Teleology and Realism in Leibniz's Philosophy of Science

In Vincenzo De Risi (ed.), Leibniz and the Structure of Sciences. Berlin: Springer. pp. 271-298 (2019)
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This paper argues for an interpretation of Leibniz’s claim that physics requires both mechanical and teleological principles as a view regarding the interpretation of physical theories. Granting that Leibniz’s fundamental ontology remains non-physical, or mentalistic, it argues that teleological principles nevertheless ground a realist commitment about mechanical descriptions of phenomena. The empirical results of the new sciences, according to Leibniz, have genuine truth conditions: there is a fact of the matter about the regularities observed in experience. Taking this stance, however, requires bringing non-empirical reasons to bear upon mechanical causal claims. This paper first evaluates extant interpretations of Leibniz’s thesis that there are two realms in physics as describing parallel, self-sufficient sets of laws. It then examines Leibniz’s use of teleological principles to interpret scientific results in the context of his interventions in debates in seventeenth-century kinematic theory, and in the teaching of Copernicanism. Leibniz’s use of the principle of continuity and the principle of simplicity, for instance, reveal an underlying commitment to the truth-aptness, or approximate truth-aptness, of the new natural sciences. The paper concludes with a brief remark on the relation between metaphysics, theology, and physics in Leibniz.

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Nabeel Hamid
Concordia University


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