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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 4, Issue 1, Spring 2015

Tzuchien Tho
Pages 79-103

What is (not) Leibniz’s Ontology? Rethinking the Role of Hylomorphism in Leibniz’s Metaphysical Development

A central controversy in the reception of Leibniz’s philosophy, not only during his lifetime, but also in the immediately posthumous period (1720’s) and more recently, concerns the role that substantial forms play in Leibniz’s ontology. Interpreters like Garber argue that the Leibnizian defense of the quasi-Scholastic substantial forms in the 1680’s-1690’s demonstrate an ontology of corporeal substance irreducible to an idealist ontology. On the other hand interpreters like Adams argue that corporeal substances reduce to a fully idealist ontology and that this period in Leibniz’s work only demonstrate a modification of idealism. In this paper I argue that without clarifying the ambiguous status of what constitutes “ontology” for Leibniz, the stakes of this longstanding debate are unclear and the anti-idealist position appears to be a self-defeating one. By turning to a thorough reading of Leibniz’s transition from the middle to the late years and noting key turns in its historical reception (vis à vis Wolff and others), I argue that the anti-phenomenalist position becomes meaningful in light of an idealist ontology rather than in spite of it. My aim is not to defend either idealism or anti-idealism but rather to reconfi gure the nature of the controversy concerning substantial forms by outlining the limits of current debates over Leibniz’s ontology.

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