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Scots Philosophical Association

University of St. Andrews
Leibniz's Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles
Author(s): Fred Chernoff
Source: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 123 (Apr., 1981), pp. 126-138
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Scots Philosophical Association and the
University of St. Andrews
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126
LEIBNIZ'S PRINCIPLE
OF THE IDENTITY OF INDISCERNIBLES
BY FRED CHERNOFF
There have been numerous
attempts
to determine what Leibniz's
grounds
are for his
principle
of the
identity
of indiscernibles. In this
study
I shall
question
the
assumption
that there is a
single, unique
foundation for that
principle. By analysing specific arguments,
and most
importantly, by
dis-
tinguishing
two sorts of
question
that Leibniz
addresses,
the
supposition
of
a
unique ground
turns out to be
spurious.
We need to
separate
two
types
of
question:
whether God could have
brought
about states X and Y
conjointly;
and whether God could have
brought
about state X
or,
alternatively,
state
Y,
but not a
single
world that contains both X and Y.
I. INTRODUCTORY
Leibniz's final views on a broad
range
of
questions
are
presented
in the
Leibniz-Clarke
correspondence.1
In
trying
to excavate the
ground
of the
principle
of the
identity
of indiscernibles
[PII],
as it
appears
there,
it is
usual to restrict oneself
entirely
to the
correspondence.
Recourse to other
writings
is not
generally regarded
as instructive here. The reason cited is
Leibniz's
alleged inconsistency
on fundamental
questions
of
metaphysics.
It is held
that,
in the
correspondence,
Leibniz
grants
the
reality
of
material,
spatio-temporal objects
in a
way
denied elsewhere in his
writings.2
This
paper may provide
further reasons for
heeding
this advice. For if it can be
shown that there is more than one version of PII in the
correspondence,
it
follows a
fortiori
that there is more than one version inherent in the Leibnizian
corpus.
The
question usually
raised in connection with the
ground
of PII
is,
'Is
it
presented
as a
necessary
or as a
contingent proposition?'.3
But we must
be
very
careful when
formulating
the
problem
in these terms. It is
only
too
easy
to
equivocate
on
'necessary', particularly
in connection with Leibniz.
There are a number of
commonly employed
senses of
'necessity',
and Leibniz
scrupulously distinguishes
several of them.4 Some commentators
(e.g.,
Res-
cher, Russell,
Vinci and
perhaps Adams)
have
argued
that
PII,
in the corres-
1The
original
edition was
edited,
and Leibniz's letters were
translated, by
Clarke.
The most recent editions are edited
by
H. G. Alexander and
by
Loemker: see list of
references below.
2Montgomery
Furth discusses this
supposed inconsistency,
as does Thomas Vinci.
3Among
the commentators who
pursue
this
question
are G. H. R.
Parkinson,
Nicholas
Rescher,
Bertrand Russell and P. F. Strawson.
4In his fifth letter to
Clarke,
as well as in his
Theodicy
and "On the Radical
Origina-
tion of
Things",
Leibniz
distinguishes metaphysical
from
physical necessity, logical
from moral
necessity,
and absolute from
hypothetical necessity.
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LEIBNIZ'S PRINCIPLE 127
pondence
with
Clarke,
is a
necessary proposition,
and some
(e.g.,
Parkinson
and
perhaps Strawson)
have
argued
that it is
contingent.
Some of those who
hold it to be
contingent
do so because the set of
premises
from which it is
deduced includes
propositions (concerning,
for
example,
the nature of the
Divine
Will)
which are not
necessary
truths. Others
(e.g., Vinci)
have
argued
that,
since Leibniz views these
premises
as
necessary,
PII is
presented
as a
necessary proposition.
Thus even when
agreement
has been reached
regard-
ing
the
premises
from which Leibniz deduces
PII,
there has been discord
over its own nature.
At least some of this
disagreement
rests
upon
an
equivocation.
Leibniz
holds that a
principle
like 'God wills
only
what is best' is
necessary
in one
sense,
but not in another. He believes it to be
morally necessary;
but its
denial is not
self-contradictory,
so it is not
absolutely necessary.
We can
elude this
problem by altering
our nomenclature. I shall make use of the
distinction between
"logical"
and
"non-logical" propositions
for the
pur-
poses
of
investigating
the
ground
of PII.
"Logical"
covers
propositions
that
are true in virtue of our
conceptual capabilities
and limitations
(that
is,
those whose
negations
are
inconceivable).
It is not
possible
to conceive of
an armadillo as
having
four
legs
while also
having
fewer than four
legs,
nor
is it
possible
to conceive of a set as
having many
members while also
being
empty.
