(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Monadology is undoubtedly Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s best-known work. Because it is a condensed statement of his main philosophical principles, written late in life, there is good reason for this popularity. On the other hand, its popularity is somewhat strange, because Leibniz himself gave no title to the manuscript and it was not published during his lifetime. Written in French in 1714, it was first published in German in 1720. Not until 1840 did the original French version appear, and the title La Monadologie, given to the work at that time, has remained. Although Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine du mal (1710; Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil, 1951) represents Leibniz’s philosophical and theological interests more directly, and his Nouveaux essais sur l’entendement humain (wr. 1704, pb. 1765; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding, 1896) undoubtedly provoked more immediate interest, Monadology remains important as a brief metaphysical sketch.

Monadology has been called an “encyclopaedia of Leibniz’s philosophy,” and one of its drawbacks is that in a strict sense, the reader needs to know Leibniz’s other writings in order to understand its contents properly. Support can be found for considering Theodicy to be a more central work from the fact that Leibniz himself added references in the margin of his manuscript (later named Monadology) referring particularly to passages in Theodicy where the views were more fully expressed. Yet Monadology can be, and usually has been, read alone. As such, it stands in a tradition of brief yet comprehensive metaphysical expositions that have an influence out of proportion to their length.