Klaus D. Dutz, Stefano Gensini (eds.)
Im Spiegel des Verstandes, Studien zu Leibniz
Nodus Publikationen, Münster 1996.
The volume contains a collection of nine papers, each of which deals with
some aspect of Leibniz's ideas on language. Four of these papers are in
German, four in English, and one in Italian. The editors intended to contribute
to a survey of current research on Leibniz, and relate that they were surprised
by the coherence of the ensuing volume. However, they do not explicate
this any further, and they refrain from thematically arranging the various
contributions, which are instead alphabetically ordered by author's name.
The variety of issues addressed by the authors testifies to the impressive
range of subjects related to language on which Leibniz had interesting
things to say.
1. Allison P. Coudert, Leibniz, Knorr von Rosenroth, and the Kabbalah
Coudert discusses the interests shared by Leibniz and Knorr von Rosenroth
(1636-1689), a polyglot who translated a number of kabbalistic texts into
Latin, and published them under the title 'Kabbalah Denudata'. Leibniz
was greatly interested in these texts, and in 1689 he visited von Rosenroth.
They read over the 'Kabbalah Denudata' together and Leibniz made notes
of what he found the most memorable kabbalistic ideas. According to Coudert,
these ideas were later modified and included by Leibniz in his own writings.
In particular, the Leibnizian concept of monads was directly influenced
by the Kabbalah. Moreover, kabbalistic ideas helped to shape Leibniz's
argument for free will, and his theory of causation as volition.
Coudert states that modern historians unjustifiedly categorize seventeenth-century
intellectuals as either progressive mechanists or reactionary occultists.
In fact, the situation was more complex and interesting. Areas of knowledge
considered scientific in the seventeenth century, such as alchemy, magic
and the Kabbalah should not be eliminated. The optimism characteristic
of the period developed in part from precisely these areas. It is time,
Coudert concludes, "to acknowledge the Kabbalah as a factor in the emergence
of our modern secular and scientifically oriented world."
Although a thorough assessment of Coudert's claims should take his 1995
book into account, the argument as presented in the present paper is unconvincing.
It requires some strain of the imagination to view the kabbalistic ideas
allegedly lying at the basis of Leibniz's concept of monads as even remotely
resembling the latter. Further, it is ironic that Coudert provides quotes
from Leibniz which confirm that kabbalistic writings were not well known
to his contemporaries, and that if they were, they were habitually ridiculed.
In my opinion, Coudert underestimates the extent to which the opposition
between science and occultism, rather than being a distinction imposed
by later historians, was a reality in seventeenth century intellectual
life. That Leibniz tried to reconcile every conflict he met with, distilling,
whenever possible, useful elements from each of the impressive number of
doctrines he was familiar with, should not mislead us into thinking that
he believed all these doctrines to be true nor that the conflicts did not
2. Klaus D. Dutz, Leibniz und die Linguisten.
Dutz's paper is the longest, the most puzzling and the least convincing
of the volume. His central claim seems to be that since the history of
linguistics stands desperately in need of a 'meta-historiographical concept',
we are unable to exclude the possibility that Johann Jakob Feinhals (1702-1769)
was in fact the person who wrote or edited some or most of Leibniz's writings.
Not that we don't know this was not the case, but we have no methodology
ascertaining this. I find this claim little short of absurd, and I assume
I am probably unable to grasp the full complexity of Dutz's argument. A
somewhat unfortunate circumstance is that Dutz's paper contains a section
in which he criticizes a paper by myself. Since this section is fairly
self-contained, I shall use all the available space for a brief discussion
of this section only.
In my paper, I examined Leibniz's position with respect to Dalgarno
and Wilkins. I argued that Leibniz studied their work thoroughly, and that
he used both Dalgarno's and Wilkins's lexicons as a starting point for
his own lists of definitions. Further, I pointed out that Leibniz's aims
differed widely from those of both Dalgarno and Wilkins. Nonetheless, if
we focus on the actual work done to achieve these different objectives,
we see that Leibniz continued the work of his English predecessors. The
latter conclusion has apparently evoked Dutz's indignation. He goes into
detail to argue that Leibniz's definitions represent a completely different
philosophical view from that underlying those of Wilkins and he even takes
pains to show that some of Wilkins's definitions are nonsensical. All that
Wilkins and Leibniz have in common, he concludes, is that both thinkers
were interested in the search for an ideal language, and that Leibniz used
Wilkins's list of definitions. The rest is 'Rekonstruktion und Rezeption'.
In a footnote, he adds that it may have become clear that "'mein' Leibniz
nicht 'Maats' Leibniz ist". The funny thing is that this has not become
clear to me at all, for I perfectly agree with Dutz's observation that
Leibniz's philosophical position is far removed from Wilkins's, if a consistent
position can be associated with the latter's definitions at all. Indeed,
I assumed that these differences would be so apparent from the short comparative
table I provided that this point did not deserve separate mention. Dutz's
polemic, then, is quite pointless. Yet what has become clear is that 'Dutz's
Maat' is not 'my Maat', and this must probably be ascribed to 'Rekonstruktion
und Rezeption', though unfortunately, as I will explain on another occasion,
not of an admirable sort.