Truths of
logic
and set
theory
are included under the rubric
'logical',
which
corresponds,
in the Leibnizian
lexicon,
to
'absolutely necessary'.
All
other
propositions, including
those Leibniz holds to be
morally
-
but not
absolutely
-
necessary,
are
non-logical.
Hence some claims that PII is
necessary
assert it to be a
logical
truth,
while other such claims assert it to
be
non-logical.
II. LEIBNIZ'S THIRD LETTER AND THE LOGICAL PRINCIPLE
Leibniz
professes
to
provide "many
demonstrations to confute the
fancy
of those who take
space
to be . . . an absolute
being".
The first of these
demonstrations is
presented
at L III. 5.5 He offers a
negative argument,
against
the Newtonian
conception
of
space
as
absolute,
and a
positive argu-
ment,
supporting
his own relational
theory
of
space.
The
negative argument
is the
following:
I
say
then,
that if
space
was an absolute
being,
there would
something
happen
for which it would be
impossible
there should be a sufficient
reason. Which is
against my
axiom. And I
prove
it thus.
Space
is
something absolutely
uniform; and,
without the
things placed
in
it,
one
point
of
space
does not
absolutely
differ in
any respect
whatsoever
from another
point
of
space.
Now from hence it
follows,
(supposing
space
to be
something
in
itself,
besides the order of bodies
among
themselves,)
that 'tis
impossible
there should be a
reason,
why God,
preserving
the same situations of bodies
among
themselves,
should
have
placed
them in
space
after one certain
particular
manner,
and
5I follow the conventional reference notation: 'LIII. 5' is
paragraph
five of Leibniz's
third letter.
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128 FRED CHERNOFF
not
otherwise; why every thing
was not
placed
the
quite contrary
way,
for
instance,
by changing
East into West.
The
negative argument
makes
explicit
use of the
principle
of sufficient
reason
[PSR].
The
argument
can be restated as follows:
(N1) Space
is
absolute,
in Newton's sense.
(N2) Space
is
homogeneous: any
two
points
of
empty space
are the
same in
every respect.
(N3)
The universe is ordered in some determinate
way.
(N4)
The
present
order of the universe is distinct from some
contrary
order,
e.g.,
the order that would exist if East were instead West.
(N5)
There is no sufficient reason
why
God orders the universe in the
way
that He does and not in some other
way.
(N6) Something happens
for which there is no sufficient reason.
.'.(N7)
If
space
is
absolute,
then PSR is false.
The first
step
is the
hypothesis
to be considered. The second
step
is
presented
as a tenet of both
theories,
and is not
questioned by
Clarke,
since it is indeed
a
consequence
of Newton's doctrine that Euclidean
geometry
describes
physical space.
The third
step
is the
worthy
observation that the universe
exists and is
arranged
in some
particular way. (N4)
is a
consequence
of
(N1),
since
(N1) implies
that there are "absolute directions" of East and
West.
(N5)
is
implied by (N4), given
Leibniz's
conception
of "sufficient
reason".
According
to this
conception,
a
will,
even God's
will,
cannot act
without a sufficient reason
(beyond
the mere "will to
act"). (N6)
is a valid
generalization
of
(N5), given
the existential
assumption,
contained in
(N3),
that there is a world. The hebdomad is
completed by (N7),
which follows
from
(N1)
and
(N6) by
conditionalization.
The
objection
Clarke raises to this
argument
concerns Leibniz's
use,
in
(N5),
of "sufficient reason". Leibniz
says
that there is "a sufficient reason
why things
should be
so,
and not otherwise"
(L
II.
1).
Clarke
replies,
"But
this sufficient reason is oft-times no
other,
than the mere will of God"
(C
II.
1).
Leibniz abhors this
exception
to God's
perfectly
rational
nature,
and retorts
that Clarke
"grants
me this
important principle.
. . But he
grants
it
only
in
words,
and in
reality
denies it"
(L
III.
2).
From here ensues a debate
over the nature of God's will. But we can
conclude,
at this
point,
that the
validity
of the
negative argument
at L III. 5
hinges upon
the Divine
applic-
ability
of
PSR,
that
is,
upon
whether God's will to act can itself constitute
a reason for his
acting.
The
positive argument, subjoined
to the
negative
one,
is the
following:
But if
space
is
nothing
else,
but that order or
relation;
and is
nothing
at all without
bodies,
but the
possibility
of
placing
them;
then those
two
states,
the one such as it now
is,
the other
supposed
to be the
quite contrary way,
would not at all differ from one another. Their
6The
identity
of a
point
of Newtonian
space
is
independent
of
any
matter it
may
contain.
(Cf.
Newton's
Principia,
scholium to definition
8,
sects.
