies are not fundamental created entities: for if every Cartesian body is composed of parts. Thus measured either by the standards of the independence criterion or the unity criterion. Cartesian bodies can be shown to be not fully real in the deepest sense available to created beings.97/AG 86). Even if an army were to always march in perfect step. But it is clear that Leibniz thinks that the sort of unity that might be provided by mere common motion is insufficient for genuine. First. it might be helpful to see Leibniz’s thinking here as proceeding in two steps. Leibniz sees not only an important contrast with human minds – which as 13 .A third argument. In this thought. and derivative creatures that depend not only upon God but upon the existence of created substances as well.” Leibniz maintains that only the former have a rightful claim to being genuine created substances. For on the one hand. The independence criterion suggests that we can usefully distinguish between created substances that depend upon only God for their existence.

510/AG 161). and thus predicts that under idealized conditions it should be no harder to move something massive than something miniscule. the physics of the TMA assigns to bodies no resistance to motion. 2. and not merely. Leibnizian natural inertia is a force which is opposed to motion itself. as Newton held. Thus.partless simples are plausibly independent and unified – but also another indication that mechanistic physics must itself rest on a deeper metaphysical reality quite different from the “manifest image” with which we are familiar from everyday experience. that bodies must always admit of intrinsic variety. “natural inertia. so that it is not indifferent to motion and rest. his critique of the Cartesian conception of matter implies that the properties of bodies are not limited to their passive powers. . and be infinitely divisible. or forces. Leibniz comes to argue that. In distancing himself from this early view. Leibniz maintains that a body in motion in the absence of any countervailing active force will naturally come to rest. Nonetheless. to changes in velocity. his critique of atomism already suggests that Leibnizian bodies must always be flexible or “soft” to some degree. as is commonly believed. indeed. In short. while Newton maintains that no active force is required to keep a body moving with a constant velocity under idealized conditions. following Kepler. (1) As we noted above.3. which he attributes to bodies as they are studied by the physicist. 14 fill every region of the natural world. . 14 . for example. which he calls. So.” Significantly. but requires more active force for motion in proportion to its size” (G IV. Leibniz came to maintain that bodies have an intrinsic power resistant to motion. we should be able to get an even better grip on Leibniz’s positive conception of matter by looking more explicitly at four passive powers. in fact. matter “resists being moved through a certain natural inertia it has . and that ordinary physical objects such as desks and chairs must be ontologically dependent upon a deeper level of metaphysical reality. The passive powers of bodies Much about Leibniz’s own positive conception of matter as it is studied by physics can be gleaned from his criticisms of his predecessors. Likewise. be infinitely divided.

might be perfectly solid (i.e. it could be the case that a body’s solidity is “due to a body's having a certain reluctance – but not an unconquerable one – to share a place with another body. into which each of them fitted tightly. Leibniz argues. if space were full of small cubes. “solidity”]” (NE.) In the New Essays. iv). (An egg and a baseball differ not only with respect to their “natural inertia” and impenetrability. [the matter] would resist just because of its sheer impenetrability [i. Ch. at least conceivable that two bodies might be forced to overlap in much the same way that we generally imagine bodies and regions of space to mundanely coincide (NE. as it were. Leibniz rejects the Cartesian suggestion that impenetrability simply follows from the property of a body’s being extended. In attributing solidity to bodies. For. For . The first.” and thus he implies that it is. there would be resistance even if there were no inertia or manifest impetus. Book II. a point he illustrates by noting that “if two bodies were simultaneously inserted into the two open ends of a tube. impenetrable) and yet not hard. namely firmness or the bonding of one body to another. however. (3) In addition to the (relatively) basic powers of natural inertia and solidity. Because of this bonding. Leibniz writes: But now a new element enters the picture. fluid [or “soft”] it might be. Leibniz goes on to further distinguish solidity from hardness.(2) In addition to offering resistance to motion. Ch.e. a hard body would encounter resistance to its being moved 15 . This bonding often results in one’s being unable to push one body without at the same time pushing another which is bonded to it. He suggests that whereas solidity concerns the ability of a body to resist being collocated with another body. . iv). Leibniz thought it essential to bodies that they resist mutual collocation – they must be at least to some degree “solid” or impenetrable. so that there is a kind of traction of the second body. Thus a body. according to Leibniz.” concerns the ability of a body to resist being scattered or torn into pieces. under impact. Having distinguished solidity from extension. Book II. . hardness concerns the ability of a body to resist changing its shape or structure. for example. which we might call “firmness” or “cohesiveness. Leibniz recognizes two further derived passive powers of bodies. but also with respect to their ability to hold themselves together. the matter which was already in the tube.

and therefore it cannot be separated from the nature of that which is diffused . for example. 16 . Leibniz thus grants that while extension is to be ascribed to the bodies of physics. as. whiteness is in milk. in effect. because their parts were bonded together – would be difficult to split up finely enough to permit circular movement in which the position being evacuated by the moving body would at once be refilled by something else. malleability or specific gravity or yellowness is in gold. iv) Although Leibniz recognizes “firmness” as an important passive power attributable to bodies. of more basic forces.. In an informative piece dated to 1702...e. (NE Book II. Leibniz could hardly deny that bodies as they are studied by physicists are extended.. . extension itself is to be understood as a repetition.52/AG 136). like many other mechanists. it follows that whenever the same nature is diffused through many things at the same time. he was reluctant to posit the existence of primitive attractive forces in nature (SD II. paragraph 35/Alexander 66). Even while arguing against the Cartesian thesis that the whole essence of matter is extension.. extension is said to have place . Leibniz intriguingly suggests that extension – far from constituting the whole essence of matter – is not even a basic property of bodies.among them. or if one prefers. it is obvious that extension is not an absolute predicate. that they have the property of extension. From this.. Nonetheless. turn the Cartesian understanding of mater on its head: whereas.. This is because the little cubes – just because they were hard. but is relative to that which is extended or diffused. He thus insists that firmness is a derived passive power of bodies since “we should not explain firmness except through the surrounding bodies pushing a body together” (SD II. i. Leibniz writes: . for example. see also Leibniz’s Fifth Letter to Clark.52/AG 136.. Leibniz’s radical suggestion would. it is not to be treated as a basic or fundamental property of matter. since extension is a continuous and simultaneous repetition . and resistance or impenetrability is generally in body. (G IV. (4) A final passive property of bodies might go without mention if not for the special twist that Leibniz puts on it. I believe that the nature of body does not consist in extension alone . or distribution. . Rather.393f/AG 251). Descartes attempted to explain solidity in terms of extension. Ch.

15 17 . This general conservation principle. According to which God is Said Always to Conserve the Same Quantity of Motion. for example. we must consider that there is the same quantity of motion in each part. Descartes argues that “if one part of matter moves twice as fast as another which is twice as large. In the short piece fully and tellingly entitled A Brief Demonstration of a Notable Error of Descartes and Others Concerning a Natural Law. in turn serves as the foundation for his three laws of motion as well as his rules of impact.117-119/L 296-302). Leibniz publicly attacked Descartes’s conservation principle and thereby the foundations of Cartesian physics (GM VI. Leibniz’s Dynamics One of the cornerstones of Leibniz’s mature physics is to be found in his thesis that the bodies studied by physicists must be viewed not only in terms of passive powers and motion. a Law which They also Misuse in Mechanics. This section sketches Leibniz’s chief physical argument for the postulation of active forces and then looks respectively at the roles that active forces play in his mature physics and how they are related to his deeper metaphysics. we must suppose that some other part of equal size speeds up by the same amount” (AT VIIIA 61/CSM 240). So. but only deceptively straightforward. which Descartes takes to be grounded in God’s immutable nature. 3. Descartes had argued that the quantity of motion in the world remains constant. at Principles 2:36.Leibniz proposes to explain extension in terms of solidity – a body isn’t solid because it is extended. where the quantity of motion of a body is determined by its speed times its size. it is extended because it has the ability to exclude other bodies! 3.1. The central argument of the Brief Demonstration is ingenious and elegant. A Brief Demonstration In his Principles of Philosophy. and Leibniz continued to develop and expand upon its central theme for many years after its initial public presentation in 1686. but also active forces. and if one part slows down.

