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Simples, force, and the communication between substances: A study on Leibniz’s Pre-established Harmony and its reception in Wolff’s philosophy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

The main purpose of this dissertation is to revise the standard account of Wolff’s philosophy as a mere epigone of Leibniz’s views by focusing on the specific problem of the communication between substances and the metaphysics of simples and force underlying it. By explaining the differences between Leibniz’s and Wolff’s views on this matter, it aims also at clarifying and reinforcing some important and not always recognized features of Leibniz’s conception of substances’ interrelation. The main thesis I defend is that, in spite of some ambiguity on Wolff’s part, he does not assume the doctrine of pre-established harmony in its orthodox Leibnizian version because he does not endorse Leibniz’s idealist ontology of simples, the doctrine on which pre-established harmony is grounded in Leibniz’s philosophy. As an alternative to idealism, Wolff develops an ontology according to which (finite) simples, with the sole exception of the human soul, are physical points whose forces are likewise of a physical nature. The re-elaboration of Leibniz’s metaphysical notions of simple and force strongly affects Wolff’s conception of pre-established harmony. First, in Wolff’s philosophy the theory is no longer (and can no longer be), as it was on Leibniz’s orthodox view, a general explanatory model of cosmological unification. It is instead only a hypothesis aiming to solve the particular problem of the mind-body union. Secondly, I explain that, given Wolff’s departure from Leibniz’s idealism, he must face the problem of how to account for the union and communication between ontologically heterogeneous entities – a problem which Leibniz, contrary to some common ways of interpreting his motivations for pre-established harmony, is able to avoid since he conceives the relationship between the mind and the body on the ground of his pan-idealistic, non-dualistic conception of reality.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2014

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