II-LV,
in
Alexander.)
Therefore
any
axes and directions can be defined
solely
in terms of
points
of absolute
space.
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LEIBNIZ'S PRINCIPLE 129
difference therefore is
only
to be found in our chimerical
supposition
of the
reality
of
space
in itself. But in truth the one would
exactly
be the same
thing
as the
other,
they being absolutely indiscernible;
and
consequently
there is no room to
enquire
after a reason of the
preference
of the one to the other.
This
argument
differs from the
negative
one in two
important respects.
First,
it is
independent
of the
interpretation
of PSR. Its
validity
is un-
affected
by
whether or not we choose to
interpret
"sufficient reason" to
include God's mere will to act. PSR is used to show
only
that no conflict
with the relational
theory
arises. And no conflict arises on either Leibniz's
or Clarke's
interpretation
of PSR.
Secondly,
this
argument
uses PII. The
positive argument
can be recast as follows.
(P1) Space
is relational.
(P2)
The state of the universe as it is now
(SN)
and the state "the
quite contrary way" (SC)
are indiscernible.
(P3)
If two states are
indiscernible,
then one is identical with the
other
(PII).
(P4)
SN
=
SC.
(P5)
It is not the case that God
produces
the state SN to the exclusion
of SC.
.. (P6)
We cannot infer the denial of PSR
(as
we could in the
negative
argument).
.(P7)
It is not the case that the relational
theory implies
the denial
of PSR.
The
negative
and
positive arguments
combine to
yield
Leibniz's con-
clusion in the
following way.
Let 'A' =
'Space
is
absolute',
and 'R'
=
'Space
is relational'.
(01)
PSR Axiom
(02)
A -+ r
PSR
(N7)
..(03)
A
(01), (02),
MT
(04) -(R+ PSR) (P7)
(05)
A v R
Assumption
..(06)
R
(03), (04), (05)
Although
this is a
plausible representation
of the
text,
the
argument
is
redundant. Given the truth of
(05),
we can do without
(04),
the conclusion
of the
positive argument.
Leibniz often
expresses
his belief in
(05).
So it
is
perhaps
because
(05)
is not a truth of
logic,
nor is
anywhere proven by
Leibniz,
that he includes
(04)
in the overall
argument.
But this is not be-
yond question. (04), i.e.,
the
positive argument, may
be included for rhetor-
ical
purposes,
to lend additional
weight
to what has
already
been
proven.
Or
perhaps
it is included to show that we need not seek further
disjuncts
in
(05).
In
any
case,
Leibniz's firm belief in
(05)
is clear from such state-
ments as "If
space
and time were
anything
absolute,
that
is,
if
they
were
any thing
else besides a certain order of
things
. . ."
(L
IV.
16).
The
positive argument
is at least intended to show that the relational
theory
does not suffer from the same defect as Leibniz attributes to the
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130 FRED CHERNOFF
Newtonian
theory.
The
conclusion,
which I
paraphrased
as
(P7),
does not
actually
follow from
(P1)-(P6).
It
requires qualification.
The
positive argu-
ment does not
prove
that the relational
theory
is consistent with PSR.
Leibniz has shown that the absolute
theory
conflicts with
PSR,
in a
specific
way.
The
positive argument
reveals
only
that the relational
theory
does
not conflict with PSR in that
particular way.
It is still
possible
that there
may
be some other
point
of tension between them. But even this
qualified
conclusion serves Leibniz's
purpose,
if that
purpose
is to demonstrate the
superiority,
at least in this
respect,
of Leibniz's
theory
over its rival.
Let us return to the
analysis
of the
positive argument.
The feature of
the
argument
that most interests us is
(P3),
that
is,
PII. Its use is evident
in the
sentence,
'But in truth the one would
exactly
be the same
thing
as
the
other,
they being absolutely
indiscernible'. In order to determine whether
or not PII here is a
logical principle,
let us examine the role it
plays
in the
argument.
The
proof begins by hypothesizing space
to be relational. From
this it follows that the
"spaces"
SN and SC are
orders,
that
is,
sets of rela-
tions. Let us
simplify
the
analysis by considering
Kant's
example
of a
universe
comprised
of a
single
hand.
Suppose
this lone
object
is a left hand.
Space
would then consist of the relations
rl, r2,
r3,
. . .
constituting
the set
{rl,
r2,
r3, .. .},
which I shall call U. Now
change
East into West and consider
a universe
consisting
of a
right
hand. Let us call the set of
spatial
relations
of this universe U'.
As Kant
observed,
the
points
of a left hand are related to one another
just
as the
corresponding points
of a
right
hand are related to one another.
