Comments on Sleigh and Carriero

Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame
December 22, 1997

Given my spotty acquaintance with Leibniz, it is probably wise for me to delineate at the beginning the scope and purpose of my remarks on the two papers just presented. I am not in a position to question Sleigh's reading of Leibniz's settled position on God's causal contribution to sinful actions or Carriero's teleology-centered story of how Leibniz came to his position on substance; I will leave that task to the more qualified members of the audience. Nor do I intend to criticize the positions attributed to Leibniz, except perhaps indirectly. Instead, I will try to clarify the intellectual context, as it emerges from late scholasticism, for the main issues discussed in the papers and to offer some reflections on those issues from the perspective of a temporally (or, perhaps better, culturally) displaced scholastic philosopher. I can't be sure that these reflections will help to illuminate Leibniz's own positions or the lines of reasoning that led to them, but I hope that they will furnish Sleigh and Carriero with some ideas about how best to frame the issues addressed in their papers.

I. Comments on Sleigh

1. Summary

After briefly indicating the various degrees of God's involvement with evil, Sleigh focuses on the problem of what God's causal contribution is to the sinful voluntary actions of free creatures. The constraints on an orthodox solution of this problem are the following doctrines: (i) that God is holy or sinless, (ii) that God is the first source of all the being (or esse) and goodness in the created world, (iii) that God is omniscient and, more specifically, has complete and infallible foreknowledge of future contingents, (iv) that God is an immediate general (or universal) cause of every creaturely action or effect, be it natural or voluntary, that (v) created agents in general have and exercise genuine causal power, and that (vi) rational created agents in particular have genuine freedom with respect to their morally good and evil acts. The problem can be put concisely as follows: How can we conceive of God's immediate general concurrence with voluntary actions--be they morally good or morally evil--in a way that safeguards all these doctrines?

The major sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century scholastics all assumed that any defectiveness had by a voluntary action or effect must somehow be traced back to the created agent and not to God, and that any goodness had by such an action or effect must in some suitably strong sense have God as its source; but they disagreed about how a fully elaborated account of God's general concurrence might best preserve these assumptions. Thus, as Sleigh points out, they formulated two distinct theories. The first he dubs the universal-cause-only theory and ascribes to the Jesuits Molina and Suarez. The second he calls the anomie theory and ascribes to the Dominicans Bañez and Alvarez. Below I will express some discontent with Sleigh's characterization of these two theories. For now let's simply say that the Dominicans affirmed, while the Jesuits denied, that by his general concurrence God moves created agents, voluntary as well as natural, to their proper actions--even to their sinful actions, at least with respect to whatever esse and ontological goodness those sinful actions have (their so-called material element). Without such ‘premotions' or ‘predeterminations', the Dominicans contended, we cannot plausibly preserve either divine foreknowledge of future voluntary actions or God's status as the first and originating cause of all the goodness found in the created world. In opposition, the Jesuits countered that given such premotions we cannot plausibly preserve the relative autonomy of created agents in general or the freedom of created rational agents in particular. They held instead that God's general concurrence is an action with the secondary cause that has the proper effect of that cause as its sole terminus, and hence that it is not an action on the secondary cause itself.

This scholastic dispute set the problematic for Leibniz's own ruminations on the nature of God's general concurrence with voluntary actions, especially sinful voluntary actions. Sleigh tells us that Leibniz rejected the Jesuit theory; the evidence for this is a comment on de Twisse's Scientia Media in which Leibniz insists that by his general concurrence God communicates more perfection to a good act than to an evil act--a conviction apparently contradicted by the Jesuit theory. (I will return to this below.)

But the principal focus of Sleigh's paper is Leibniz's attitude toward the anomie theory. Though at first he rejected this theory and even ridiculed it, in the end he accepted it. Sleigh's main thesis is that the version of the anomie theory Leibniz adopted was not the version he had previously rejected.

The differences are mainly two. St. Thomas had traced every sinful act back to a voluntary and thus (somewhere along the line) avoidable deficiency in the intellect--more specifically, to an habitual or at least momentary non-heeding of some moral precept or moral consideration that should have figured efficaciously in the practical reasoning leading up to the agent's act of choice. According to Sleigh, Leibniz considered this sort of ultimate appeal to free choice a violation of the principle of sufficient reason. Instead he attributed these sin-producing deficiencies to the inertia-like limitations that creatures by their very nature place on God's efforts to induce moral perfection in them.

