Leibniz on Teleology and the Laws of Optics

Dissertation, University of California, Irvine (2004)

Jeffrey McDonough
Harvard University
This essay explores Leibniz's defense of teleology and teleological explanations in the domain of physics in general, and the roles that teleology plays in his studies of optics in particular. I argue first that Leibniz draws upon Plato's defense of final causes to introduce a novel research program intended to steer a middle course, on the one hand, between Aristotelian-Scholasticism and the new mechanical philosophy, and, on the other hand, between Cartesian rationalism and Gassendist empiricism. The implementation of this program leads Leibniz to significant conceptual innovations, as he attempts to reconcile teleological and efficient explanatory frameworks, and important discoveries, as he tries to show how final causes can be used to achieve results in the study of the natural world. ;Having situated Leibniz's defense of final causes in the broader context of his general philosophy of physics, I turn to a more detailed investigation of the roles that teleology plays in his work in geometrical optics. Interest in final causes leads Leibniz to introduce his "Most Determined Path Principle" from which both of the central laws of geometrical optics may be derived. I argue that Leibniz uses the discovery of such principles to introduce a thin notion of final causation within the order of nature based on teleological laws that link prior events to subsequent events via the likely or expected outcomes of those events, and defend this view against objections made both by Leibniz's contemporaries and our own. I also argue that Leibniz uses the discovery of principles like Most Determined Path Principle to provide a novel connection within his system between considerations of divine perfection and the laws of nature. I defend the internal consistency of this connection, and explore its relations to Leibniz's mature physics, and to his view that the world is governed by two sets of equipotent laws, one teleological and one mechanical
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Leibniz on Natural Teleology and the Laws of Optics.Jeffrey K. McDonough - 2009 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78 (3):505-544.

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