Actual Infinitesimals in Leibniz's Early Thought

Before establishing his mature interpretation of infinitesimals as fictions, Gottfried Leibniz had advocated their existence as actually existing entities in the continuum. In this paper I trace the development of these early attempts, distinguishing three distinct phases in his interpretation of infinitesimals prior to his adopting a fictionalist interpretation: (i) (1669) the continuum consists of assignable points separated by unassignable gaps; (ii) (1670-71) the continuum is composed of an infinity of indivisible points, or parts smaller than any assignable, with no gaps between them; (iii) (1672- 75) a continuous line is composed not of points but of infinitely many infinitesimal lines, each of which is divisible and proportional to a generating motion at an instant (conatus). In 1676, finally, Leibniz ceased to regard infinitesimals as actual, opting instead for an interpretation of them as fictitious entities which may be used as compendia loquendi to abbreviate mathematical reasonings.
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