The second difference has to do with the exact nature of the divine efforts just mentioned. The later Dominicans, explicitly rejecting a compatibilist account of human freedom, had posited--as we saw above--immediate divine premotions or predeterminations (i) in order to safeguard God's prerogative as the principal source of all the goodness contained in voluntary actions (in opposition to the Jesuit claim that God's general concurrence does not move a voluntary agent to its action) and also (ii) in order to serve as a basis for God's foreknowledge of future free actions (in opposition to Jesuit appeals to middle knowledge). As a compatibilist, Leibniz believed that special immediate premotions were superfluous, since God could "pre-move" voluntary agents to action and foreknow their future choices simply through the mediation of their causally necessary immanent operations.

2. The two theories examined

My main worry about Sleigh's paper is that his characterizations of the Jesuit and Dominican theories obscure to some extent what is at stake in the scholastic dispute over God's causal contribution to sinful actions, and to that extent they likewise blur Leibniz's thinking.

Let's begin with the Jesuit theory. After quoting St. Thomas's opinion that secondary causes always "particularize and determine" the primary agent's action in producing their proper effects, Sleigh characterizes the Jesuit theory as follows:

God's contribution through general concurrence is, as the adjective indicates, general, i.e., indifferent with respect to details. Hence, sin, like any other specific feature of an action or effect, must be attributed to the creature, not to God, at least as far as general concurrence is concerned.

So, given this characterization, the Jesuits hold that the details--by which I suppose Sleigh means the determinate features--of the effects produced by secondary causes are not to be attributed to God as a cause. But what exactly is not to be attributed to God? Exactly what sort of attribution are we talking about here? And how is this restriction on attribution consistent with the claim that God is an immediate cause of all the actions and effects of secondary agents? Conversely, what is to be attributed to God?

I have similar qualms about Sleigh's corresponding characterization of the Dominican theory. Here St. Thomas is again quoted, this time to the effect that the defect of sin arises from the human will and not from God's influence, and that, for his part, God contributes only what pertains to the perfection had by the sinful act. Then Sleigh adds:

This [solution] appears consistent with the idea that God, through His general concurrence, is involved in the details of actions and effects, as much as creatures, except where it is de fide that He cannot be.

Once again there is fuzziness. What exactly is it for God to be "involved in the details of actions and effects" as much as the creatures are? How exactly does this theory differ from what the Jesuits say?

The fact is, I think, that there is no deep difference between the Jesuits and Dominicans over the question of whether God is causally "involved in the details" of sinful actions and effects--not, at least, if by God's being involved in the details we mean that God is an immediate cause of every aspect of being and goodness found in every creaturely action and effect in general and in every sinful action in particular. Both sides agree to that thesis. Rather, the fundamental difference between the Jesuits and the Dominicans is best expressed, I think, as a disagreement over certain subtle relations of dependence or logical priority that must be addressed by any comprehensive account of God's general concurrence. In an effort to make this clear I will begin by listing the most important elements that the Jesuit and Dominican accounts of God's general concurrence share in common. This will help us to isolate the main area of disagreement, and, given what Sleigh says about Leibniz, it will also help us to illuminate Leibniz's chain of reasoning. (I must confess, though, that this is a very difficult topic, and I'm not entirely confident that I have it right.)

The Dominicans and Jesuits both agree that God is a universal cause of all being, in the sense that whatever exists at any time has God as an immediate cause of its esse at that time. This includes all substantival esse in the first place, all accidental (including modal) esse in the second place, and finally (and indirectly) all the esse of the parts of substances, both integral and essential. Indeed, the clearest and most persuasive argument for God's general concurrence is precisely that the proper effects of secondary causes and the actions that produce those effects are themselves instances of esse and hence must depend immediately on God at the very time at which they begin to exist.

Again, both sides realize that God's general concurrence must be characterized in such a way that it does not render superfluous the immediate causal contribution of either God or the secondary causes. More concisely, both sides acknowledge that an account of God's general concurrence must avoid collapsing either into occasionalism or into the mere conservationism of Durandus. So all theories of general concurrence must make room for genuine secondary causality while at the same time making clear how God is an immediate cause of every action and effect--and they must do all this in such a way as to preserve the doctrines alluded to above.

Next, in laying out their accounts of God's general concurrence both sides are fully aware of the two pitfalls--viz., dividing the effect and dividing the action--that Durandus had correctly diagnosed as fatal to the concurrentist project. And both sides respond to Durandus's challenge by claiming that even though the whole effect of a secondary cause is produced by a single action that belongs to both God and the secondary cause, it is nonetheless possible to ascribe what I will call "comparative features" of the effect primarily to the exercise of the proper powers of one or the other of the cooperating causes.

