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Leibniz and More’s Cabbalistic Circle

  • Stuart Brown
Chapter
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 127)

Abstract

Leibniz was more than thirty years the junior of Henry More. The two men were never acquainted, nor did they correspond. But Leibniz had two friends who were members of what I am referring to as More’s ‘circle’ — a group of people with a common enthusiasm for the Cabbala and a particular interest in the project for translating the Zohar into Latin that reached its fruition when the Kabbala denudata was published in 1677 and 1684. These friends were Francis Mercury van Helmont (1618–1699) and Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636–89). These men — the younger van Helmont in particular — discussed More with Leibniz and doubtless contributed for better or worse to the formation of his opinions about More. But Leibniz also had access to More’s writings. He made notes on the Enchiridion ethicum of 16681 and on the manuscript of a French translation of the Immortality of the Soul that appeared in 1677.2 He acquired More’s Opera omnia in 1679 and this gave him access to the Enchiridion metaphysicum, some part of which he remembered.3 He also read some of More’s Cabbalistic writings4, either in the Opera Omnia or (more probably, as we shall see) in the Kabbala Denudata.

Keywords

French Translation Striking Point Opus Omnia Corporeal Substance Academy Edition 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    G.W. Leibniz, Textes inédits, ed. G. Grua, 2 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948), 2:570–71 (hereafter cited as Grua). Grua suggests Leibniz’s notes were made in the period 1672–76.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Grua, 2:509–11. A Latin translation by von Rosenroth was published by van Helmont in Rotterdam in the same year. The French translation by Briot was dedicated to the then Duke of Hanover who would naturally have sought Leibniz’s opinion of it. See Section 3 of the paper for a discussion of the most detailed point in Leibniz’s notes.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Leibniz’s familiarity with the phrase ‘hylarchic principle’ seems to have derived from reading this piece. He made frequent critical references to this principle which he describes in the Nouveaux Essais as ‘an inscrutable and implausible’ hypothesis intended to explain ‘the weight and elasticity of matter as well as other wonders found in it.’ (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1923-continuing), Series VI, vol. 6:344 (hereafter cited as Academy edition).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    He read at least the beginning of More’s Fundamenta philosophiae where the Cabbalistic ‘axioms’ discussed in Section 2 of the paper are to be found.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    W. Feilchenfeld, “Leibniz und Henry More.” See also S. Hutin, Henry More, 194–7; idem, “Leibniz a-t-il subi l’influence d’Henry More?”Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For instance Marjorie Nicolson, Conway Letters, 453–6; Carolyn Merchant, “The Vitalism of Anne Conway”; and Anne Conway, Principles, ed. Loptson, 3 (hereafter cited as Loptson). Loptson professes that his prime intention is to present Conway’s philosophy as ‘of considerable interest and importance’ in its own right and not ‘to shed light on the origins of Leibniz’s philosophy.’ But he cannot resist the inference from the fact that Leibniz ‘read the work some time in the 1690s’ to the claim that ‘it is reasonable to see a major influence on and contribution to the mature development of the philosophy of the monadology form this source.’ (Loptson, 1) I shall explain why I think this inference is not reasonable in Section 2 of this paper. One point of convergence between Leibniz’s and Conway’s metaphysics is discussed in Section 3.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Die Philosophischen Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, ed. C. I. Gerhardt, 7 vols. (Berlin, 1875–90; reprinted Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1979), 3:217 (hereafter cited as Gerhardt).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See n. 6 above.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, ed. L. E. Loemker, 2nd edition (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1969), 452 (hereafter cited as Loemker).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Passmore, “More”, 389.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Loemker, 452Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hutin, ‘Leibniz’, 60.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Gerhardt, 3:217.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    In a letter to Nicolas Remond in 1714, he wrote: ‘I became acquainted with Aristotle when I was still a child and even the Scholastics did not put me off — and I have no regrets about this at present either. Moreover Plato, as well as Plotinus, gave me some satisfaction, to make no mention of other writers whom I later consulted.’ (Gerhardt, 3:606).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Gerhardt, 1:16.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid, 1:26.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    For instance, in his Specimen Dynamicum of 1695. See Loemker, 441.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Academy edition, VI: 6:72. The Academy page-numbering has been retained in the English edition of Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett: G. W. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Passmore, 389.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Gerhardt, 4:478.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Loemker, 289.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Gerhardt, 3:607.