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Monad and Monadology


The Greek term μονάς, from which the word monad is derived, means a "unit" or a "one." In Pythagorean writings it is the unity from which the entire number system, and thereforeas a consequence of the doctrine that "everything is number"all things, are derived. Through Plato, who applied the Pythagorean term to the Ideas or Forms (Philebus V, 15b), it entered the tradition of Neoplatonism and Christian Platonism to mean a simple, irreducible, self-determining entity whose activity is the source of all composite beings. In this sense it was sometimes used to designate God as the simple source of all being and sometimes to signify the simplest irreducible entities in the created order out of whose harmonious action all existence is compounded.

A monadology is a metaphysical system that interprets the world as a harmonious unity encompassing a plurality of such self-determining simple entities. The term was first used in the early eighteenth century of the metaphysics of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

In its modern meaning since Leibniz, a monad is held to be (1) a simple, irreducible, and sometimes indestructible entity; and (2) the minimal unity into which the cosmos and all composite things in it can be resolved; yet (3) containing within itself, in contrast to material atoms, powers and relations of which it is itself the source. It is therefore conceived after the analogy of a mind or a res cogitans rather than a material substance. It is held to constitute, along with other monads, an all-inclusive unity or harmony of the cosmos as a whole.

A monadology may thus entail a theory of cosmic harmony, based upon a mathematical or scientific functionalism or upon a psychology of intersubjective relations, as well as a theory of relations, in which the relations constituting this cosmic harmony are brought into being through monadic action, although they do not affect the monads or organizations of monads that are the objects of the acts (Leibniz's perceptions and Alfred North Whitehead's prehensions are examples of such relations).

This intermonadic harmony may itself he regarded as a unity, or cosmic Monad, and this view may involve pantheism or a theistic theory of creation. The relation of the minimal monads to the supreme Monad is one of mirroring rather than being a part of; since the supreme Monad must itself be simple, each monad may be held to be a finite (unclear and indistinct) reflection of the attributes of the supreme Monad. (The metaphors of mirroring, of echoing, and of the infinite circle whose center is everywhere have commonly been used in monadologies.)

Monadologies may disagree in their fundamental categories. Monads are active substances and, therefore, also processes; Leibniz attempted, but with incomplete success, to unite a logical and a psychological analysis of the monad by applying the notions of intensionality and extensionality. The finite monads may be of a temporal nature; the cosmic order may be either eternal or temporal, oras Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne heldboth eternal and temporal. The finite monads themselves may be eternal changeless souls (John McTaggart). The cosmic harmony may be thought of as a divine Person or merely as the unitary society of monads.

In the history of modern monadologies, three conceptions have been operative: the Christian Platonist tradition of the soul as a simple substance possessing self-certainty in immediate unity (Augustine, De Trinitate, IX, 3; X, 9, 10); the Neoplatonic-Stoic conception of the One that is essentially represented in each of its parts; and a spiritualized form of atomism ultimately derived from this Neoplatonic-Stoic conception. The first tradition, mediated by Boethius, the Franciscans, and other medieval Platonists, became prominent in the seventeenth century in Francisco Suárez, René Descartes, and others. The second tradition emerged in the Renaissance in the concepts of the microcosm and macrocosm after a long history during which the Stoic doctrine of the Logos had been combined with the Neoplatonic theory of the One and the subordinate intelligences. This tradition involved the principle of plenitude, according to which the universe can achieve its maximal being only when God multiplies or reduplicates his nature in every created being. This principle was suggested by Meister Eckhart and explicated by Nicholas of Cusa in his doctrine of the coincidence of maximum and minimum in God. Giordano Bruno developed the principle of plenitude into a theory of material monads as spherical atoms that are spiritual reflections of the Divine Nature (De triplice minimo et mensura Libri quinque, 1591; De monade, numero, et figura Liber, 1591).

Leibniz's concept of monad is variously ascribed to Bruno, Henry More, or Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont, all of whom had made use of the term. But the terms Monas and monadica appear in the early papers of Leibniz, written long before he had come to know any of these thinkers or had developed his mature metaphysics.

Leibniz's monadology involves a harmonious universe composed of an infinite number of monads, each of which was an infinite series of perceptive acts defined by a unique point of view or a unique law of series; each such law, in turn, was a particular finite combination of the perfections of God expressed in his creation. Leibniz presented a succinct but incomplete account of this system in his Principles of Nature and of Grace and the so-called Monadology, both written in 1714; he then devoted the last twenty years of his philosophical activity to a defense and amplification of his monadology through various papers and a vast correspondence. His system and that of Whitehead, who ascribed greater spontaneity and creativity to the monads and interpreted them as mindlike entities of limited duration, are the most detailed modern monadologies.

Trained in the Leibniz-Wolff tradition, Immanuel Kant wrote Physical Monadology in his precritical period (1756), in which the monads were treated as sources of motion in a Newtonian space. In the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant called his second antinomy "the dialectic principle of monadology" (1st ed., p. 442). This antinomy is directed at the metaphysical claims for a monadology made by the Wolffian school. In their development of a realistic, spiritualistic metaphysics, Johann Friedrich Herbart, Hermann Lotze, and Gustav Theodor Fechner developed monadologies on a Kantian basis. In his third Essai de critique générale (Paris, 1859), and in La nouvelle monadologie (Paris, 1899), Charles Renouvier built a monadology upon his relativized interpretation of Kant, making the highest attainable harmony in "the best of all possible worlds" depend upon the freedom of human monads or persons. In contrast to this relativized monadism, Edmund Husserl, in his Cartesian Meditations (19291931), suggested a monadic completion of his transcendental phenomenology, describing a type of "indirect experience that possesses its own modes of verification" within one's own monadic experience and that also provides "the transcendental base" for an objective natural order; implied in this is a "sphere of monadological intersubjectivity." Other recent monadologies include Dietrich Mahnke's attempt to reconcile Leibniz's monadology with recent science and philosophy; H. Wildon Carr's Theory of Monads (London, 1922), influenced by the British personalistic tradition; and William Stern's hierarchical system of persons and things, inspired by Benedict de Spinoza, Fechner, and Lotze.

See also Augustine, St.; Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus; Bruno, Giordano; Descartes, René; Eckhart, Meister; Fechner, Gustav Theodor; Herbart, Johann Friedrich; Husserl, Edmund; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Lotze, Rudolf Hermann; Macrocosm and Microcosm; McTaggart, John McTaggart Ellis; More, Henry; Neoplatonism; Nicholas of Cusa; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Renaissance; Renouvier, Charles Bernard; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Stern, Louis William; Suárez, Francisco; Whitehead, Alfred North.


Discussions of monadologies are to be found in Heinz Heimsoeth, Atom, Seele, Monade. Historische Ursprünge und Hintergründe von Kant's Antinomie der Teilung (Wiesbaden, 1960). W. Cramer, in Die Monade (Stuttgart, 1954), begins with Kant's antinomy and treats him in terms of intermonadic relations. P. F. Strawson subjects a Leibnizian monadology to critical analysis in Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (New York, 1963), pp. 114133.

See also Dietrich Mahnke, Eine Neue Monadologie (Kantstudien, Erganzungsheft 39; Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1917) and Unendliche Sphäre und Allmittelpunkt (Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1937) by the same author; Edmund Husserl, Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge, edited by S. Strasser (The Hague, 1950), especially sections 5556; William Stern, Person und Sache, 3 vols. (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 19061924), Vol. I (Leipzig, 1906); and A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1929).

L. E. Loemker (1967)

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