Definitions, Sorites Arguments, and Leibniz’s Méditation sur la notion commune de la justice

The Leibniz Review 14:153-166 (2004)
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As Leibniz points out in the Méditation sur la notion commune de la jus tice, justice—defined as charity of the wise and universal benevolence—belongs “to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things, as numbers and proportions.” According to the interpretation of Patrick Riley, from this perspective the two manuscripts usually regarded as belonging to the Méditation should be seen as complementary parts of a unitary Platonizing work. According to Riley, the manuscript that now constitutes the first part of the Méditation is concerned with definitions of ethical concepts viewed as “quasi-mathematical, demonstrable ‘eternal verities’”, whereas the manuscript that now constitutes the second part of the Méditation is concerned “with Platonic ‘ascent’, in the manner of Phaedrus and Symposium,” which recommends the transition from mere negative forbearance from harm to doing positive good. In formulating these claims, Riley uses scare quotes to indicate that he uses the terms “eternal verities” and “ascent” in an unusual way that diverges from the views of the historical Plato. According to his interpretation, Leibniz’s modifications of Platonism are restricted to peripheral parts such as the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul or Pythagorean components such as the doctrine of metempsychosis. Therefore, Riley claims that when Leibniz is talking about knowing eternal truths, what he has in mind is literally the view that we know the same truths as the truths that the gods know and love but do not cause or change.

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Andreas Blank
Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt


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