3. Stefano Gensini, The Leibnitian Concept of 'Significatio'.
The main point made in the paper is the following: Leibniz did not, in
a traditional manner, regard the meaning of linguistic expressions as residing
in a material or mental extra-linguistic referent. Rather, like Frege and
De Saussure, he distinguished an autonomous level of linguistic meaning.
Gensini substantiates this claim by examining, first, two early essays
by Leibniz, in the latter of which Leibniz introduced the notion of 'significatio'
as 'a pure linguistic entity'. Next, Gensini examines fragments that are
related to Leibniz's project of a characteristica universalis. It appears
that 'blind thought', which is characterized by a vague 'sense' that is
present in the mind, as opposed to the fully explicated 'significatio',
is just as essential for ordinary language use as it is for the characteristica
universalis. Thirdly, Gensini discusses the Nouveaux Essais, in which Leibniz
clearly confirms 'the autonomy of the semantic side of languages'. In a
final section, Gensini argues against recent attempts to depict Leibniz
as an Adamicist and as a precursor of modern theories of a 'language of
Bringing together a wealth of relevant material, Gensini makes some
interesting further points. For instance, he persuasively argues that Leibniz's
views cannot be understood without taking into account the distinction
between the historical order, to which our thoughts and our language use
belong on the one hand, and the metaphysical order, the 'realm of ideas',
fully grasped only by God on the other hand. Further, Gensini rightly points
out that it would be a mistake to associate Leibniz's ideas on natural
languages with a mystical view on language.
4. Ludger Kaczmarek, Organisation, Kommunikation, Formentstehung. Resonanzen
eines begrifflichen Feldes bei Leibniz und in der Gegenwart.
Kaczmarek draws attention to aspects of Leibniz's solution to the mind-body
problem which he says are of interest for linguistics and communication
theory. Leibniz's metaphysical concept of psycho-physical relations is
modelled on mutual interaction and communication. The world is a sensible
structure, organised with respect to a goal. The laws of nature underlying
matter are not questioned but subsumed under a metaphysical perspective.
Kaczmarek observes that questions occupying Leibniz, such as whether life
can be sufficiently explained by mechanical laws or whether it is necessary
to assume goal-directed principles of organisation, still have not received
a definitive answer. Further, there are non-trivial parallels between Leibniz's
theory of pre-established harmony and recent theorizing on 'morphic fields'
by Sheldrake. Leibniz's concept of harmony, which is central to his philosophy,
is a precondition of, or even coincides with 'communication'. Kaczmarek
also explores the relations between Bisterfeld's concept of 'immeatio',
the theological concept of 'perichoresis', and Leibniz's central concept
of relational, communicative harmony between everything that exists.
5. Maurizio Matteuzzi, Leibniz e i sincategoremi.
From the De Arte Combinatoria (1666) on, Leibniz was concerned to derive
a truth condition for all propositions from an arrangement of terms. This
posed the problem of what role is to be assigned to the syncategorematic
part of language. Matteuzzi discusses various solutions Leibniz considered
to cope with this problem. In the 1666 tract, Leibniz used the Greek article
to represent relational terms, thus indicating that these terms belong
to a metalinguistic level. In the Generales Inquisitiones (1686), Leibniz
attempts reductions of partial terms, such as 'similar', to integral terms,
that is terms which can be the subject or the predicate of a proposition.
Thus, 'similar to A' is an integral term. As Mateuzzi shows, Leibniz then
realizes that he cannot not do without certain particles, and that particles
are to be divided into primitive ones and composed ones. At this point,
a new problem arises. Whereas integral terms are combined in a single way
following the single rule of juxtaposition, particles combine in diverse
ways. Leibniz declares this problem unsolvable as long as a list of primitive
terms and primitive particles has not been established. After providing
a provisional list, Leibniz is diverted by more pressing thoughts. In later
writings, he did not come back to the problem, which thus remained unsolved.
By way of afterthought, Matteuzzi argues that Leibniz was correct in trying
to make the structure of his language isomorphic with that of the world.
6. Francesco Piro, Are the 'Canals of Tropes' Navigable? Rhetoric Concepts
in Leibniz' Philosophy of Language.
The rhetorical tradition recognised the function of figurative language
not only to adorn speech but also to supplement the poverty of literal
language. Leibniz transformed this insight into an explanation for semantic
change: the semantic potential of a language evolves through the 'canales
troporum'. In an illuminating article, Piro examines the various, sometimes
implicit expressions of Leibniz's views on tropes through his early and
mature writings. Tropes are important in the first place within the context
of investigations into natural languages, but Leibniz also explores the
etymology of prepositions within the context of his search for a philosophical
language. Although the present meaning of a word ('usus') can sometimes
be traced back to an earlier or the earliest meaning ('origo') through
the channels of tropes, this often fails because there are no rules determining
these meaning changes. Thus the opaqueness of ordinary language results
from arbitrary transformations on originally 'natural' signs. These transformations
are no instances of degeneration; on the contrary, they are means to enlarge
the expressive power of languages and to allow a more rational use of signs.
