Monday 24 March 2014

Leibniz, Spinoza and Whitehead

A really interesting post on Leibniz, Spinoza and Whitehead on the Footnotes 2 Plato blog. I like the last line of this a lot:
Whitehead certainly owed a lot to both Spinoza and Leibniz. His speculative system is a re-assemblage of many of their most insightful concepts. But in re-assembling them, Whitehead also drastically alters their meaning. Leibniz’s monads are turned into process-relational actual occasions; they are, unlike Leibniz’s ultimate entities, almost all window.
Stengers is interesting on Leibniz because she takes his diplomatic profession very seriously.
In order trace the escape route from this major key, I could contrast Benedict de Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz. It has been said that while Spinoza did entertain an optimistic conception of the power of truth, Leibniz was pessimistic; and I would add that he had plenty of reasons to be pessimistic since his time was the time of religious wars, killing in the name of God and Truth. It may well be that Spinoza's so-called optimism is much too tricky to figure as an example of 'major key' thinking, even if he has come to be an inspiration for some of them. But the very discomfort surrounding Leibniz, the thinker of diplomacy about whom it was said 'Herr Leibniz glaubt nichts [believes nothing]', marks him as a 'minor key' thinker. I think Leibniz would have understood Bartlebys 'I would prefer not to' – I would prefer not to appeal to the strong drug of Truth, or to the power to denounce and judge, to deconstruct and criticise. The strong drug of enlightenment against illusion.
Isabelle Stengers, An Ecology of Practices, 187-8.
It seems that for Stengers the dismissal of Leibniz as a liar is as much a hatred of politics as anything else – a very modernist tendency.  The almost evangelical preference for Spinoza over Leibniz shown by some historians of philosophy would seem to play into this – the beautifully souled, misunderstood outsider versus the corrupted, duplicitous insider.