Since by the second premise the force of the two bodies is equal. Using these four premises. a falling body traveling a distance of one meter in one second will travel four meters in two seconds. Leibniz concludes that quantity of motion is an inadequate measure of force. etc. (2) The amount of force a one pound body acquires by falling from a height of four meters is equal to the amount of force a four pound body acquires by falling from a height of one meter. he argues that Descartes’s quantity of motion is not an adequate measure of force.e. Its quantity of motion = 1 m/s X 4lbs = 4 units. and the quantity of vis viva of the one pound brick falling from a height of four meters = (2 m/s)2 X 1 lbs = 4 m/s X 1 lbs. (3) Galileo’s Law: the distance traveled by a falling body is directly proportional to the square of the time it falls (i. the quantity of vis viva of the four pound brick falling from a height of one meter = (1m/s)2 X 4 lbs. Thus if force is measured by the quantity of vis viva rather than the quantity of motion the equality of the force acquired by the one pound body 18 . but their quantities of motion are unequal. Leibniz attempts to establish three principal conclusions. d = at2 where a is a constant). to illustrate.At the heart of Leibniz’s main line of argument lie four premises: (1) The amount of force a body acquires in virtue of falling from a certain altitude is equal to the amount of force that would be required to raise that same body to the same altitude. and sixteen meters in four seconds. To see this. 16 (4) The total amount of force in the world is conserved both locally and globally with the result that there is always as much force in a cause as in its effect. suppose that a four pound brick falls from a height of one meter in one second. Second. = 1 m/s X 4lbs = 4 units. For. First. By Galileo’s Law it follows that a one pound brick dropped under similar circumstances will travel four meters in two seconds (since the distance traversed is proportional to the square of time). nine meters in three seconds. = 4 units. The quantity of motion of a one pound brick falling through a distance of four meters therefore = 2 m/s X 1lbs = 2 units. so. Leibniz is similarly able to argue that the quantity of vis viva (mv2) is an adequate measure of force.

however. having been raised to a height of four meters. To see this. 3. From the status of the principle of equality of cause and effect. With respect to metaphysics. Leibniz took the principle of the equality of cause and effect to be a necessary truth. falls on the end of a teeter-totter imparting a motion to a four pound brick on the other end. The first. 17 It is important to note that the fourth premise plays a crucial role not only in Leibniz’s proof. Third. one methodological. suppose that a one pound brick. it is clear from the preceding demonstrations that the quantity of vis viva but not the quantity of motion will be conserved (since the quantity of motion has decreased from 4 units to 2 units). he took the derivation of the conservation of vis viva as confirmation of the utility – indeed the practical necessity – of considerations of divine teleology in making scientific discoveries even in the domain of physics. That being the case. however. and thus he argued that the elegance of the laws of nature provides evidence of God’s benevolent design of the universe. and 19 . but also in the larger picture of what he takes his proof to show.during its four meter fall will be equal to the force acquired by the four pound body during its one meter fall. Later. Physics and active forces In his important summary of his dynamics – generally known by its Latin title “Specimen Dynamicum” – Leibniz distinguishes between two kinds of active force. he came to hold that it is only hypothetically or morally necessary – a contingent feature that must nonetheless be found in the best of all possible worlds. Early in his career. Leibniz in turn drew two important conclusions. With respect to methodology.2. one metaphysical. he took the contingent status of the principle of equality of cause and effect to be evidence that the laws of motion and force are themselves contingent. Now if the amount of active force is conserved – if there is as much force in the effect as in the cause – then (by the first premise) the brick should be raised to a height of one meter. Leibniz is further able to argue that the quantity of vis viva rather than the quantity of motion is conserved.

. In addressing this fairly obvious worry. Leibniz maintains that vis viva is conserved both locally in particular cases of impact. vis viva. the collision of two lumps of clay. or the power a baseball has once released from a pitcher’s hand. when. 18 The fact that collisions between actual bodies are never perfectly elastic represents a prima facie objection to the conservation of vis viva. It is thus lost in the sense that it does not contribute to the motion of the larger bodies. two billiard balls. He then argues that the apparent loss of vis viva in cases of inelastic collision is to be attributed to the fact that living force has been transferred to the smaller parts of the gross bodies in a way that does not contribute fully to the motion of the whole. Indeed. raise itself up to a given height or impart a motion to a slower body. . say. or “living force. or two scoops of ice cream. . we might think of it as the “force” that a bowling ball. say. or two steel spheres. as a whole. in non-elastic collisions it appears that much – even all – of the active force of the colliding bodies as measured by mv2 may be lost. Although the law looks tolerably accurate if we consider the collision of. But this loss . For that which is absorbed by the minute parts is not 20 . and globally in the created world taken as a whole. the vis viva a body is able to transfer to another body through impact must be equal to the measurement of vis viva it loses during that impact. for example. . some force is absorbed by the parts.) As note above.” represents for Leibniz a measure of a body’s ability to bring about effects in virtue of its motion. Leibniz returns to the idea that any body – no matter how small – must be composed of infinitely many smaller bodies. say. does not detract from the inviolable truth of the law of the conservation of the same force in the world. “when the parts of the bodies absorb the force of the impact. The living force a body expends in raising itself to a given height must therefore be equal to the living force it gains by falling from that height. Leibniz therefore insists. It is an active force which allows a moving body to.most important. but it is nonetheless conserved in the deeper sense that it is still present in the motion of the smaller bodies from which the larger bodies are constituted. In the context of his physics. it seems woefully off if we consider. . is of course vis viva itself. I say. as when two pieces of rich earth or clay come into collision . . (Intuitively. has in virtue of its falling with a given speed. it is as good as lost .

“solicitation. But when we are dealing with impact. but only a solicitation to motion. so we might think of vis mortua as a measure of the force a body has to bring about motion even while at rest.238f/AG 121f) From this passage and surrounding texts. as it were. . 20 It is therefore worth noting that although he could hardly deny the technical achievement of Newton’s 21 . by confusing the laws of statics with the laws of dynamics. living force is related to dead force by an infinite summation. and the force by which a stretched elastic body begins to restore itself. and also the force of heaviness or centripetal force.” although it also appears in connection with the titles. since motion does not yet exist in it. An example of dead force is centrifugal force itself. the measure of dead force approaches very closely the measure of force more clearly at work in Newton’s Principia. and Leibniz repeatedly suggests that Cartesians have indeed been misled into maintaining the conservation of quantity of motion. (GM VI. On some persisifications of Leibniz’s texts.” In spite of their correlative labels. an infinite accumulation of individual instances of vis mortua. Vis viva is.” “conatus. . the notion of dead force appears to be less carefully worked out by Leibniz than the notion of living force. First. or from a bow that has already been restoring its shape for some time. dead force is thus more immediately related to the study of statics than to the study of dynamics. we can glean three central ideas Leibniz associates with the notion of dead force. or at an instant. which arises from an infinity of continual impressions of dead force. . 19 Third.230/Langley 670). Second.” and “impetus. . the force in question is living force. or from a similar cause. In the Specimen he tells us: One force is elementary which I also call dead force. although it is lost for the total force of the concurrent bodies” (GM VI. as with . a stone in a sling while it is still being held by a rope.absolutely lost for the universe. just as we might think of vis viva as a measure of the force a moving body has in virtue of its being in motion. In his Specimen. Leibniz terms his second postulated active force “vis mortua” or “dead force. which arises from a heavy body which has already been falling for some time. .