For
every
ri
in U
(or U')
there is an
rj
such that
ri
=
r,
and
rj
is a member
of U'
(or U).
Therefore,
by
the axiom of
extensionality,
U = U'. This
justifies
the
qualified
conclusion of the
positive argument.
God can no more
prefer
U to the exclusion of U' than He can
prefer
A to the exclusion of A.
Thus the relational
theory
does not violate PSR in the
way
the absolute
theory
does.
Indeed,
"there is no room to
enquire
after a reason of the
preference
of the one to the
other",
since there is no one in addition to the
other.
That PII is here a
logical principle
can be seen
by recognizing
that
Leibniz must
deny
that it is
possible
even to conceive that SN
=
SC. Leibniz
often uses the fact that the relational
theory implies
that
space
is
something
ideal,
in order to contrast it with the absolute
theory.
In the
positive argu-
ment Leibniz
postulates
that the material world is the same in both SN and
SC,
except
for the
spatial
relations
among
material
points.
Leibniz here
uses PII to
argue
that two ideal entities
(points
of
spatial relations)
are
identical. But if it is
possible
to conceive two ideal entities as
distinct,
then
surely they
are distinct. So if the
positive argument
is
valid,
we must con-
strue PII as
denying
the
possibility
of
conceiving
them to be distinct. Thus
PII,
as it is
employed
here,
is an
example
of what I have termed a
"logical
principle".7
7Note that the
question
addressed
by
Leibniz and Clarke here is not 'Could God
produce
a
possible
world
containing
both SN and SC?'. It is
rather,
'Could God
produce
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LEIBNIZ' S PRINCIPLE 131
III. LEIBNIZ'S FOURTH LETTER AND THE TWO PRINCIPLES
The
positive
and
negative arguments
are attacked
by
Clarke at C II. 2
and C III. 5. He denies that PSR
applies
to Divine decrees. He maintains
that a reversal of the order of three indiscernible bodies constitutes a real
change,
even if
space
is
"only
the mere order of bodies".
Likewise,
if the earth
were instead
placed
where some distant star
is,
it would
occupy
a
genuinely
different
place.
And Clarke claims that these cannot be accounted for
by
the relational
theory.
Leibniz's
reply
at L IV. 1-6 makes
important
use of
PII. We can
distinguish
three
arguments.
Two,
at L IV.
1-4,
attempt
to
prove
PII,
and
one,
at L IV
6,
uses PII as a
premise.
The fourth letter
begins
as follows:
1. In
things absolutely
indifferent,
there is no [foundation
for]
choice;
and
consequently
no
election,
nor
will;
since choice must be
founded on some
reason,
or
principle.
2. A mere will without
any
motive,
is a
fiction,
not
only contrary
to God's
perfection,
but also chimerical and
contradictory;
inconsistent
with the definition of the
will,
and
sufficiently
confuted in
my
The-
odicy.
3. 'Tis a
thing
indifferent,
to
place
three
bodies,
equal
and
perfectly
alike,
in
any
order
whatsoever;
and
consequently they
will never be
placed
in
any
order,
by
him who does
nothing
without wisdom. But
then he
being
the author of
things,
no such
things
will be
produced
by
him at
all;
and
consequently
there are no such
things
in nature.
4. There is no such
thing
as two individuals indiscernible from
each other.
The first
argument,
which seeks to
prove
PII,
can be restated as follows:
(M1)
A
will,
by
definition,
requires
a motive in order to act.
(M2)
There can be no motive to order several indiscernible individuals
in some
way,
rather than in some other.
(M3)
The will of
God,
though
Divine,
is nevertheless a will.
.'.(M4)
God does not order indiscernible individuals to be ordered in
any way.
..
(M5)
God does not
produce
indiscernible individuals.
(M6)
God is the creator of all nature.
.'.(M7)
No indiscernible individuals exist in nature.
A second deduction of PII can be abstracted from L IV.
3-4,
when we
replace
(M1)-(M3)
above
by:
(M1')
'Tis a
thing
indifferent to
place
two or more indiscernible
individuals in
any
order whatsoever.
(M2')
Wisdom could not move God to order several indiscernible
individuals in some
way,
rather than in some other.
(M3')
God does
nothing
without wisdom.
(M4)-(M7)
follow as in the above
argument.
a
possible
world
containing
either SN or SC?', that
is,
'Could He
produce one,
to the
exclusion of the other?'. And
secondly,
it is here assumed that PII
governs aggregates
based on
simple
substances in the same
way
that it
governs simple
substances. Those
who
deny
this
assumption
face the formidable task of
explaining
how the
aggregates
could be
subject
to different rules of
identity.
