Volume 11, 1998
Leibniz’s Distinction Between Natural and Artificial Machines
I maintain that Leibniz's distinction between 'organic machines of nature' and the artificial machine that we produce cannot be adequately understood simply in terms of differing orders of structural complexity. It is not simply that natural machines, having been made by God, are infinitely more complex than the products of our own artifice. Instead, Leibniz's distinction is a thoroughly metaphysical one, having its root in his belief that every natural machine is a corporeal substance, the unity and identity conditions of which derive ultimately from its substantial form. Natural machines are thus true unities, while artificial machines are mere aggregates of substances and are therefore only accidental unities. I briefly explore this connection between Leibniz's distinction between natural and artificial machines and his views about individuality. I conclude on a polemical note, in which it is suggested that these results undermine the currently popular view that Leibniz renounced corporeal substances toward the end of his life.