Volume 27, December 2017
Christopher P. Noble
Self-Moving Machines and the Soul
Leibniz Contra Spinoza on the Spiritual Automaton
The young Spinoza and the mature Leibniz both characterize the soul as a self-moving spiritual automaton. Though it is unclear if Leibniz’s use of the term was suggested to him from his reading of Spinoza, Leibniz was aware of its presence in Spinoza’s Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. Considering Leibniz’s staunch opposition to Spinozism, the question arises as to why he was willing to adopt this term. I propose an answer to this question by comparing the spiritual automaton in both philosophers. For Spinoza, the soul acts as a spiritual automaton when it overcomes imaginative ideas and produces true ideas. For Leibniz, the soul acts as a spiritual automaton when it spontaneously produces its perceptions according to the universal harmony preestablished by God. Thus, for Leibniz contra Spinoza, the spiritual automaton is a means to render intelligible a providential order in which everything happens for the best.