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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz published Monadology in 1720. With this metaphysical pamphlet (comprising 90 paragraph-length precepts, somewhat in the manner of a religious tract), he is participating in a dialogue about matter, the body, and the soul that was much discussed by other prominent scientists and philosophers such as René Descartes and Isaac Newton. Leibniz is distinct from these two for his acceptance of the smallest individual unit as a "monad," which (according to Leibniz) was endowed with a body and mind, and, occasionally, a soul. Newton was concerned with the physical being matter but not the mental aspects. Descartes proposed a dualism of mind and body (maintaining that they were separate substances), while Baruch Spinoza claimed that the universe was made up of a single divine substance (a theory known as "monism"). Leibniz begins his dialogue thus:

The Monad, of which we shall here speak, is nothing but a simple substance, which enters into compounds. By ‘simple’ is meant ‘without parts.’ (paragraph 1)

Leibniz goes on to say that monads can not be created nor destroyed by natural means. His description here bears remarkable resemblance to that of the atom. However, there are several types of monads. Leibniz says later:

But it is the knowledge of necessary and eternal truths that distinguishes us from the mere animals and gives us Reason and the sciences, raising us to the knowledge of ourselves and of God. And it is this in us that is called the rational soul or mind."(paragraph 29).

For Leibniz, there are three types of monads: 1) created monads, 2) perceiving monads, and 3) rational monads (humans). The ability to remember and rationalize is unique to humans.

In the latter part of his treatise, Leibniz addresses how these monads operate together. In brief, God (himself a monad) is the divine architect of them all, and it is through him that all that all other monads interact.

Thus, although each created monad represents the whole universe, it represents more distinctly the body which specially pertains to it, and of which it is the entelechy; and as this body expresses the whole universe through the connexion of all matter in the plenum, the soul also represents the whole universe in representing this body, which belongs to it in a special way. (paragraph 62)

For Leibniz, monads are microcosmic; they represent the entire natural universe in an of themselves. This concept of monad leads Leibniz to avow that monads are divine machines, far surpassing any manmade machines. Later, Leibniz uses the analogy of plant-producing seeds, as follows:

. . . organic bodies of nature are never products of chaos or putrefaction, but always come from seeds, in which there was undoubtedly some preformation; and it is held that not only the organic body was already there before conception, but also a soul in this body, and, in short, the animal itself; and that by means of conception this animal has merely been prepared for the great transformation involved in its becoming an animal of another kind. Something like this is indeed seen apart from birth [generation], as when worms become flies and caterpillars become butterflies. (paragraph 74).

In summary, Leibniz was engaging in a dialogue with many other natural philosophers, The Monadology is a metaphysical text as it addresses itself to the nature of matter and the soul, and God himself is the supreme monad.

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