Atoms and Monads: An Inquiry Into the Idea of Nature in Locke's "Essay" and Leibniz's "New Essays"

Dissertation, City University of New York (1985)
Abstract
A matter of significance for the history of philosophy is the question of what are the issues that underlie Leibniz's response to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in his own New Essays on Human Understanding. Exploration of that question can contribute to interpretations of both Locke and Leibniz. Equally important, it can provide insight into problems of philosophy that have their genesis in the seventeenth century. ;The dissertation uses the Essay and the New Essays to explore what it regards as the central conflict between Locke and Leibniz: the conflict about the primacy of metaphysics. It takes for its focus their differing positions on atomism, contrasting the particle theory of matter that it finds central to the Essay with Leibniz's metaphysical unit, the monad. It develops the implications of those differing positions for an idea of nature specifically--nature here conceived as the arena in which science and metaphysics meet. ;The thesis of the dissertation is that the positions of Locke and Leibniz on atomism express opposing responses of philosophy to science; and, further, that this opposition had profound significance for the subsequent direction of philosophy. The first element in the thesis is the specific concern of the dissertation. Its second element, which suggests an approach to the history of philosophy since the seventeenth century, is an issue for further exploration. ;Locke's Essay is shown as a deliberate construction of an epistemology grounded in the new science, combining that purpose with an explicit rejection of the value of metaphysical speculation as the basis for knowledge. Locke's scientific background and orientation determine his analysis of ideas, of the powers and qualities of matter, and of real essences of material substances. ;In contrast, the New Essays is seen as asserting the primacy of metaphysics for the solution of epistemological and scientific questions. Leibniz's arguments against atomism are examined, to show why the basic reason for his rejection of all particle theories of matter is their violation of specific metaphysical principles. His positive position is presented in a discussion of the monad, emphasizing its characteristics in the realm of nature
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