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132 FRED CHERNOFF
The version of PII deduced here is
clearly
a
non-logical principle.
It
tells us
nothing
about
logic,
nor about what it is
possible
to conceive. It
tells us
only
that,
in the actual
world,
we shall never encounter two indiscern-
ible individuals.
Furthermore,
several
premises required
in the deductions
are not
absolutely necessary
truths of
logic.
To see this we should recall
that Leibniz
assiduously
affirms that God is free to actualize
any possible
world. It is not
absolutely necessary
that God actualize our
own,
best
possible
world. He chooses this world
only
because He is
wholly
rational
and
morally perfect.
Thus neither
(M3)
nor
(M3')
is a truth of
logic (although
they
are
morally necessary).
Nor is
(M6)
a truth of
logic.
So both
arguments
contain
non-logical propositions
as
premises.
Since PII is here deduced
from
non-logical premises,
Leibniz seems to think it a
non-logical principle.
At L IV. 6 Leibniz uses PII in the
following argument:
To
suppose
two
things
indiscernible,
is to
suppose
the same
thing
under two names. And therefore to
suppose
that the universe could
have had at first another
position
of time and
place,
than that which
it
actually had;
and
yet
that all the
parts
of the universe should have
had the same situation
among
themselves,
as that which
they actually
had;
such a
supposition,
I
say,
is an
impossible
fiction.
We
may
ask whether the
non-logical
version of PII deduced above is the
version
employed
here. In order to answer
this,
let us
distinguish
two
questions
that are addressed
by
Leibniz and Clarke:
(Q1)
Could the entire material world have
occupied
some
region
of
space
other than that which it in fact
occupies?
(Q2)
Could the entire material world be moved from one
region
of
space
to some other?
For the
purposes
of our
inquiry
into the
ground
of
PII,
the most salient
difference between these two
questions
can be stated in terms of Leibniz's
notion of
"possible
worlds".
(Q1)
asks about two states
that,
if
distinct,
must
comprise parts
of
separate possible
worlds.
(Q2),
on the other
hand,
asks about two states
that,
even if
distinct,
might
constitute
parts
of the
same
possible
world.
These two
questions
are
examples
of two more
general types
of
question.
Leibniz's notion of
"compossibility" applies
to a set of states if and
only
if
there is some
possible
world which includes them. We can then characterize
the two relevant
types
of
question
thus:
(Q1')
Are the
noncompossible,
if
distinct,
states X and Y distinct?
(Q2')
Are the
compossible (even
if
distinct)
states X and Y distinct?
It is
by recognizing
the existence of these two
types
of
question
(and
that
Leibniz undertakes to answer
examples
of both
types)
that we can best see
the different versions of PII that
appear
in the
correspondence.
The
argument
at L IV. 6 considers the
question
of whether there could
be two
specific,
distinct states.
They
are: the material world
having
a
certain
position
at the time of
creation,
and the material
world,
being
itself
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LEIBNIZ S PRINCIPLE 133
the
same,
but
having
some other
position
at the time of creation. Thus it is
(Q1)
that is at issue. If the two states are
distinct,
then
they
are members
of different
possible
worlds
(since any possible
world
has,
by
definition,
at
most one creation
state).
We cannot then
interpret
the version of PII used
at L IV. 6 as the
non-logical
one deduced at L IV. 1-4.8 That
principle
tells us
only
what we shall or shall not find in the actual world. It cannot relate states
of diverse
possible
worlds to one another. But the
present question
considers
the
relationship
between two states
that,
if
distinct,
are members of different
possible
worlds. In order to answer this broader
question,
Leibniz would
have to make use of a
principle relating
states of distinct
possible
worlds.
And indeed that is
precisely
what he
appears
to
offer,
in the
argument
at
L IV. 6. He
presents
a
conceptual principle
that denies the
possibility
of
distinguishing,
even in
thought,
the one state from the other: "to
suppose
two
things
. . . is to
suppose
. . .".
Therefore,
the
argument
at L IV. 6
both
requires,
and in fact makes use
of,
the
logical
version of PII.
Leibniz's fourth letter contains one further
argument
that
interestingly
employs
PII. It occurs at L IV. 13.
To
say
that God can cause the whole universe to move forward in
a
right
line,
or in
any
other
line,
without
making
otherwise
any
alteration in
it;
is another chimerical
supposition.
For,
two states
indiscernible from each
other,
are the same
state;
and
consequently,
'tis a
change
without
any change.
Besides,
there is neither
rhyme
nor
reason in it. But God does
nothing
without
reason;
and 'tis
impossible
there should be
any
here.9
It
appears
that
(Q2)
rather than
(Q1)
is addressed here. Leibniz is consider-
ing
the
possibility
of a
single possible
world,
the actual
world,
containing
two states.
