Toward a New Reading of Leibnizian Appetites: Appetites as Uneasiness

Res Philosophica 91 (1):123-150 (2014)


If we consider their fundamental role in the makeup of simple substances, our understanding of Leibnizian appetites or ‘appetitions’ seems far from satisfactory. To promote a better understanding of Leibniz’s mature view of appetites, I present a new reading of the appetitive nature of simple substances, focusing on key texts where Leibniz stresses how appetites fail to reach what they strive for. Against the “standard reading,” according to which appetites are the direct causes of subsequent perceptual states, I propose an alternative, more complex picture of appetitive activity within simple substances. On my account, what Leibniz typically refers to as ‘appetites’ do not directly cause subsequent states, but are strivings or desires to be in states of less unease or greater happiness, states that the creature might actually fail to enjoy. This reading of appetites, I argue, is consistent with there being an additional, distinct strand of appetitive activity, one that corresponds to the primitive forces of simple substances. In contrast to the first strand of appetitive activity, this second strand is directly causal in that its final causality is operative in the exceptionless occurrence of the series of perceptual states prescribed in the “law of the series.” The resulting picture is one in which simple substances are appetitive through and through, with teleological activity permeating the substance at the levels of both primitive and derivative forces

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