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Academy edition, VI: 6:344.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Gerhardt, 7:402.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    This is clear, for instance in a paper sometimes called “Two sects of naturalists.” (Gerhardt, 7:333ff). See G. W. Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and Related Writings, eds. R. N. D. Martin and Stuart Brown (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 103ff.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Feilcheneld, “Leibniz und More,” 328.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Kabbala denudata, 1.2:293.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Coudert, art. cit. See esp. pp. 648ff.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Leibniz, Réfutation inédite de Spinoza, ed. A. Foucher de Careil (Paris, 1854), 12 and 26 (hereafter cited as Foucher de Careil).Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Grua, 1:94.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Notes in Leibniz’s hand were transcribed and published by A. Foucher de Careil in his Leibniz, la Philosophie juive, et cabale. Trois lectures...avec les manuscrits inédites de Leibniz (Paris: Auguste Durand, 1861), 56ff.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    G. G. Leibnitii...Opera omnia, ed. Louis Dutens, 6 vols. (Geneva: 1768-) 5:204 (hereafter cited as Dutens).Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    For Leibniz’s report of van Helmont’s professed attitude, see Dutens, 6:327. Leibniz’s own attitude to the Kabbala is fairly clear. He thought it contained ‘belles pensées’ (discussed in Section 3) but, like van Helmont’s philosophy, lacked ‘incontestable reasons.’ (Academy edition, I: 10:61). He believed that it was derived from Platonism and may have been incorporated into Jewish Philosophy by such thinkers as Philo. (See Foucher de Careil, 119).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    The evidence suggests that More did indeed occupy such a position and found it uncomfortable. His letters to Anne Conway (see, for instance, Conway Letters, pp. 220 and 324) reveal his unwillingness, even under some pressure, to write a sequel to his Conjectura Cabbalistica. At the same time he gave her to believe that he still had Cabbalistic thoughts that he was willing to share in the context of Ragley. He was probably never the enthusiast that some of his earlier writings made him appear and perhaps not as hostile as his later writings suggest. Leibniz refers to him as a ‘Platonist,’ an ‘Anglican theologian,’ as ‘well-meaning’ and ‘learned.’ More is misguided in his opposition to mechanism, Leibniz implies. But his other qualities made it acceptable to mention More. Van Helmont, unlike More, was a cause of scandal to the religiously orthodox and Leibniz’s diplomatic sensibilities would have made him aware of the dangers of appearing to associate himself with van Helmont in such a way as to be tarred with the same brush.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Gerhardt, 4:523f., trans. Loemker, 496.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Academy edition, VI: 6:71.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Gerhardt, 6:530f., trans. Loemker, 555.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Van Helmont, A Rabbinical and Paraphrastic Exposition of Genesis, 1, 19f., bound in with his A Cabbalistical Dialogue (London, 1682).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    See CC, “The Literal Cabbala,” chap. 1 sect. 1. For More the ‘very fierce and strong Wind’ was an aspect of the world in its state of darkness as a ‘rude and desolate heap’ prior to the coming of Light.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    It is unfortunate in some ways that Foucher de Careil published these remarks under the misleading title Réfutation inédite de Spinoza since they are not primarily intended as a critique of Spinoza. There is an extended discussion of Spinoza, occasioned by the fact that Wachter compared him to the Cabbalists. These ‘animadversions’ on Wachter’s Secret Philosophy of the Hebrews constitute one of Leibniz’s main writings on the Cabbala.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Foucher de Careil, 12.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Leibniz was very clear about the distinction between a necessary being, whose existence does not depend on the existence of any other thing — and which, in the Scholastic terminology, exists ‘a se’ — and a contingent or dependent being. He himself would have accepted the quite familiar contrast between God’s existence a se and the contingent existence of matter and finite beings. It is therefore surprising that he should have misconstrued More at this point.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Foucher de Careil, 26.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Marjorie Nicolson, for instance, writes of the decade (1696–1705) immediately after van Helmont’s visit to Hanover as ‘the formative period of Leibniz’ philosophical system.’ (Conway Letters, p. 455) Carolyn Merchant writes: ‘The elements of Conway’s system...represented a significant input in the important period of Leibniz’s thought, leading up to the writing of the 1714 “Monadology”.’ (“Vitalism of Anne Conway,” 258) Leibniz himself regarded the writing of this Discourse on Metaphysics (early 1686) as the point at which he had arrived at his system. In defence of his New System which was published in 1695, Leibniz claimed that he had observed a rule of Horace’s in deferring publication for nine years. (Gerhardt 4:490). Although there are modifications, some of them important, to Leibniz’s system after 1686, they are mostly introduced by 1695. The formative decade for Leibniz was 1676–86, not twenty years later. See Stuart Brown, Leibniz (Brighton: Harvester, 1984), Part Two.