. everything happens mechanically. and specifically his apparent postulation of a universal force of gravitation. however. see also Leibniz’s fourth paper to Clark. . unfortunately. . measure.” Leibniz writes: It is. mutual love. For. and returned to uninformative scholastic accounts that rested content with the postulation of primitive powers. indicated in the passage above. That physics which explains everything in the nature of body through number. On the negative side. weight. However. but only insofar as we understand that they are not primitive or incapable of being explained. elastic. as if matter had senses. as it were. It is permissible to recognize magnetic. On the positive side. . And it has been observed that in our own times there was a real suggestion of this view among certain of our predecessors who established that the planets gravitate and tend toward one another. in physics. because of a certain aversion toward light. (G VII. while nonetheless improving upon the work of those such as Huygens. by 22 . In a polemical piece whose title has been translated as “Against Barbaric Physics. Newton had abandoned the intelligible explanations of the mechanical philosophy.337-339/AG 312=313. . people love to be returned to darkness. It pleased them to make the immediate inference that all matter essentially has a God-given and inherent attractive power and. or as if a certain intelligence were given to each part of matter by whose means each part could perceive and desire even the most remote thing. Descartes and Galileo.masterpiece. paragraph 45/Alexander 43) The grounds for Leibniz’s negative reaction to Newton’s conception of force. that is. this physics seems excessively clear and easy. are various and complex. and other sorts of forces. Leibniz was nonetheless eager to distance his own thinking about force from that of his great rival’s. his own conception of force could preserve the intelligibility that was the great hallmark of mechanism. and so teaches that. One especially important theme. concerns what conception of force should be allowed to operate in the study of physics. intelligibly. Leibniz thought that by postulating what he understood to be an irreducible force holding between bodies and acting at a distance. our destiny that. but arise from motions and shapes. or size. . the new patrons of such things don’t want this. shape and motion. Leibniz thought that by treating forces as inherent powers of bodies tied inextricably to their ability to move and be moved.

there is no denying that Leibniz sees his distinction between active and passive primitive forces as being in some way analogous to the distinction between Aristotelian form and matter.236-237/AG 119- 23 . its most important distinction with respect to metaphysics is between what Leibniz calls “primitive” and “derivative” forces. they are metaphysically secondary to primitive forces. Although the topic of the relationship between derivative and primitive forces quickly takes us away from Leibniz’s treatment of physics and into the heart of his metaphysics. and he speaks of the former as being “modifications” or “limitations” of the latter (GM VI. the active and passive forces he postulates not only render physics itself more accurate and consonant with reason but at the same time set the stage for its intelligible grounding in his own deeper metaphysics.3. 3.Leibniz’s lights.236/AG 119). He holds that while derivative forces are of primary interest to the working physicist. he tells us that “primitive [active] force (which is nothing but the first entelechy) corresponds to the soul or substantial form [of the scholastics]” while “the primitive force of being acted upon or of resisting constitutes that which is called primary matter in the schools” (GM VI. It is widely accepted that Leibniz’s primitive forces are supposed to serve as the intelligible metaphysical grounds for the forces that are of concern in physics. Thus in the Specimen. Leibniz’s understanding of dynamics becomes inextricably bound up with his more thoroughly metaphysical views to which we must now briefly turn. it should be worthwhile to at least call attention to this interface where what we are inclined to think of as Leibniz’s physics so clearly bumps up against – indeed overlaps with – what we are inclined to think of as his metaphysics. and more specifically that active derivative forces are to be grounded in active primitive forces while passive derivative forces are to be grounded in passive primitive forces. Forces and Metaphysics If the most important distinction of the Specimen Dynamicum with respect to physics is between active and passive forces. In this way. Furthermore.

.118/Garber 1998. about which it may be said in general of them all that they are living. with each of those organisms being composed of further organisms. 294) Thus. Organisms strive and are acted upon at the most basic level of ontology. or at least bodies endowed with a basic entelechy or . Although Leibniz’s 24 . the block of wood that is pushed up an inclined plane. the derivative forces studied by physicists would be grounded in the active and passive natures of the organisms from which they are composed. and his explicit invocation of the Aristotelian notions of form and matter. one cannot fix on a part so small that there are no animate bodies within. and those strivings and passions serve as the ground for the active and passive derivative forces examined.120). . in collisions between elastic spheres. etc. (G II. As Daniel Garber – the reading’s most influential defender . or the ball dropped from a leaning tower must be composed of infinitely many organisms. that is to say corporeal substances. According to this picture. big bugs which contain smaller bugs. as it were. For I believe rather that everything is full of animate bodies . . all the way down (1985. . and that since matter is endlessly divisible. “Where. which contain smaller bugs still. it has been suggested that in his middle years Leibniz held to an essentially Aristotelian ontology according to which the fundamental level of reality is occupied by organisms composed of substantial forms and matter. What has remained less certain is the question. These organisms therefore must in some way be counted as more ontologically basic than the gross bodies which they compose. it is “a world whose principal inhabitants are corporeal substances understood on an Aristotelian model as unities of form and matter. with a vital principle. for example. according to Leibniz. his talk of corporeal substances. organisms of a rudimentary sort. 29).puts the view. does Leibniz think active and passive primitive forces are located?” The answer to this question is complicated by Leibniz’s embrace of the seemingly fantastic thesis that the gross bodies studied in physics are to be understood as being composed of infinitely many organisms: I am very far removed from the belief that animate bodies are only a small part of the others. Drawing on his commitment to panorganicism.

which are “wellfounded” on the active forces of monads.panorganicism remains striking. corporeal substances. or “monads. especially from his middle years. Leibniz suggests that at the deepest level of ontology. mind-like substances. or “monads. Gross bodies are grounded in organisms. According to this metaphysics. likewise holds for forces: the active forces attributed to gross bodies are “well-founded” in the active forces attributable to organisms.” This same chain of ontological dependence. The “bugs all the way down” model is not. the gross bodies studied by physicists are at least twice removed from monadic reality. 4. In his most mature works.” while corporeal substances are themselves grounded in simple substances. the content of those laws. It is thus not surprising that Leibniz held strong views concerning the justification of the laws of motion. Leibniz on the Laws of Motion The laws of motion held a privileged place in the mechanical philosophy of the early modern period. however. this picture promises a rather elegant account of the foundations of Leibniz’s physics. which in turn are “well-founded” on the passive forces of monads. just as the passive forces attributable to gross bodies are “well-founded” in the passive forces attributable to organisms. the only model of fundamental metaphysics that one can find in Leibniz’s writings. Nonetheless. however. insofar as they are active. as well as a fuller account of the “grounding” relations involved. even this rough sketch should suffice to indicate the broad outlines of Leibniz’s commitment to founding the active and passive forces he postulates as part of his physics in the most fundamental level of reality which he postulates as part of his most mature metaphysics. A full understanding of these grounding relations would of course require a more detailed explication of the relations between monads. Leibniz insists that monads can nonetheless be thought of as unities of form. and gross bodies.” Although strictly indivisible. or “corporeal substances. and matter. and their implications for 25 . insofar as they are passive. and squares tolerably well with many of his texts. Together with bodies they served as the chief explanatory postulates of the new physics. we find only truly simple.

the moving body’s determination remains the same.65/CSM 1:242) Significantly. Descartes maintains that in such situations. Descartes held that material bodies are governed by three laws of motion and seven rules of impact (AT VIIIA 62-71/CSM 1:240-245). But if it has more. In thinking about Leibniz’s positive views on the laws of motion. The second kind of case occurs when a moving body with a given power for proceeding collides with another body that has a lesser power for resisting. changes only its determination.the epistemology and metaphysics of motion. (AT VIIA. and that the moving body carries the resisting body along with it in such a way that their shared total quantity of motion remains the same.1. then it moves the other body with it. and taken together constitute Descartes’s formulation of the principle of inertia. 26 . 4. if it has less force for proceeding in a straight line than the other has to resist it. The first kind of case occurs when a moving body with a given power for proceeding collides with another body that has a greater power for resisting. Refuting Cartesian Laws of Motion In addition to maintaining that the quantity of motion in the world is conserved. 21 The first two laws in the Principles concern the movements of bodies in isolation. Descartes maintains that in such situations the moving body’s direction or determination is altered. but that nonetheless the quantity of motion for each of the colliding bodies remains the same. it might prove once again helpful to first look at his reasons for being dissatisfied with the account offered by Descartes. and retaining its motion. The seven rules further spell out the implications Descartes takes his laws of motion to have for more specific cases of impact. and gives the other as much of its motion as it itself loses. the third law thus distinguishes between two kinds of cases that Descartes believes to be importantly different. then it is deflected in another direction. The third law in the Principles regulates the behavior of bodies colliding under idealized conditions: When a moving body comes upon another.

