The Discreteness of Matter: Leibniz on Plurality and Part-Whole Priority

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Leibniz argues against Descartes’s conception of material substance based on considerations of unity. I examine a key premise of Leibniz’s argument, what I call the Plurality Thesis—the claim that matter (i.e. extension alone) is a plurality of parts. More specifically, I engage an objection to the Plurality Thesis stemming from what I call Material Monism—the claim that the physical world is a single material substance. I argue that Leibniz can productively engage this objection based on his view that matter is discrete. The discreteness of matter provides two aspects of support for the Plurality Thesis. First, it indicates that the parts of matter do not share boundaries and are, therefore, independent in an important sense. Second, it indicates that the parts of matter are determinate and are, therefore, ontologically prior to the wholes they compose.

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Adam Harmer
University of California, Riverside


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