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Leibniz first used the term in a letter towards the end of van Helmont’s stay at Hanover in 1696. He used it in an important article entitled “On Nature Itself, or On the Inherent Force of Created Thing,” Acta Eruditorum, September, 1698, See Loemker, 504.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Leibniz seems to have been drawn much earlier to an alchemical basis for belief in the resurrection of the body, that every body contains a ‘flower of substance’ as a kind of vital indivisible core or seminal principle into which it contracts when subjected to dissolution and from which it can be regenerated. He wrote a memorandum on this subject for his employer, Duke Johann Friedrich, in 1671 (Academy edition, II: 1:117). This ‘florem substantiae’ has many of the characteristics of the later monad, but in 1671 belief in it would have been little more than a predeliction shared by Leibniz and his alchemical friends and patrons.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    See E. J. Aiton, Leibniz — A Biography (Bristol and Boston: Hilger, 1985), 100.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    The Akademie editors cite the English translation of J. Crull published in Amsterdam in 1692 in connection with Leibniz’s remark: The Platonic philosophy of the Countess of Conway, approved by other English people, is in many respects to my liking/ (Academy edition VI: 6:47f.)Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Gerhardt, 3:176.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    What Leibniz wrote was: ‘I have drawn you attention before to respects in which I differ a little from Locke and I would be pleased one day to have your opinion. My views in philosophy come quite close to those of the Countess of Conway, and take the middle way between Plato and Democritus’, since I believe that everything takes place mechanically, as Democritus and Descartes would wish, contrary to the opinion of More and his like; and at the same time everything happens according to a vital principle and following final causes, everything being full of life and of perception, contrary to the opinion of the followers of Democritus.1 (Gerhardt, 3:216f.)Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Academy edition, VI 6:47.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Leibniz wrote, ‘...the laws of nature...derive from principles higher than matter, although in the material realm everything does happen mechanically. The spiritualizing authors I have just mentioned [including Conway, van Helmont and Morel] went wrong about that with their “archei”...’ (Academy edition VI: 6:72).Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    See n. 46 above.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    This contrast is drawn in a number of ways by Leibniz in memoranda written for Sophie in the 1690s in which he offered his opinion of van Helmont. Sometimes it is between ‘sublime thoughts’ and ‘adequate proofs’ (Academy edition, I: 10:58), at other times between ‘fine ideas’ and ‘solid foundations’ (Academy edition, I: 11:20). It is not a technical distinction but an attempt to express both how he and van Helmont agreed about philosophical matters and where he could claim to be more truly a philosopher, in searching for ‘sure proofs’ etc.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Grua, 1:103.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Ibid., 2:510.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Axiom XII, More, Philosophical Writings, ed. MacKinnon, 73.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    G. W. Leibniz, Opuscules et fragments inédits, ed. Louis Couturat (Paris: F. Alcan, 1903), 522.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Loptson, 73.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Ibid., 159.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Academy edition, I: 10:61.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Leibniz, Philosophical Writings, ed. G. H. R. Parkinson (London: Dent, 1973), 108.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Conway, Principles, chap. 3, Sect. 4.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Gerhardt, 7:311.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Especially in Section 9. See ed. cit. at n. 25 above, p. 47.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Gerhardt, 2:135.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    See Van Helmont, Cabbalistical Dialogue, 4.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    See n. 31 above.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Joseph Politella, “Platonism, Aristotelianism and Cabalism in the Philosophy of Leibniz” (Ph. D. Diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1938), 8.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Foucher de Careil, 26.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, pt. 2, chap. 13.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    See Harry Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1934), chap. 4, pt. 2.Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk. 4, chap. 10.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Towards the end of his Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713; New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1954), 105ff, Berkeley claims that it would be ‘contrary to all reason’ to suppose that corporeal substance ‘should be produced out of nothing, by the mere will of a Spirit’ and that it had been thought better to suppose ‘Matter co-eternal with the Deity,’ in spite of the obvious difficulties that poses for belief in Creation.Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990

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  • Stuart Brown

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