the principle of continuity according to which continuous changes in inputs should lead to continuous changes in outputs. and the difference between the assumptions in the two cases. for example. According to Descartes’s Third Rule.46). do not agree with each other. the difference between such inequality and a perfect equality. for example. namely.Although Descartes’s laws of motion go beyond his conservation law in placing further constraints on the directions of bodies. as an example. but B will continue its motion. Thus. This difference in the outcome in these two cases is unreasonable. in taking the quantity of motion for the force. But according to his first rule. and 10. that is. a case where a ball B moving with 100 degrees of speed collides head on with a ball C moving with 1 degree of speed. they nonetheless presuppose that the total quantity of motion of bodies remains the same. Leibniz writes: I shall not repeat here what I have said before about the other source of [Descartes’s] errors. however. in a letter to Bayle of 1687. Before the collision the two balls collectively have 101 units of quantity of motion as measure by ms.001 units of vis viva as measured by mv2. becomes less than 27 . Leibniz also maintains that they would violate another “metaphysical” principle. Leibniz thus objects that Descartes’s laws of motion would violate the conservation of vis viva and with it the principle that the whole cause must be equal to the entire effect (G III. C will be reflected with its former velocity. 22 In addition to attacking Descartes’s laws of motion on the basis of the principle of the equality of cause and effect. in a letter to Malebranche of July 1687. Leibniz is therefore able to argue that Descartes’s laws of motion are untenable because they would lead to violations of the conservation of force as measured by mv2. 23 Thus. for the inequality of the two bodies can be made as small as you wish. But his first and second rules. but their quantity of vis viva will be 2(50 ½)2 or 5100 ½ units. The second says that if two bodies B and C collide in a straight line and with equal velocities. but B is but the least amount greater than C. after the collision the two balls should move together in the direction of B with a speed of 50 ½ units. Their quantity of motion will be 101 units as dictated by Descartes’s conservation law. if B and C are equal and collide in a straight line. both will be reflected and return at a velocity equal to that of their approach. Leibniz introduces.

A system of conservation principles From the perspective of kinematics. but merely sub-optimal. but in divine benevolence – a discontinuous world would not be impossible. to both B and C rebounding. and reflection on the constraints imposed by considerations of the best. Methodologically.any difference. however. therefore according to our principle. for Leibniz. It is worth noting that. Descartes’s rules of impact. Leibniz’s earliest systematic physics sought to accommodate the laws of impact as developed by Huygens and Wren by showing how those results might be derived from more fundamental laws of motion and the structure of 28 . Leibniz maintains that Descartes’s rules of impact must therefore be false since they violate the principle of continuity. but a combination of observation. 4. pure reason. Metaphysically. there is little new in Leibniz’s positive account of the laws of motion. As such. but rather from God’s wisdom and benevolence. he takes it to support once again his view that the most promising route to the discovery of nature’s secrets is neither blind empiricism. the difference between the effects or consequences ought also to become less than any given difference. As we have seen. (G III. Leibniz takes it to yield further support for the metaphysical and methodological points noted above in connection with his “proof” of the conservation of vis viva. to C’s being equal in size to B – result in a leap of output – from C rebounding while B remains stationary. the significance of the principle of continuity runs deeper than providing yet another reason for thinking that the Cartesian laws of motion are flawed. would have an infinitesimal change in input – a change from B’s being infinitesimally bigger than C.53/L 352) Leibniz’s argument here is that as the sizes of the bodies B and C change continuously from inequality to equality the effects of that change should be continuous as well. 24 For him the principle of continuity is a contingent principle of order grounded not in brute necessity.2. nor deductive rationalism. Leibniz takes the principle of continuity to support the claim that the true laws of motion are contingent since they follow not from God’s immutable nature or eternal truths.

should not be lost at all (at least in idealized cases). and made them his own through his elegant derivations and by relating them to the broader themes of his dynamics and metaphysics. According to this principle. he nonetheless had the good sense to champion the best accounts going. According to it.the actual world. so that after a collision they should continue to have the same ability to act on one another as they had before they collided. Although Leibniz’s contribution to the kinematics of motion and impact was thus not revolutionary. 25 That is. 26 A second conservation law Leibniz calls the conservation of quantity of progress. letting A and B represent two elastic balls involved in a head on collision: Velocity A before – Velocity B before = Velocity B after – Velocity A after or more simply: VA before – VB before = VB after – VA after Leibniz suggests that the conservation of relative velocity is rooted in the conservation of the ability of the two colliding bodies to perform work on one another. say. The guiding idea here seems to be that the ability of. two bodies will maintain the same relative progress – where progress is measured by the quantity of “mass” times velocity – before and after collision (GM 29 .227/Langley 667). In his later work. the balls A and B to act on one another in virtue of their relative motion. and thus that they should have the same relative velocity after the collision as they had before. two perfectly elastic bodies will maintain the same relative velocity with respect to their common center of gravity before and after collision. One of the conservation laws that Leibniz takes to govern the behavior of material bodies is what he calls the conservation of relative velocity (GM VI. this strategy is replaced by attempting to show how essentially those same (“concrete”) laws of motion may be derived from a set of three conservation laws.

Leibniz’s third law applies the conservation of vis viva to cases of impact. however. letting A and B once again represent two balls involved in a head on collision: (Mass A x VA before) – (Mass B x VB before) = (Mass B x VB after) – (Mass A x VA after) or more simply: MAVA before – MB x VB before = MB x VB after – MA x VA after Leibniz’s conservation of progress is closely related to the Cartesian law of conservation of quantity of motion (and the more familiar law of the conservation of momentum). Leibniz suggests instead that energy is conserved but redistributed to the minute parts of which the clay is 30 . but like relative velocity. the quantity of vis viva appears to be conserved only in elastic collisions. rather than abandon the universality of his third law.217/Langley 658). As noted above. Thus.227/Langley 667). as measured simply by speed times “mass” is not conserved (GM VI.VI. Leibniz is thus able to maintain that although “it will be found that the total progress is conserved. or that there is as much progress in the same direction before or after the impact” nonetheless the quantity of motion. their momentum is conserved but kinetic energy is lost.227/Langley 667-668): MA (VA)2 before – MB x (VB)2 before = MB x (VB)2 after – MA x (VA)2 after Unlike the quantity of progress. as measured by “mass” times velocity squared for a pair of bodies is the same before and after collision (GM VI. At the macro-level. his law differs from the Cartesian law at least in that it traffics in “signed” velocities rather than scalar speeds. when a lump of soft clay strikes another lump of soft clay. As Leibniz is at pains to emphasize. It therefore maintains that the “motive” or “living” force.

vis viva is a force attributable to particular bodies in virtue of which they are able to perform work on other bodies – or as in the case of a pendulum . even if they are moving with a constant velocity relative to one another. 4. he tells us “that which is absorbed by the minute parts is not absolutely lost for the universe. So. Leibniz shows how from any two of his conservation laws the third law may be derived. Although the measurement of mv2 is relative to a choice of reference frame. That is to say.on themselves. however. In his Essay on Dynamics. although the assumption that it makes sense to speak of any body as “really” moving with a constant velocity independently of an arbitrarily chosen frame of reference is not.3. overarching conservation law for the physical world. This might suggest that Leibniz sees all three as being on a par with one another. For Leibniz. he thus held the conservation of vis viva to be the most fundamental. for example. he granted that – if we bracket considerations of force – there’s no saying which of two bodies moving relative to each other with a constant velocity is really moving. he insists that the conservation of vis viva is more fundamental than the conservation of relative velocity or common progress. accepted the observational under-determination of constant linear motion. but he must have recognized them to be necessarily metaphysical. although it is lost for the total force of the concurrent bodies” (GM VI. Leibniz. In fact. Absolute or relative motion? As far as kinematics is concerned. Leibniz probably thought that it had a better claim to tracking an intrinsic property of bodies in light of the considerations he raises in his Brief Demonstration. In this way.composed. Leibniz would have conceded that we can’t tell just by looking whether Train A or Train B is really moving. This observational under-determination or “invariance” – often called Galilean invariance – is still accepted today. 31 .231/Langley 670). like most of his contemporaries. His reasons for privileging mv2 in this way are far from clear.

