Leibniz and Berkeley: Platonic Metaphysics and ‘The Mechanical Philosophy’
My title contrasts two philosophers who have traditionally been regarded as very different. It also contrasts two philosophies that are, on the face of it, incompatible. These oppositions are not entirely without historical foundation, I believe, but they can lead to misconceptions and caricature. It is true that leading supporters of the mechanical philosophy attacked key elements of Renaissance Platonism such as the commitment to vitalism and natural magic. It is also true that leading Platonists, such as Henry More, were critics of the mechanical philosophy. And to those who think that the mechanical philosophy and Platonism are therefore incompatible, it might appear that the triumph of the one would mean the demise of the other. That was how it appeared, for instance, to Roland N. Stromberg, author of An Intellectual History of Modern Europe. ‘The mechanical picture of the world’, he wrote, ‘replaced an organic one’. And, for a representative of the organic picture of the world, he referred to what he called ‘a leading Florentine Platonist of the Renaissance’, whom he quoted as holding that ‘the whole body of the world lives’. Platonism, he implied, embodied a way of thinking that was simply incompatible with the mechanical philosophy.
KeywordsAbstract Idea Modern Philosopher Intellectual History Ancient Philosophy Separate Sphere
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