A Tale of Two Thinkers, One Meeting, and Three Degrees of Infinity: Leibniz and Spinoza (1675–8)

Ohad Nachtomy
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan
The article presents Leibniz's preoccupation (in 1675?6) with the difference between the notion of infinite number, which he regards as impossible, and that of the infinite being, which he regards as possible. I call this issue ?Leibniz's Problem? and examine Spinoza's solution to a similar problem that arises in the context of his philosophy. ?Spinoza's solution? is expounded in his letter on the infinite (Ep.12), which Leibniz read and annotated in April 1676. The gist of Spinoza's solution is to distinguish between three kinds of infinity and, in particular, between one that applies to substance, and one that applies to numbers, seen as auxiliaries of the imagination. The rest of the paper examines the extent to which Spinoza's solution solves Leibniz's problem. The main thesis I advance is that, when Spinoza and Leibniz say that the divine substance is infinite, in most contexts it is to be understood in non-numerical and non-quantitative terms. Instead, for Spinoza and Leibniz, a substance is said to be infinite in a qualitative sense stressing that it is complete, perfect and indivisible. I argue that this approach solves one strand of Leibniz's problem and leaves another unsolved
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DOI 10.1080/09608788.2011.599570
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