Do we learn by experimentation with the environment, or by reflection and introspection? This question reflects the main theme which, during the Enlightenment, served as an axis of differentiation to distinguish the major types of philosophers: the rationalists, who maintained that knowledge is extracted by reason, and the empiricists, who believed that we develop our intellect by experience. .
The German thinker and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz escaped this classification into two categories. In fact, even though more than 300 years have passed since his death, his ideas can still be used today to roughly and intuitively understand how we experience reality. Let’s see what his theory consisted of.
Who was Gottfried Leibniz?
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in Leipzig in 1646. From an early age he showed a great curiosity for a wide variety of subjects, which led him to constantly familiarize himself with all kinds of subjects. By the age of 11 he had already learned Latin and began to study Greek.
From 1666, when he completed his studies in law and scholastic logic at the University of Leipzig, he worked for the elector bishop of the city of Mainz. In 1675 he agreed to become counselor and librarian to the Duke of Brunswick. who moved him to Hanover, Place in which he produced his philosophical work at the same time as he combined this activity with several trips, trying to work a future in other cities with a more stimulating intellectual atmosphere.
He died forgotten by the nobles who surrounded him during his lifetime due, among other things, to the pressure generated by his enmity with Isaac Newton, who accused him of plagiarism in his work on mathematics. His grave remained anonymous until several years after his death.
Although he died without receiving recognition from virtually anyone, Leibniz is considered a genius: he wrote on economics, law, theology, architecture, mathematics, and chemistry. Beyond all these areas of knowledge, he is best known for his contributions to philosophy.
The main proposals of Gottfried Leibniz’s epistemological theory, Which has developed a philosophy on how we generate knowledge and develop complex metallic life, are as follows.
1. The idea of notions
Leibniz believed that every element of reality, be it a person, a landscape or an object, is associated with something called “notion”. The notion is all that is true of the element of reality with which it is associated. For example, the color of a crow is black, its toes on the hind limbs are devoid of feathers, etc.
2. Everything is linked
Leibniz was strongly inspired by rationalism, and therefore he believed that the maximum to which language can aspire is to resemble mathematics, a hermetic system of symbols. This is why, for him, if something is true, it is necessary be connected to the truths of other elements of reality described by their corresponding notions, at least from a theoretical point of view.
In other words, if we discover these relationships between the different notions, we will know the reality as a whole. In essence, a notion not only contains truths about the element with which it is associated, but also tells us about all the elements with which it is related.
For example, if there is something whose toes are covered with feathers, it is not a crow.
Leibniz recognizes that if pulling the strings of notions can help us to know the truth, in practice it is impossible, because our rationality is not powerful enough to work with such a large amount of information. However, that doesn’t mean that every element in the universe doesn’t contain bits of truth. In fact, for Leibniz, the universe is made up of units called monads, which are metaphysical entities that contain representations of everything that exists.
A cutie, being real and talking about the past, present and future at the same time, is the same as another cutie because they all agree to contain the truth.
4. Truths of reason and truths of fact
However, the existence of monads does not change the fact that we are not able to assimilate their presence, and in practice we often act as if nothing is certain.
While we can access simple greens through math, it doesn’t allow us to take the leap and get to know all that is real and authentic; we’re just staying here, with this tiny reality plot that the sum of one and one equals two.
This is why, in the theory of Gottfried Leibniz, a distinction is made between the truths of reason and the facts, the latter being the lesser evil necessary to be able to work with relative certainties on what happens to us. The only entity that has full access to the truths of reason, According to Leibniz, would be the Christian god.