Continuing to restrict ourselves to kinematics. or no external agent comes along. The suggestion that motion be treated as irreducibly relational – so that motion could be 32 . but furthermore that “If we consider change in position alone. 29 He is thus committed to maintaining that if there were nothing more to motion than relative change of position. since motion could be ascribed with equal right to. he writes: The law of nature concerning the equivalence of hypotheses that we established earlier. has a sure criterion for telling from the phenomena where there is motion. Thus. say.” then all motion is observationally underdetermined (A VI. Leibniz. (GM VI. we might nonetheless maintain that we can tell – by. Leibniz infers that if there were nothing more to motion than change of position relative to other bodies.iv.507/Lodge 2003. for example. or whether he moves that very eye itself” (AG 91). then there would be no real or genuine motion in the world at all. That is to say. just as long as the system of bodies is isolated from others. seems to deny this. is not only true for rectilinear motion but more generally. the sudden jerk we feel – if our train has just accelerated by increasing its speed. and thus it would make no sense to say that either Train A or Train B is moving. how much motion there is and of what sort it is. 278). then. however. or – because we feel ourselves pushed against the wall – that it is rounding a sharp corner. or that which is merely mathematical in motion. Leibniz appears to embrace something even stronger than Galilean invariance.2017/Lodge 2003. or even whether God moves everything around it. 27 insisting instead that “no eye. He suggests that not only is constant linear motion observationally underdetermined. he seems to accept that not even accelerations – changes in direction or speed – can be detected by empirical observation. Train A or Train B. 280) Even if we grant that we cannot tell whether it is our train that is gliding along with a constant velocity or the train that we see through the window. then there would be no fact of the matter as to whether Train A or Train B is moving. wherever in matter it might be placed. 28 From the observational under-determination of all motion considered kinematically. that a hypothesis which once corresponds to the present phenomena will always correspond to the subsequent phenomena in that way. say. namely. however the bodies act on one another.

it does not. a force. Leibniz’s suggestion is that genuine motion requires. While force. 307. the ascription of force – of vis viva or mv2 – is itself empirically relative to a frame of reference. an action” (G IV. For. solve the empirical issue of which bodies can be ascribed genuine motion (Garber 1995. Although the metaphysician can rest assured that true motion must be absolute. Leibniz denies the premise that there is nothing more to motion than relative change of position. Intuitively. that Train A really moves if and only if. it does not tell us which bodies are genuinely in motion and which are moved merely relatively. is a non-relativistic property attributable to individual bodies. for Leibniz. and to Train B relative to another reference frame – would have had no attraction for Leibniz.396/L 393). thus provides the necessary metaphysical grounds for the existence of genuine motions. according to Leibniz. Since.ascribed to Train A relative to one reference frame. it is the active cause of their relative motion. but see also Lodge 2003). The postulation of force makes genuine motion possible. In practice Leibniz thus counsels that – as in astronomy – “one can hold the simplest hypothesis (everything considered) as the true one” (GM II 184/AG 308). the physicist must therefore be content to work with relative motions and simplifying assumptions.e. we will require not only that it change its position with respect to other things but also that there be within itself a cause of change. and finding absurd the consequence that there is no genuine motion in the world. He thus maintains that rather than grant that there is no real motion. as we have seen. a cause of that relative change. being an active cause. in addition to relative change of place. 33 . at least as far as the physicist is concerned. who consistently denied that there are any genuine external relations (i. Accepting the observational under-determination of motion understood as mere change of relative position. “in order to say that something is moving. To return to our earlier example. relations that do not wholly supervene on intrinsic properties). if Train A moves relative to Train B. it is in principle capable of breaking the “equivalence of hypotheses” and thus grounding true or genuine motion. or locus of force. however. we should say.

Newton had suggested that the absolute motion of bodies is to be defined relative to absolute space and time. Leibniz succeeded in articulating not only his reasons for opposing what he took to be Newton’s conception of absolute space and time. and to be discovered by its properties. space and time are logically and metaphysically prior to physical bodies and events. This disagreement over the nature of true motion surfaced more explicitly in their disagreement over the nature of space and time in the Leibniz-Clark correspondence. but also sketching an alternative picture according to which they are to be understood as abstract systems of relations. Against Absolute Space and Time In his correspondence with Leibniz. or “parts. while infinite time is the attribute of God’s Eternity. although we may distinguish regions. neither space nor time strictly speaking are divisible since no region of space or time could be separated.1. That is to say. Third. the existence of things like planets and flashes could not exist without space and time. or “pulled apart. The version championed by Clarke on Newton’s behalf might briefly be characterized for our purposes as having four central theses. causes and effects. First. the explosion endures through a determinate measure of absolute time. 5. In the five letters he managed to write before his death. space and time may be identified with attributes of God: infinite space just is the attribute of God’s Immensity.” of space and time. Fourth.” from any other region. 31 Leibniz. ontologically speaking. 34 . physical bodies and events exist within space and time – the beach ball is collocated with a region of space equal to its volume. Second. as we have just seen. although space and time could exist even if there were no physical bodies or events. holding instead that true motions are to be defined with respect to the active forces that he took to be inherent in truly moving bodies. Clarke defends what has become known as an absolute theory of space and time. Leibniz on Space and Time 30 In his Principia. opposed such a view.5.

which God makes use of to perceive things by.352/Alexander 11). there could be no reason for his creating the world oriented in one way with respect to that space rather than another way – that is. “if space is a property of God . Leibniz seizes on what he takes to be the impious implication of Newton’s suggestion that space might in some sense be considered the seat of divine perception or cognition.399/Alexander 68). writing. for example. and thus in God’s essence. In the present context we can understand PSR as demanding that there be some reason for God’s creating the world in one way rather than another since “A mere will without any motive. is a fiction. then we would have to say that since things are in time. G VII. at root. more philosophical. from his first letter on. argues that such claims are deeply misleading at best. But if God stands in need of any organ to perceive things by. homogenous. the sensorium of God. But space has parts: therefore there would be parts in the essence of God” (Fifth Paper.399/Alexander 68). nor were produced by him” (First Paper. heretical at worst. Leibniz argues. which plainly show. . 33 Finally. he argues that if time were identified with God’s Immensity. A second. paragraph 3. line of attack pivots on Leibniz’s commitment to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). that they do not depend altogether upon him. he writes to Clarke. say. paragraph 2. “Strange expressions. as it were. there could be no reason to prefer the world situated in one way rather than. For on the supposition that God creates the world in an infinite. that space is an organ. Leibniz. absolute space. Leibniz argues that if the Principle of Sufficient Reason is granted. The first line focuses on the suggestion that space and time might be identified with the divine attributes. space belongs to the essence of God. G VII.e.Leibniz introduces three main lines of attack against the Clarke-Newton conception of absolute space and time. that the author [i. but also chimerical and contradictory” (Fourth Paper. paragraph 44. 35 . rotated in space by ninety degrees. it will follow. they are in God’s Immensity. Clarke] makes a wrong use of terms” (Fifth Paper. G VII. G VII. the apparent possibility of absolute space and time can be undermined. Likewise.3712/Alexander 36). not only contrary to God’s perfection. paragraph 43. Thus. . “Sir Isaac Newton says. against the suggestion that space might be identified with God’s Immensity. and on Newton’s claim – made in his Optics 32 – that space is.