Leibniz's views on tropes, Piro concludes, are not only concerned with
explaining meaning change in natural languages, but are directed to a deeper
problem: "to connect language and time, language and contingence".
7. Olga Pombo, Leibnizian Strategies for the Semantic Foundation of
Central to Leibniz's project of a universal language, Pombo points out,
is his cognitive conception of language, that is, the view that language
is not merely instrumental in communicating, but also in constituting thought
and further, that language has heuristic potentialities. In order to create
a universal language having great heuristic power, Leibniz followed two
strategies. The first one is to establish an exhaustive list of primitive
ideas into which all our concepts can be resolved. Since this approach
faces insurmountable difficulties, Leibniz tried a second strategy, which
is connected with his views on the 'representativity of the sign'. Three
seemingly contradictory projects are in fact part of a single effort, unified
by Leibniz's concern with this representativity of the sign: the study
of natural languages, the search for a rational grammar and the construction
of a universal language. The second strategy consists in applying the discoveries
concerning the motivated origin of natural languages and the deep structure
underlying these languages to the new philosophical language. This result
concerning the internal structure of Leibniz's views, Pombo claims, has
interesting external implications in that it may help us to reconsider
our ideological belief in the arbitrariness of language.
Pombo justifiedly distinguishes two Leibnizian approaches towards the
construction of a philosophical language, which distinction was already
made by Couturat (1901). However, both Pombo and Couturat fail to see that
in terms of strategies, the first approach using primitive ideas was never
really an option for Leibniz. Although the theoretical framework starts
from primitive ideas and their combination, in practice the primitives
function as the end towards which progressive steps in analysis are directed.
From his earliest writings on, Leibniz makes clear that this analysis takes
existing languages as a starting point. A more serious objection concerns
Pombo's principal claim that Leibniz tried to construct, in a sophisticated
manner, a language which was 'natural' in the seventeenth century sense
of the term. This claim is based, among other things, upon the premiss
that Leibniz tried "to avoid the complete formalism of a well made but
empty language". This is to misrepresent Leibniz's primary concern, which
was precisely to construct a completely formal language. In his view however,
such a language is not 'empty', i.e., disconnected from reality, but structured
in such a way that syntactic and semantic correctness coincide.
8. H. Walter Schmitz, Ungeheuer über Leibniz und die cognitio symbolica-Tradition.
Schmitz is not directly concerned with Leibniz, but with the views of Gerold
Ungeheuer (1930-1982), as expounded in a series of studies edited by Schmitz
(1990). Ungeheuer's studies deal with the Cognitio Symbolica tradition,
which originated with Plato and extends into the present. Leibniz occupies
a central position in this tradition. 'Cognitio Symbolica' involves knowledge
with the help of symbols, but comprises in addition that of the 'entia
rationis', 'things of thought', which is the ontological correlate of the
human capacity of phantasy and imagination. In the tradition of Western
thought, entia rationis are to a large degree dependent on language. According
to Ungeheuer, Leibniz integrates both Suarez's and Ockham's ideas into
his conception of 'cognitio symbolica', i.e. knowledge by means of signs.
Since this type of knowledge, which forms the lion's share of what we know,
is blind, the certainty of knowledge is constantly in danger. Hence Leibniz's
effort to make knowledge more reliable by analyzing it into first elements.
Ungeheuer traces the tradition further in later writers such as Nietzsche,
Bühler and Wundt. Rather than viewing the history of ideas as a sequence
of periods, Ungeheuer was convinced that behind these periods a more fundamental
process takes place, in which the same basic stances keep reappearing.
9. Giovanna Varani, Leibniz' Rezeption der Aristotelischen Dialektik.
Aristotle's 'art of disputation', also known as dialectic or topics, constituted
a special kind of rationality, distinct from deductive thinking: to be
successful in a debate requires the use of artifices besides methodical
processes. Varani examines Leibniz's reception of Aristotelian dialectic,
a subject that, she claims, has hitherto been scantily studied. Presenting
a broad sketch of Aristotelianism and Ramism in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, Varani argues that Leibniz's general attitude towards Aristotle
was both approving and critical. As for dialectic, he identified this with
the art of invention in his early writings. In the Parisian years the art
of invention gained prominence and was developed in a mathematical sense.
In the Nouveax Essais Leibniz repeated his criticism of the abuse of dialectical
artifices, but he maintained that the use of some types of dialectical
argument is sometimes justified. In the Theodicee, finally, he judged positively
of Aristotelian dialectic, and did not hesitate to use dialectical artifices
for his discussion of theological matters.
Jaap Maat, Amsterdam