Infinity and Life: Leibniz and the Early Modern Life Sciences
This project seeks to investigate the relations between infinity and life in Leibniz’s philosophy and use Leibniz’s encounters with his contemporaries to examine this connection in the broader context of the life sciences in the early modern period. I first trace and analyze the complex way in which Leibniz employs infinity as a defining feature of living beings. I will consider the diverse sources for Leibniz’s view, arguing that he relies on (1) his own mathematical development of the infinitesimal calculus (early in his career) as well as on his conceptual analysis of this method (his syncategorematic interpretation); (2) the new empirical observations that become available thanks to the invention of the microscope, discovering smaller and smaller animalcula that were previously invisible, and (3) a metaphysical commitment to the connection between (degrees of) infinity, (degrees of) perfection, and (degrees of) being – a connection which is most explicit in the notion of the most perfect being (ens perfectissimum). I suggest that Leibniz distinguishes between three degrees of infinity, which he calls, Omnia, Maximum, Infinitum, and which correspond to three degrees of perfection, and that he uses the intermediate degree (Maximum) to characterize created living beings. Such beings stand midway between the absolute and most perfect being of God and the lowest degree he ascribes to beings of reason (entia rationis). Such created beings have the peculiar status of being infinite and perfect in some respects and limited and imperfect in many other respects. This project extends my work on the nested structure of living beings in Leibniz (supported by ISF grant 66/08) in two significant ways: (1) by relating it to Leibniz’s rich and complex view of infinity; and (2) by relating it to the wider context of the life sciences by studying Leibniz’s encounters with his contemporaries on the relation between infinity and life. If time permits, I will also consider some of the repercussions of Leibniz’s view of life to the emerging life sciences of the 18th century as well as its comparison with contemporary views of life (prevalent in contemporary biology).
Researchers associated with this project: Liat Lavi; Rodolfo Garau (2013-2015); Barnaby Hutchins (2015-2016).
Living Mirrors: Infinity, Unity, and Life in Leibniz’s Philosophy
Philosophical Tales: an Introduction to Philosophy through Literary texts (Lecture Notes)
On Living Mirrors and Mites: Leibniz’s Encounter with Pascal on Infinity and the Nature of Living Things.
“Spinoza’s Accounts of Immanent Causality: Activity and Passivity, the Short Treatise and the Ethics” (with Andrea Sangiacomo).
Leibnizian Encounters with Infinity.
Reed Winegar and I are planning a workshop on Infinity in Early Modern Philosophy this coming Spring (2016).