They
are: the universe
occupying
some
spatial region,
and the
universe,
materially unchanged, occupying
some other
spatial region,
at
some other time. The
non-logical
version of PII is sufficient to
generate
Leibniz's
negative
answer to
(Q2).
Let us then assume for the moment that
the
non-logical
version of PII is intended here. We can detect two
arguments
in this
passage:
(R1)
The state of the material
universe,
before it is moved
along
a
straight
line,
is indiscernible from its state after it has been
moved
along
a
straight
line.
(R2)
Two states indiscernible from each other are identical
[PII].
..
(R3)
The two states are identical.
..
(R4)
God does not move the material universe
along
a
straight
line.
8It
might
be
objected
that what is
really
at issue here is not
(Q1),
since we should
interpret
L IV. 6 as
considering
whether the universe could have had at
first
a different
position, given
that it now
occupies
its
present position.
It is then a
question
of whether
the world could be
moved,
in which case
(Q2)
is at stake. Thus Leibniz can use the
non-logical
PII,
deduced at L IV. 1-4. But this
interpretation
is not the one closest to
the text. Leibniz asks if "the universe could have at first another
position
. . . than
that which it
actually
had". He thus contrasts two
(possibly distinct)
initial
positions.
OI wish
only
to offer some
suggestions
for
interpreting
this
very
dense
passage.
It
may
well be
impossible
to divine Leibniz's actual intentions.
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134 FRED CHERNOFF
And
secondly:
(S1)
There is no reason for God to move the material universe
along
a
straight
line.
(SI')
It is
impossible
that God should have a reason to move the
material universe
along
a
straight
line.
(S2)
God does
nothing
without reason.
.'.(S3)
God does not move the material world
along
a
straight
line.
I assumed for the moment that Leibniz intends a
non-logical
PII in this
passage.
But there are at least two considerations that militate
against
this
view,
and
suggest
that he intends a
logical principle.
First,
PII enters into
the second
argument
if
anywhere
in the
justification
for the first
premise.
The
non-logical
PII tells us that God does not
produce
two indiscernible
individuals in this world. But if we do not invoke the
logical
PII,
then it is
possible
that the two states
(the
universe before it is moved
along
a
straight
line and as it is after it is
moved)
are indiscernible in
thought,
and
yet
differ
solo numero.
(Only
the
logical
PII removes this
possibility.)
In this case
God
produces
neither
state,
since
they
are indiscernible.10 But it is obvious
that God
produced
at least one of the two
states,
since the material world
was in fact created. It must then be denied that there are even two states
from which God chooses. And this can be
accomplished only by
recourse
to the
logical
PII.
The second
point
arises from the fact that the two
arguments,
which I
have
paraphrased
as
(R1)-(R4)
and
(S1)-(S3),
are
conjoined
in a
specific
way by
Leibniz. The first
argument
makes clear use of
PII,
"two states
indiscernible from each
other,
are the same state". This
appears
to be the
logical
version,
for the
following
reason. The second
argument
makes refer-
ence to PSR. The
non-logical
version of PII is a
consequence
of
PSR,
and
thus is not
independent
of it. Leibniz
conjoins
the two
arguments
with the
term
'besides',
which
properly
introduces an
independent
idea. The
only
way
to
interpret
the second
argument,
which uses
PSR,
as
independent
of
the first
argument
is to
interpret
the first
argument
as
employing
the
logical
PII.
Either of these two considerations
is,
in
itself,
far from conclusive
proof
that L IV. 13 contains
only
the
logical
PII. It is even
possible
that both
versions of PII are involved here. We saw that both are at work in L IV. 1-6.
So
perhaps
the
logical
PII is
employed
in
(R2)
of the first
argument (R1)-
(R4),
and the
non-logical
in the second
argument (S1)-(S3).
IV. LEIBNIZ'S FIFTH LETTER AND THE NON-LoGICAL PRINCIPLE
Leibniz
presents
a number of
arguments
that
employ
PII. We have
seen that the
validity
of some of these
requires
the
logical
formulation of
PII,
while the
validity
of others does not. Leibniz
proffers
deductions of
lOLeibni
firmly
endorses this
view, e.g.,
at L IV. 3.
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LEIBNIZ S PRINCIPLE 135
PII,
but
they prove only
the
non-logical
version. A cardinal rule of historical
interpretation
demands that we attribute
consistency,
wherever
possible,
to
great philosophers.
Devotion to this
imperative suggests
that we
try
to
interpret
PII as an
unambiguous principle.
Since the
logical
version entails
the
non-logical
version,
we
might conjecture
that Leibniz intends the former.