By essentially the same reasoning. 5. is to suppose the same thing under two names” (Fourth Paper. namely. but not distinct in virtue of some discernible property. according to Leibniz. the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles (PII). those two are in fact only one – that is. Again. two such purported possibilities would be indiscernible since no being – not even God or an angel – could recognize any difference between them. of space and time offered in conscious 36 . as Leibniz puts it. Leibnizian Space and Time Leibniz’s positive account of space and time might be thought of as resting on two primary pillars and being filled out by a number of ancillary theses. Leibniz argues once again that the apparent possibility of absolute space and time can be undermined. In the present context we may understand the PII as ruling out the possibility of two things being distinct. Leibniz argues similarly that the apparent possibility of absolute time is also inconsistent with the PII and so too must be rejected as chimerical or confused. But. It thus suggests that where we cannot identify a recognizable difference between two things or possibilities. or conception. absolute time.2. Leibniz thus concludes that since the supposition of absolute space leads to a violation of the PII. The first pillar consists in an alternative model. A third line of attack offered by Leibniz against the Newtonian conception of space and time draws on another principle familiar from Leibniz’s metaphysics. G VII. that “To suppose two things indiscernible. Armed with the PII. the world oriented in one way with respect to space would have to be a distinct possibility from the world oriented in another way with respect to absolute space. paragraph 6. Leibniz maintains that the supposition itself must be rejected as chimerical or confused.Since the supposition of absolute space thus leads to a violation of PSR.372/Alexander 37). Similarly. there could be no reason for God’s creating the world at one time rather than at another time. the supposition itself must be rejected. since the supposition leads to a violation of PSR. on the supposition that God creates the world in an infinite. the supposition itself must be rejected as chimerical or confused according to Leibniz. For on the supposition of absolute space. homogenous.

but rather as a construction out of the relations that hold between the actual (and even possible) events and bodies. space and time are not so much things in which bodies are located and move as systems of relations holding between things. and ideal. according to Leibniz’s most mature metaphysics. For while relations between bodies and events are necessarily variable and changing. sisters.363/Alexander 25-26) The main idea is illustrated more clearly by a helpful example that Leibniz introduces in his Fifth Paper. Leibniz claims. a genealogical tree is not something which exists independently of. (i) Although bodies may be held to stand in spatial relations to one another. but abstractions from merely well-founded phenomena. I have said more than once. The second pillar of Leibniz’s positive account of space and time is rooted in his view that – even understood as systems of relations – space and time must supervene on. (ii) As we have briefly noted. He thus famously tells Clark in his Third Paper: As for my own opinion. aunts. Space and time must thus not only be abstractions. or be reducible to. and prior to. Analogously for Leibniz. that I hold space to be something merely relative. According to Leibniz. space and time are one level removed from whatever reality might be attributed to physical bodies and events.” Leibniz seems to have thought that they must be at least two steps removed from the monads of his mature metaphysics. paragraph 4.opposition to the Newtonian conception absolute space and time. children. In claiming that space and time are “merely beings of reason. As such they can be at best two 37 . (Third Paper. parents. Unlike the relationship between. physical bodies and events are themselves merely well-founded phenomena. as time is an order of successions. In this sense. a mighty oak and its leaves. fixed. as time is. G VII. but is itself rather a reification of the relations holding between brothers. space itself must be considered an abstraction or idealization from those relations. space and time are not to be thought of as containers in which bodies are located and through which they move. the relations constituting space and time must be viewed as determinate. more ontologically basic entities. that I hold it to be an order of coexistences. its members. uncles. etc. say. however. There he suggests that space and time are analogous to a family tree.

. but also from extended Leibnizian bodies. For our purposes it might be worth quickly calling attention to three of the most significant.” and that time must find its ultimate root in the various appetites in accordance with which monad sequentially unfold in synchronized harmony.steps removed from fundamental reality. Leibniz nonetheless insists that they are conceived of as infinite. Leibniz maintains that space must ultimately be grounded in the various perceptions by which monads represent the world. Leibniz also defends a number of less central theses that help to flesh out his positive conceptions of space and time. In doing so he takes a characteristically intermediate position. there can be no doubt that Leibniz saw his relationalism about space and time as dovetailing with the foundations of his monadic metaphysics. . which I also take to be imaginary” (Fifth Paper. each from its own “point of view. For. Although the details of this grounding story remain less than perspicuous. However one counts the ontological “levels” involved. Third. Leibniz maintains the existence of empty space would be inconsistent with God’s decision to create the best of all possible worlds. but also partially siding with earlier medieval thinkers in affirming that “Since space is itself an ideal thing . First. Leibniz affirms that space and time are continuous. or “imaginary.396/Alexander 64). although he takes space and time to be ideal systems of relations. and infinitely divisible (although not actually divided to infinity).” and in this way Leibnizian space and time are further distinguished not only from Newtonian absolute space and time. two bodies could exist at a spatial distance with nothing between them – nonetheless it is morally certain that the actual world is a plenum. . paragraph 33. 34 Second. . 38 . G VII. Leibniz maintains that although the existence of empty space is possible – logically speaking. in spite of his critique of Newton. partially siding with most early moderns in rejecting the notion of an imaginary space surrounding a finite cosmos. The case is the same with empty space within the world. Beyond arguing that space and time are ideal systems of relations. space out of the world must needs be imaginary [but] . He holds that the ascription of such properties to space and time is only possible once they are recognized to be ideal. homogenous. as we have already noted in connection with his critique of atomism.

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Rutherford. 1968. Hacking. Timothy. “Mind. Force in Newton’s Physics: The Science of Dynamics in the Seventeenth Century. 1985. 2003. Crockett. The Natural Philosophy of Leibniz. New York: Elsevier. Donald. Two Volumes. “Phenomenalism and the Reality of Body in Leibniz’s Later Philosophy. Howard. “Leibniz and Huygens on the ‘Relativity’ of Motion. 1990. 45 . Donald. 1998.” Studia Leibnitiana (22) 11-28.” History of Philosophy Quarterly (9:1) 35-49. ed. Nicholas.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy (8) 105-134. L. and the Laws of Nature in Descartes and Leibniz. “A Postmortem on the Vis Viva Controversy. Rutherford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. “Leibniz’s ‘Analysis of Multitude and Phenomena into Unities and Reality’. Brown. Dordrecht: Reidel. “Remarks on Relational Theories of Motion. Westfall.” Isis (59) 296-300. Donald.” Philosophical Studies (94: 1-2) 119-138. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. “Why Motion is Only a Well-founded Phenomenon.Jolley. Daniel. Garber. 1992. Body. Earman. or Do Non-Substantial Bodies Interact?” Journal of the History of Philosophy (30:1) 53-75. Laudan. Leibniz on The Laws of Motion Bernstein. “Leibniz and Phenomenalism. 1992. Gabbey. 1983. Rutherford. 1989. Ian. The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. “Leibniz’s Principle of Intelligibility. Richard. “Is There a Pre-Established Harmony of Aggregates in the Leibnizian Dynamics. 1986. Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature. 1999.” in Kathleen Okruhlik. Gregory.. Donald. 1990. John. Rutherford. 1971. “Continuity in Leibniz’s Mature Metaphysics. eds..” Canadian Journal of Philosophy (19) 83-87.” Studia Leibnitiana (18) 38-51. 1984.” Journal of the History of Philosophy (28) 525-552.” in Michael Ayers and Daniel Garber.” Studia Leibnitiana (13) 97-113. Alan. “New Doctrines of Motion.

Laws and Miracles: The Roots of Leibniz’s Critique of Occasionalism.. 2000. Samuel. “Some Philosophical Prehistory of General Relativity. “Relational Concepts of Space and Time. Julian. 3-49.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (45:1) 219-240.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science (15:2) 155-165. “Leibniz on Force and Absolute Motion. Barbara. eds. Lodge. Causation in Early Modern Philosophy. Barbour. C. 1998. Leibniz on Space & Time Arthur. Barbara. R. and J. John.” Nous (37:3) 371-416. Richard.. 2003. University Park: Penn State University Press.” Philosophical Topics (31:1&2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (33) 251-274. Stein. Lodge. “Space and Relativity in Newton and Leibniz. Rutherford.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy (17) 437-448. Glymour. Lodge.” in Steven Nadler.Lariviere. 2003.” Philosophy of Science (70:3) 553-573.” in J.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy (19) 89-90. The Natural Philosophy of Leibniz. Earman. “Natures. “Reply to Earman’s ‘Remarks on Relational Theories of Motion. 1989. eds. Donald. Paul. “The Failure of Leibniz’s Correspondence with De Volder. 263-313. 1977. 1994. “Leibniz on Relativity and the Motion of Bodies. Richard. Arthur. Roberts. Foundations of Space-Time Theories. “The Interval of Motion in Leibniz’s Pacidius Philalethi. Levey.” History of Philosophy Quarterly (17:2) 143-157. ed. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Paul. Lariviere. 46 . 2001. Volume VIII. Woolhouse. “Leibniz’s Theory of Time. 1982. S.” Leibniz Society Review (8) 47-67. “Leibniz’s Collision Rules for Inertialess Bodies Indifferent to Motion. Stachel. “Leibnizian Relationalism and the Problem of Inertia. 1993. “The Debate over Extended Substance in Leibniz’s Correspondence with De Volder. Dordrecht: Reidel. 1985. 2003. 1989. Paul..” in Okruhlik and Brown. H.

