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Res Philosophica

Volume 99, Issue 1, January 2022

Adam Harmer
Pages 39-65

Mereological Nihilism and Simple Substance in Leibniz

Leibniz famously argues that there must be simple substances, since there are composites, and a composite is nothing but a collection of simples. I reconstruct Leibniz’s argument, showing that it relies on a commitment to mereological nihilism (i.e., the view that composites cannot be true beings). I show further that Leibniz endorses mereological nihilism as early as the 1680s and offers both direct and indirect support for this commitment: indirect support via the notion of unity and direct support via the notion of persistence. I then assess the alignment of Leibniz’s mereological nihilism with his other commitments during the 1680s, including his potential commitment to corporeal substances. I argue that any viable interpretation of Leibniz’s commitment to corporeal substances is compatible with mereological nihilism, which provides a new perspective both on Leibniz’s developing theory of substance and on his mature theory of simple substance.