That
principle
will render valid all of the
arguments
that
employ
PII as a
premise.
But Leibniz's deductions of PII
prove only
the
non-logical
version.
So this
pious suggestion
entails that his
attempted
deductions of PII fail.
It
does, however,
have the
gratifying
consolation that what is there deduced
is not inconsistent with the
logical
PII. But this
consolation,
and with it
the
possibility
of
interpreting
PII as a univocal
principle,
vanishes when we
examine Leibniz's fifth
letter,
where he
repeatedly
disavows the
logical
PII.
Leibniz
provides
another deduction of PII at L V. 21:
I infer from that
principle [PSR], among
other
consequences,
that
there are not in nature two
real,
absolute
beings,
indiscernible from
each
other;
because if there
were,
God and nature would act without
reason,
in
ordering
the one otherwise than the
other;
and that there-
fore God does not
produce
two
pieces
of matter
perfectly equal
and
alike.
This
argument proves
that no indiscernible individuals exist in nature.
Like the
proofs
in the fourth
letter,
it demonstrates
only
the
non-logical
PII. Leibniz
goes
on to consider an
objection
raised
by
Clarke,
and then
presents
the
following perspicuous
denial of the
logical
PII:
This
supposition
of two
indiscernibles,
such as two
pieces
of matter
perfectly
alike,
seems indeed to be
possible
in abstract
terms;
but it
is not consistent with the order of
things,
nor with the divine
wisdom,
by
which
nothing
is admitted without reason.
The
logical
PII is denied with
equal
force at L V. 25:
When I
deny
that there are two
drops
of water
perfectly
alike,
or
any
two other bodies indiscernible from each
other;
I don't
say,
'tis
absolutely impossible
to
suppose
them ....
Leibniz here
repudiates
a commitment to the
logical
PII. He does not
deny
the
possibility
or
conceivability
of indiscernible bodies that differ solo
numero,
as he must in the
arguments
of the third letter. He denies here
only
the
actuality
of indiscernible bodies. This
position
is taken also at
L V. 27:
The
parts
of time or
place,
considered in
themselves,
are ideal
things;
and therefore
they perfectly
resemble one another like two
abstract units. But it is not so with two concrete
ones,
or with two
real
times,
or two
spaces
filled
up,
that
is,
truly
actual.
Leibniz
again
affirms the
possibility
of individuals that are
indiscernible,
yet
differ in number. It is
significant
that the denials of the
logical
PII are
accompanied by
other
arguments
that
employ
PII as a
premise.
But these
arguments require only
the
weaker,
non-logical
version. For
example,
Leib-
niz is
attempting
to subvert the doctrines of atoms and of vacua. The views
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136 FRED CHERNOFF
he
opposes
assert that atoms and vacua in fact exist. Thus
they
are
(Q2')
type questions,
rather than
(Ql') type questions,
in that
they
refer to the
existence of several states within a
single possible
world. The
position
advocated
by
Leibniz on these issues can therefore be advanced
by
means
of the
non-logical
PII for the same reason as that for which this
principle
was able to
provide
him with his answer to
(Q2).
In his attack
upon
the existence of
atoms,
he admits that it is
abstractly
possible
to conceive of several
pieces
of matter as
numerically
diverse and
yet qualitatively
indiscernible.
(This
is
evident,
e.g.,
in the last
passage
cited.)
The
theory
he is
combating
maintains that atoms exist in the actual
world,
not as mere abstract
possibilities.
The
question
it
answers,
as we have
noted,
is an
example
of a
(Q2') type question.
Leibniz can therefore admit
the bare
possibility
of
atoms,
or the
consistency
of the
concept
atom,
with-
out
undercutting any part
of his
counter-argument. Similarly,
his
arguments
against
the existence of vacua do not
require
the
logical
PII. He is able to
present
them
using only
PSR and its
consequences.
The most
oft-propounded
argument against
the existence of vacua
states,
roughly,
that
any region
of
space
assumed to be void of matter
could,
without
detracting
from the
perfection
of
any
other
matter,
have been filled with matter
by
God.l
It is
impossible
for a void to confer
goodness
on the universe
(or
on
anything),
but it is
possible
for
something
which fills the void to confer
goodness.
It
is therefore better to create that
region
filled with matter than to create it
empty.
Since God does
only
what is
best,
He does not create a vacuum.
Leibniz
opposes
a finite universe with
essentially
the same
argument.
If
the universe is
finite,
then it could have been
larger.
More matter can confer
more
goodness.
So if the universe had been
larger,
it could have been better.
If it could have been
better,
then it is not the best that is
possible.