Robert.” Studia Leibnitiana (20) 140-159.” Studia Leibnitiana (2) 29-55. Grant. Princeton. “Leibniz’s Last Controversy with the Newtonians. “Newton on Space and Time: Comments on J. “Leibniz’s Theory of Space: A Reconstruction. “Space-Time and Isomorphism. World Enough and Space-Time: Absolute Versus Relational Theories of Space and Time. 1993.” Nous (22) 493-519. A. Michael. 1979. “Supervenience and (Non-Modal) Reductionism in Leibniz’s Philosophy of Time. “Space and Time in the Leibnizian Metaphysic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mundy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Futch. 1970. “Leibniz’s Metaphysics of Space and Time. Foundations of Spacetime Theories. 2002. Cover.Broad. eds. and Space. Michael. Glenn and J. al. Cover. Cambridge. Futch. 1988. 1989.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science. E. Earman. New York: Cambridge University Press. Daniel.” in Proceedings of the Biennial Meetings of the Philosophy of Science Association (1) 515-527. Place. 1983. Edward. NJ: Princeton University Press. 47 . Leibniz: Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science. “New Doctrines of Body and Its Powers. Hartz. Michael.S.” in Michael Ayers and Daniel Garber.” Philosophical Quarterly (43) 472-488. A.” in R. Two Volumes. Woolhouse. John. 1988. 1981.. McGuire. 157-174. Edward.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (28:2) 289-318. ed. 1998. “Leibniz’s Non-Tensed Theory of Time. McRae. Edward. Mass. Brent.” Nature and System (1) 103-109. John. Fox. “Indiscernibles and the Absolute Theory of Space and Time. Much Ado About Nothing: Theories of Space and Vacuum from the Middle Ages to the Scientific Revolution.. Khamara. 1981. 1997. 2002. Friedman. 553-623.” in Philosophical Perspectives on Newtonian Science. The Cambridge History of SeventeenthCentury Philosophy. 1992.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science. et. Khamara. C. “Non-Basic Time and Reductive Strategies: Leibniz’s Theory of Time. Michael. “Time and the Monad. D. Cambridge: MIT Press. J. Garber. 1990. MIT Bradford. Carriero.

“Clarke’s Extended Soul. The Context. Pooley. Winterbourne. and the Relational Account of Space and Time. A.edu/~rutherford/Leibniz/leibsoc. Lawrence. “On the Metaphysics of Leibnizian Space and Time. 1991. Causes and Effects: Newton’s Scholium on Time. “How Euclidean Geometry Has Misled Metaphysics. Vailati. 2nd Edition. 1974.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (53:2) 183-204. Ezio. 1984. Space. “Relationalism Rehabilitated? I: Classical Mechanics.ucsd.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (13) 201-214. Rynasiewicz. Sayre-McCord. 1993. Causes and Effects: Newton’s Scholium on Time. Ezio. Robert.edu/%7Erutherford/Leibniz/] 48 .” Journal of Philosophy (88:4) 169-189. Geoffrey.ucsd.htm] Gregory Brown’s “Leibnitiana” contains many helpful links and resources [http://www. 1982. Nerlich. “By Their Properties. 2002.” Studia Leibnitiana (16) 204-211. Other Internet Resources Leibniz Society of North America [http://philosophy2. T. Sklar.gwleibniz. Robert. Space. New York: Oxford University Press. Graham. 1997.Nerlich. Oliver and Harvey Brown. The Shape of Space. Graham. Berkeley: University of California Press.com/] Leibniz: Texts and Translations: A site providing texts and translations maintained by Don Rutherford [http://philosophy2. Vailati. “Leibniz.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (26:1) 133-153.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science (26:2) 295-321. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Materialism. Space.” Journal of the History of Philosophy (31:3) 387-403. 1995a. “By Their Properties. 1995b. Rynasiewicz. Leibniz and Clarke: A Study of Their Correspondence. 1994. The Text. Place and Motion – I. Place and Motion – II. Time and Spacetime.

no. An English translation of the letter of 20/30 April 1669 can be found in L 93-103. 3 See. Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London [http://www.II. 26. Brown (1984. even more aggressively. chapter 3).php?id=1] Related Entries Atomism Descartes. in a letter of 1669 to his former mentor Jacob Thomasius. Kabitz (1909. René • physics Galileo. and logic. for example. that “the one … must be explained through 49 . 2 I. 51-53). while not conforming completely to the medieval trivium. Loemker reports that “The curriculum of the Nicolai School in Leipzig. Thomas Kant and Leibniz Leibniz. Gottfried Wilhelm • modal metaphysics • on causation Malebranche. rhetoric. Pierre Hobbes. and logic. 11). Galilei Gassendi. For further references see especially Mercer (2001. lower level liberal arts studies. fn. and Mercer (2001. 24-48). traditionally consisting of grammar. rhetoric.uk/prism. for Leibniz the adoption of mechanical philosophy was not tantamount to a wholesale repudiation of Aristotelian natural philosophy.ac. Leibniz argues not only that “the reformed philosophy can be reconciled with Aristotle’s and does not conflict with it” but. See. Nicholas Newton 1 There has been considerable debate over the exact date and extent of Leibniz’s conversion to mechanism.sussex.The Newton Project: Hosted by the Centre for History of Science. for example. together with Scholastic theology” (L 660. 4 5 A. 9 and 11). still consisted of Latin and Greek. Thus.e.i 16/L 95 It should be noted that. his letters to his former instructor Jacob Thomasius of 26 September/6 October 1668 and 20/30 April 1669 (A II:i. fn. for starters.newtonproject. 2).

1895. see especially. and further references.378/AG 332). he first argues that there can be no sufficient reason for any ratio of void to matter other than 0:1. 25). In his Fourth Letter to Clark. Garber reports that he has been unable to confirm the date in a more reliable source. . 9 10 Broad (1981) and Vailati (1997).II. however small it might be. 278). “Spinoza did not see the mistakes in Descartes’s rules of motion. for example. italics added). 8 For discussion of the controversy. but indifference. and See A VI. 1966.ii. For more on the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence. fn. and notes “there is some uncertainty that attaches to the dating” (Garber 1998. Leibniz writes: . . Mercer (2001). 6 Recalling the theory of the TMA later in life. reprinted Hildesheim: Georg Olms. since such a notion of matter contains not resistance to motion. .i 16/L 95. I showed that it ought to follow that the conatus of a body entering into a collision. without regarding it at all. and then argues that “the case is the same with atoms: what reason can anyone assign for confining nature in the progression of subdivision?” (G VII. 11 Sufficient Reason. For more on Leibniz’s conciliatory attitude towards Aristotelianism. . he was surprised when I began to show him that they violate the equality of cause and effect. that the largest body at rest would be carried off by a colliding body however small it might be. see especially. would be impressed on the whole receiving body. 50 . 339. hwoever larger it might be.the other … that the very views which the moderns are putting forth so pompously are derived from Aristotelian principles” (A. 158. Costabel (1973). Hannover. From this it follows that it would be no more difficult to put a large body into motion than a small one . Der Briefwechsel des Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz in der Königlichen öffentlichen Bibliothek zu Hannover. (SD 19/AG 124) 7 This dating is based on a quotation attributed to Leibniz in FC.” I first learned of the quotation from Garber (1998. which reads. Leibniz sometimes argues against atomism directly from the Principle of Laudan (1968). see especially Iltis (1979). 12 The passage can be found in its original language in Eduar Bodemann. page LXIV. and thus. Indeed.

