Leibniz's Lost Argument Against Causal Interaction

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Abstract
Leibniz accepts causal independence, the claim that no created substance can causally interact with any other. And Leibniz needs causal independence to be true, since his well-known pre-established harmony is premised upon it. So, what is Leibniz’s argument for causal independence? Sometimes he claims that causal interaction between substances is superfluous. Sometimes he claims that it would require the transfer of accidents, and that this is impossible. But when Leibniz finds himself under sustained pressure to defend causal independence, those are not the reasons that he marshals in its defense. Instead, deep into his long correspondence with Burchard de Volder, he gives a different sort of argument, one that has gone nearly unnoticed by commentators and has not yet been properly understood. In part, this is because the argument develops slowly over four years of correspondence. It emerges in early 1704, but it is formulated tersely and appears murky unless understood in light of Leibniz and De Volder’s tangled exchanges. There Leibniz argues that, on his distinctive ontology of an infinity of created substances, no two created substances could possibly causally interact, for roughly the same reasons that some Cartesians like De Volder deny interaction between minds and bodies on their substance dualist ontology. In this paper I draw out this lost argument, explain it and the metaphysics on which Leibniz builds it, and untangle Leibniz and De Volder’s exchanges concerning causation from which this argument results.
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Archival date: 2019-12-02
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2019-11-28

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