Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was one of the most celebrated thinkers and philosophers in Western thought in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. His work included studies and concepts in mathematics, ethics, theology, physics and most importantly-logic. His theories on the conceptions of truth and reason remain key pillars on theoretical studies to this day.
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Since time immemorial, human beings have always been interested in knowing the conceptions behind human knowledge, intelligence, reality and truth. Plato himself was very concerned about the nature of these qualities in his study of logic (or analytics). However, the containment theory of truth by Leibniz remains a popular view of the nature of truth. According to Leibniz, truth is a product of two factors- a predicate and a subject.
Leibniz theorizes that the truth about an individual’s quality is derived from the concept of the individual itself (Zalta 2). The simple version of the theory is that a predicate is true because of the existence of the subject. This means that any statement can be true since one only needs to relate the two individual aspects that form the predicate and subject.
For example, when one makes a statement that ‘ this essay was written by a man, the subject here will be the man and the predicate is the act of writing. For this statement to be true, the writing must have been done by a man according to the speaker. Therefore once predicate and subject are linked, the statement becomes true without any attempt to rationalize it in terms of external correlatives.
‘S’ is ‘P’ is a general summary of the theory of truth; where ‘S’ is the subject and ‘P’ is the predicate. Leibniz (a) states that even for those statements that are not naturally in the form of ‘S’ is ‘P’ could be restated to align themselves to the theory (226). Dorian gives a very good example,
“Pam is writing this essay at 10:21 a.m. on November 9, 2009. This statement is true because writing this essay at this exact moment is part of the definition of Pam. That is, it is part of my essence as Pam to be writing this paper at this exact point in time. In this sense, writing this paper right now (predicate) is contained in the definition of me (subject)” (3).
Leibniz goes further as to state that even for statements that show relationship or interconnection, they can be restated in a manner that shows that they refer to the subject and its inherent qualities.
Therefore in a statement where Peter is older than John, the truth about Peter’s superior age continues to stand regardless of the fact that John exists or does not exist. Dorian finds this to be a ‘strange concept’ since it fails to give credence to the existence of extrinsic factors that could also influence the truth (3).
From Leibniz’s theory of truth, various inferences can be drawn as to physical and metaphysical aspects. First, Leibniz (a) states that “nothing is without reason” (226). This is what is generally regarded as the Principle of Sufficient reason without which Leibniz (b) states that “the universe would not make any sense, and science and philosophy both would be impossible(66).”
The Principle of Sufficient reason augments Leibniz’s theory of truth since if there existed something without a cause then there would be no link between “S” and “P” and the theory of truth would come to naught. Therefore Leibniz holds that all things whether physical or metaphysical have a sufficient reason for their existence whether known to man or not.
Several interesting inferences can then be drawn from Leibniz’s school of thought. First, he seems to be advocating for a deterministic view of the world (Leibniz (c) 23). Since no two finite things can interact to bring cause i.e. since cause in itself is inherent in the subject, the only logical discourse that can be drawn from the theory is that God is the author of all things past, present and future.
This means that there is what Dorian terms as ‘pre-established harmony’ in things (4). It thus follows that our view of the world as events happening in ‘real time’ is not a reality since they have already been scripted and are happening parallel to each other. Using the theory of truth, the only logical reason for this is that the mind and the body cannot also relate causally.
Since all truths are thus a priori, vacuums and empty spaces do not exist. Additionally, the theory that atoms can exist in a free state is not true due to the indivisibility of matter. Each particle in matter has its own complex world and there is no simplicity in any being.
Leibniz’s theory also dismisses the existence of space and states that it is an idea. This statement puts into doubt the existence of geometry and other ‘material-based’ studies. All kinds of materiality are also dismissed and there is infinity in matter. In short, Leibniz’s theory of truth eventually becomes extremely rationalist and shuns all kinds of empirical thought.
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What bears most significance in Leibniz’s theory of truth is that the truth is already existent within the subject. Since there is no relation and causality between things, then naturally, it flows that God is the only cause. It means that He not only created the world as an infinite system, he also guides the intelligence and knowledge of the truth. In Leibniz’s (b) own words;
“Now it is obvious that all true predication has some foundation in the nature of things, and when a proposition is not identical, that is to say when the predicate is not expressly included in the subject, it must be virtually included in it.
This being so, we can say that the nature of an individual substance or of a complete being is to have a notion so complete that it is sufficient to include, and to allow the deduction of, all the predicates of the subject to which that notion is attributed” (8).
The theory of truth and that of sufficient reason represent a one sided view of the nature of the world and the existence of truth and knowledge. Many critics have dismissed Leibniz’s work as being too ‘rationalist’ or too ‘religious’. Other scholars such as Hume have even come up with extremely opposite views instead focusing on the empirical and ignoring the rational (Dorian 7).
Another argument has been that the theory of sufficient reason is a result of human imagination and things are actually not connected and where they are, it is random and coincidental. However, all this criticism cannot take away the fact that Leibniz’s work laid the foundation for modern theorists such as Immanuel Kant, whose theories are more widely celebrated.
Dorian, Pam. On the Nature of Truth: A comparative essay on Leibniz’ containment theory of truth and Hume’s distinction between ‘relations of ideas’ and ‘matters of fact. 11 Aug 2009. Web. www.personal.psu.edu/ped127/blogs/…e…/PHIL%20202%20PAPER.docx
Leibniz, Gofffried (a). New Essays on Human Understanding (Edited and translated by Remnant and Bennett). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
Leibniz, Gofffried (b). Theodicy (Edited by Farrer, translated by Huggard). London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951. Print.
Leibniz, Gofffried (c). The Correspondence with Clarke (Edited by Alexander). Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1956. Print.
Zalta, Edward. (Leibnizian) Theory of Concepts. Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, 3 (2000): 137-183. Print.