Thus. and ultimately elastic. Leibniz denies that strictly speaking forces are ever transferred from one created entity to another. it may be worthwhile to make two brief remarks in connection with the conservation principles of Newtonian mechanics. Part I. It should be known. Leibniz accepts the conservation of momentum and thus must be understood only to be arguing against the non-vectorial quantity of motion. Second. even if it does not 51 . and everything has a certain degree of solidity or fluidity. at root. for example. for example. for example. he writes. the same conclusion will not follow on his own account. which term we apply to a thing derives from the predominant appearance it presents to our senses” (SD 51/AG 135). “Preliminary Specimen: On the Law of Nature Relating to the Power of Bodies” BM VI 291-92/AG 110-111. however. par. 18 It should be noted that for metaphysical reasons. 15” GM VI 243-44/AG 127. Leibniz maintains that. even at an idealized instant the physical world for Leibniz could still enjoy a qualitative variety in virtue of a differential distribution of derivative forces. 17 Given the controversy that erupted in the wake of Leibniz’s argument. since any body whatever already has in itself the force that it exerts. absolutely speaking. “Nothing is really solid or fluid. all fundamental collisions are elastic. the Cartesian quantity of motion is not a vector quantity – it doesn’t take account of the direction of the moving body – and therefore it must be distinguished from the Newtonian notion of momentum (mv). 15 See. In fact. bodies. First. although kinetic energy (1/2 mv2) is conserved only in elastic collisions. that forces do not cross from body into body. For discussion see Garber (1998. “Preliminary Specimen: On the Law of Nature Relating to the Power of Bodies” BM VI 287-92/AG 105-111 and “A Specimen of Dynamics” GM VI 234-254/AG 117-138. See. 313f). and that inelastic collisions must therefore be analyzed as collisions of composite. 14 Cf. 16 It should be noted that Leibniz also attempts to prove the conservation of vis viva without the help of this obviously empirical principle. “A Specimen of Dynamics.13 It is perhaps worth noting that since Leibniz maintains that true motion is grounded in forces.

Thus. Mais si C avec sa vistesse peut monter à un pouce de hauteur. see especially Westfall (1971. et supposons que deux corps B et C. i. considerons sa troisieme regle du mouvement. à fin 52 . Toute leur quantité de mouvement sera 101. 21 1992. For example. Leibniz writes “Hence according to the analogy of geometry or of analysis. 383) 19 Leibniz clearly takes his infinitesimal calculus to relate vis viva and vis mortua.154-156). solicitation [i. (LW 131/Adams (1994. Moreover. see especially Garber with respect to time multiplied by its mass. Chapters 7 and 9. For further discussion. 20 That is. velocities as x and [living] forces as xx or ∫xdx” (G II. dead forces] are as dx. B pourra monter avec la sienne à 10000 pouces. apres le choc ils iront ensemble de compagnie avec une vistesse comme 50 et demy. 22 Mais pour faire mieux voir comment il s'en faut servir. suivant cette troisieme Regle Cartesienne. Therefore it can be said that force is already present in every body. dead force = mass (dv/dt). et C avec une vistesse d'un degré. des Cartes et d'autres s'en sont éloignés. living force would be as ∫xdx. B avec une vistesse de 100 degrés. however. ainsi la force de tous les deux sera d'elever une livre à 10001 pouces. when a ball that is at rest is struck by another. As Westfall (1971) notes. without which there would be no collision. The passage quoted just above in the main text suggests that dead force is related to living force by a single integration so that if dead force were as x. aillent l'un contre l'autre. et pourquoy M.e. Leibniz sometime suggests that the move from dead force to living force requires us to integrate twice. for example. Or.e. And the Entelechy itself is modified corresponding to these mechanical or derivative [forces]. pour servir d'exemple. 298f). namely by elastic force. the Elastic force in the body arises from an internal motion invisible to us. however. chacun d'une livre. in a letter to De Volder. and it is determined only by modification. it is moved by an implanted force. It is not. so clear whether he thinks the two quantities are related by a single or a double integration. if we take dead force to be equal to be the derivative of the body’s velocity For discussion of Descartes’s treatment of the laws of motion.show it or convert it into motion of the whole prior to a new modification.

26 Garber 1998. For helpful discussion of this point. 350-51 fn. letter to Malebranche July 1687: When the difference between two instances in a given series or that which is presupposed can be diminished until it becomes smaller than any given quantity whatever. then there is no saying whether or not the train is accelerating independently of an arbitrarily chosen frame of reference. 316-317. the corresponding difference in what is sought or in their results must of necessity also be diminished or become less than any given quantity whatever. he would have denied that if we consider the motion of the train as merely a change of relative position. Cf.2019. Or to put it more commonly. 25 their common center of gravity. for example. A VI. Ce qui est aussi peu possible. see especially Lodge 2003. 24 By the time Leibniz introduced the principle of continuity.495. 351). Leibniz might insist that we have moved from kinematics to dynamics. when two instances or data approach each other continuously. où en vertu du même Principe Cartesien general. But. so that one at last passes over into the other. the defects of Descartes’s Leibniz may have followed Huygens in measuring the velocity of the bodies relative to For more on this argument. 101. see Dynamica GM VI. 51/L. et sans estre employée à rien.iv. au lieu qu'avant le choc il y avoit la force d'elever une livre à 10001 pouces. 124. Mais ainsi ces 2 livres ne se pourront elever ensemble qu'à une hauteur de 2550 pouces et un quart (qui est le quarré de 50 et demy) ce qui vaut autant que s'ils avoient la force d'elever une livre à 5100 et demy. III. collision rules were already widely acknowledge. or feel ourselves pressed up against its walls. even by his staunchest defenders. Ainsi presque la moitié de la force sera perdue en vertu de cette regle sans aucune raison. it is necessary for the consequences or results (or the unknown) to do so also” (G. for a brief discussion see It is rather difficult to say whether or not Leibniz actually is committed to this denial. 27 Certainly. on pourroit gagner le triple de la force sans aucune raison. que ce que nous avons monstré auparavant dans un autre cas. but any inertial reference frame will do. 23 See. as soon as we add that we feel the jerk of the train as it accelerates.qu'en la multipliant par 2 (nombre des livres qui vont ensemble apres le choc) il revienne la premiere quantité de mouvement. 53 .

Similarly. 590. 54 . Opuscules et In his critical notes on Descartes’s Principles. Leibniz writes: If motion is nothing but the change of contact or of immediate vicinity. 31. since one of them is arbitrarily chosen to be at rest or moving at a given rate in a given line. how can it be said that space is in God. but we never heard that a subject is in its property. Hence. see Grant (1981). 33 34 On the doctrine of imaginary space. so it will always be possible to attribute the real motion to either one or the other of the two bodies which change their mutual vicinity or position. see especially Rynasiewicz Isaac Newton. or that it is a property of God? We have often heard that a property is in its subject. The consequence of this will be that there is no real motion. it follows that we can never define which thing is moved. (GP IV. especially Chapter 6.399/Alexander 68) 1995a and 1995b.28 The text in the original language can be found in Louis Couturat. Leibniz writes: I shall give another instance of this. paragraph 45. God’s immensity makes him actually present in all spaces. 32 Inflections and Colours of Light. verbal oddities].e. G VII. For just as the same phenomena may be interpreted by different hypotheses in astronomy.369/L 393) fragments inédits de Leibniz. For a helpful discussion of Newton’s view and argument. 1952 [1730] Opticks or A Treatise on the Reflections. Paris 1903. In like manner. (New York: Dover) Query 28. 29 30 31 This section is especially indebted to the elegant discussion in Broad 1981. God exists in all time. But now if God is in space. so as to produce the given phenomena. (Fifth Paper. and how can it be a property of God? These are perpetual alloglossies [i. How then can time be in God. it follows that there is no reason in nature to ascribe motion to one thing rather than to others. we may define geometrically what motion or rest is to be ascribed to the other. Hence if there is nothing more in motion than this reciprocal change. Refractions.