But God
acts
only
for the best. Therefore the universe is not finite. In both
argu-
ments the
premise
that God acts for the best is
employed.
This is not an
absolute truth of
logic,
but rather a
morally necessary, non-logical proposi-
tion. Thus the conclusions of both
arguments
should be
non-logical.
This
accords
precisely
with Leibniz's
position
on the matter.
Absolutely speaking,
it
appears
that God can make the material
universe finite in
extension;
but the
contrary appears
more
agreeable
to his wisdom
(L
V.
30,
my italics).
Leibniz does not
regard
the
propositions
for which he
argues,
in his attacks
on the finite
universe,
and
atoms,
as
logical
truths. He does not need to
confine his
premises
to
logical
truths.
ITe
is then at
liberty
to use non-
logical premises
such as the weaker version of PII. It is
perhaps
due to his
recognition
of this fact that we find in the fifth letter that Leibniz uses
only
the
non-logical
PII and disavows the
logical
PII. He needs
only
the
weaker,
less dubitable
principle.
So he endorses it. He disclaims the
stronger
llArguments
like this occur at L II.
2,
L III.
9,
L IV.
22-3,
L IV P.S. and L V. 43.
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LEIBNIZ'S PRINCIPLE 137
principle,
since it is more vulnerable to
criticism,
and does
not,
for his
present
purposes, yield
results
beyond
those obtainable from the weaker
principle.l2
V. CONCLUSION
There is no
single interpretation
of PII that has the simultaneous virtues
of
rendering
valid all of the
arguments
in which PII
occurs,
and of
remaining
consistent with Leibniz's
repeated
remarks,
in the fifth
letter,
on the conceiv-
ability
of indiscernible individuals. Leibniz
employs
two
logically
distinct
versions of PII. The third letter contains
arguments,
at L III. 5 and L III.
6,
demonstrating
that
supposed
alternative
places
and times of creation
are,
on the relational
theory,
indiscernible from one another and therefore iden-
tical. The alternatives are
noncompossible,
if
they
are distinct. Thus the
questions
at stake are of
type (Q1').
The
non-logical
PII cannot relate such
states to one
another,
and hence cannot be used to manufacture Leibniz's
conclusions at L III. 5 and L III. 6. The fourth letter
appears
to use both
the
logical
and
non-logical
version of PII. And in the fifth letter Leibniz
uses the
non-logical
PII,
while he
rejects
the
logical
PII.
Any attempt
to
interpret
PII,
as it
appears
in the
correspondence
with
Clarke,
as a
unique
principle
that accords with all of Leibniz's relevant remarks is doomed to
failure.
The
type
of
interpretation
we have ruled out
may
be termed
"Athenian",
after Castafieda. An Athenian
interpretation presumes
that the work of a
philosopher sprang fully developed
from its
author,
as
opposed
to a Darwinian
interpretation,
which allows that
changes may
occur when
conflicting
views
battle with one another for
domination,
and the fitter survive. The situation
we have encountered in the
correspondence vociferously
demands a Darwinian
approach.
The third letter contains
only
the
logical
PII. The fourth letter
appears
to contain
both,
while
only
the
non-logical
version is
proven.
And
the fifth letter uses
only
the
non-logical
version,
while
explicitly denying
the
logical
version.
The Darwinian
standpoint permits
us to
suppose
that Leibniz intended
only
one version of PII. As his ideas were
challenged by
Newton and
Clarke,
he scrutinized his
position
more
closely,
and as the debate came to focus
on somewhat different
issues,
the need for a broader
principle
diminished.
For these and other reasons PII is
transfigured
from a
logical
into a non-
logical principle.
The
struggle
between the two
competing
versions of PII
appears
to culminate in the fourth letter. And the
non-logical
version
emerges
victorious in the fifth letter. In a discussion of a different
issue,
Castanieda
states that "The Darwinian
approach
is
particularly necessary
in the case
a2It
might
be
argued
that the shift from the
logical
to the
non-logical
PII could be
explained away by appeal
to the distinction between two entities'
sharing
all their
properties
and their
sharing only
their non-relational
properties.
But there
appears
to
be no evidence in the
correspondence
that Leibniz viewed this as the basis of the shift
in his use of PII. And in earlier
papers (such
as "First
Truths",
Loemker
I, pp. 411-7)
he seems to endorse both the relational and non-relational
applications
of PII.
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138 FRED CHERNOFF
of Leibniz".13 The
foregoing
results substantiate this claim. In
considering
the
ground
of PII I have
suggested
that an Athenian
interpretation
of that
principle,
not
only
as it
appears throughout
the works of
Leibniz,
but even
as it
appears
in his last
philosophical correspondence,
is not
possible.
Yale
University
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