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Leibniz's account of the relation between soul and body


To: Francis M.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Leibniz's account of the relation between soul and body
Date: 15 January 2008 11:52

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your email of 17 December, with your University of London Modern Philosophy essay in response to the question, 'What account did Leibniz give of the union of soul and body? How satisfactory is it?'
You have given a clear and useful summary of the problem of mind-body interaction which Leibniz attempts to solve by developing a better alternative to the occasionalism put forward by Malebranche.

I agree that there is a question about how much Leibniz's theory is indeed a genuine advance on occasionalism, as opposed to a tweak. The main point here is that, by contrast with the clockmaker who keeps a close eye on his clocks and adjusts them when they go out of sync, God being omniscient is never going to be taken by surprise by any event A, which requires his intervention in order to bring event B in sync. Everything is taken care of in advance.

Indeed, the very idea of God 'bringing about that X', for any event X has to be understood in the light of the fact that God's view of the universe is atemporal. 'God brings about that X' is how the event would be described by subjects who exist in time, but this is not how things ultimately appear from God's point of view.

If Malebranche had put forward occasionalism as a theory which only governs mind-body interactions but not body-body interactions, then there would be a serious objection that the theory is ad hoc. But this is not his view; only God, according to Malebranche, can act as a cause.

So one question about the satisfactoriness of Leibniz's account would be whether it is, in fact, any improvement on Malebranche. One possible response would be to say that occasionalism, consistently thought through, leads inevitably to monadism. If no finite entity stands in causal relation to any other finite entity, then every entity is, in effect, 'windowless'.

I liked your attempt to illustrate Leibniz's theory in terms of the systems of communication within your organization. It doesn't quite come off, although it got me thinking about how your example could form the basis of an adequate model.

If I send a piece of paperwork to A, and A's response is partly dependent on the existing rules within the organization for responding to a piece of paperwork of that kind, then if something goes badly wrong, management is faced with the question who was to blame. Was it A, for not reacting correctly to the piece of paperwork? or was it the existing rules, which A followed, or attempted to follow?

This predicament is one which courts of law face everyday. The problem is one of identifying the 'cause' amongst the multiple conditions which lead to a particular event, e.g. a car crash. J.L. Mackie put forward a theory of the INUS condition - 'the' cause of an event X is an insufficient but necessary part of an unnecessary but sufficient condition for X.

All of which adds up to saying that this is not an illustration of Leibniz's pre-established harmony. A better example to illustrate Leibniz's theory would be one where people in an organization were under the *false impression* that they were communicating with one another and altering one another's behaviour as a result, whereas in reality they are all responding to direct orders from Management. In this case they are being tricked, treated as mere puppets (to what purpose, one can only speculate)

Your second, throwaway suggestion that mind-body interaction might be compared to 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' would probably not earn a nod of approval from the examiner. Having said that, there is a substantive question about how very different kinds of physical entity can causally effect one another's states. The point here would be to contrast the problem of mind-body interaction, which arises from the metaphysics of cartesian dualism, with problems of causation which arise when we depart from the simple 'action by contact' model. E.g. how can a magnetic field causally interact with a lump of iron is a question for physics and also for philosophy.

You do also raise the important question of what the union of soul and body consist in, or what it is that makes it the case that my body is mine. The question does say 'union' and not 'interaction'. You can cap this point by explicitly referring to the question and showing that you have grasped the point of using the term 'union' rather than 'interaction'.

All the best,