As I conceive of them, such comparative features can be designated by instances of the schema

    The fact that effect E is F rather than G,

where the substitutions for ‘F' and ‘G' express contrary forms or properties. For example, suppose that in lecturing on Socrates's conversation with Meno's slave, I use a piece of blue chalk to draw a square on the blackboard. It seems clear that both the chalk and I count as joint immediate causes of a single effect, viz., the blue square-shaped line that appears on the surface of the blackboard. Yet the fact that the line is blue rather than some other color depends primarily on the causal powers of the chalk as an instrumental cause of the blue square rather than on any of my properties as a principal cause of the blue square. (Remember that we are concentrating on my action just insofar as it is identical with the chalk's action; my further motives and intentions do not enter into that, though they are relevant to assessing the moral properties of this ‘external action' insofar as it constitutes a part of my complete voluntary action.) On the other hand, the fact that there is a square-shaped effect rather than, say, a circular effect--or, even better, the fact that there is any effect at all rather than no effect--depends primarily on my influence as a principal cause and not on the chalk's as an instrumental cause.

Given something like this understanding of comparative features, both the Dominicans and the Jesuits agree that in any given instance of secondary causality, certain comparative features of the joint effect or action depend primarily on the active powers of the secondary cause and, perhaps, on the passive powers of the patient. If the cooperative action is, for example, the generation of a new aardvark, then the fact that the effect is an aardvark rather than, say, a horse depends primarily on the causal powers of the so-called ‘particular' causes, viz., mom and dad aardvark and their reproductive materials. On the other hand, the fact that the baby aardvark is, so to speak, something rather than nothing depends on the universal cause of all being, viz., God. While this example stands in need of further clarification, it at least helps us understand more easily how St. Thomas might be led to claim that secondary causes ‘determine' or ‘particularize' or ‘channel' God's power. By the way, everyone talks this way, not just the Jesuits. The above sketch of comparative features was inspired by my reading of Bañez.

(A corollary: We cannot ascribe the joint action to God by means of an action-verb whose applicability presupposes that its subject has a power or faculty or property that only the secondary cause can possess. For instance, in the above example we cannot say that God generates an aardvark, since being a generator presupposes sharing the same nature with the thing generated. This is the general point Molina has in mind when he claims that God cannot be said to sin, merit, or perceive. We can, however, properly say that God is an immediate cause of the newly generated baby aardvark, or an immediate cause of an act which is sinful or meritorious, or an immediate cause of an act of perceiving.)

Further, as noted above, both sides agree that the moral defectiveness of a sinful action is a comparative feature of it that must be traced back to the secondary cause, viz., the created voluntary agent. That is, the fact that the action is sinful rather than morally good depends primarily--indeed, exclusively--on a defect of the sinner. And even though Suarez denies, in opposition to St. Thomas, that it is absolutely necessary for a sin to originate in a voluntary defect of the intellect, he nonetheless admits that this sort of intellectual defect is morally or practically speaking necessary in the genesis of a sinful action. So even here there is--or, at least, need be--no significant disagreement between the Jesuits and Dominicans.

Given all that they agree about, you might wonder what, if anything, they disagree about. Are there really two different positions on God's causal contribution to sin? Yes, but only because there is an antecedent disagreement about God's causal contribution to being and goodness. According to the Dominicans, the fact that a voluntary agent's action is morally good rather than morally evil depends primarily on God's premotion, which--as the name suggests--is logically prior to the voluntary agent's own free determination. (A corresponding general thesis holds for whatever ontological goodness is effected by secondary causes in general.) It is only by positing such premotion, they argue, that we can maintain an appropriately strong reading of the doctrine that God is the principal originating source of being and goodness. Further, they charged that the Jesuit view, according to which God's general concurrence is an action with the secondary cause and not on it, is functionally equivalent to Durandus's mere conservationism and turns the putative secondary cause, paradoxically, into a first cause of the being and goodness--both ontological and moral--of its own actions.

The Jesuits countered that the Dominican premotions undermine the (relative) autonomy of all secondary agents and utterly obliterate the freedom of voluntary agents. In other words, they took the Dominican view to be functionally equivalent to occasionalism. But how, then, did they attempt to safeguard God's status as the source of all being and goodness? They first of all reiterated that in the case of natural actions God is an immediate cause of the whole effect by means of the very same action by which the secondary cause acts, even while admitting that it is "because the secondary cause has power of a certain sort that God has decided to give it a certain species of concurrence" (Suarez, MD 22.4.5). In the case of voluntary actions, God is, once again, an immediate cause of the whole effect by means of the very same action, even though (i) the fact that God concurs--rather than not--in an exercise of creaturely free choice depends primarily on the free determination of the created voluntary agent, and even though (ii) the fact that a given exercise of free choice has the moral character it has once again depends primarily on the voluntary agent's free determination. That is, in voluntary action, the secondary agent's free determination to act and to act in a certain way is--from one perspective at least--logically prior to God's concurring motion. This holds for all voluntary actions, whether good or evil, and it is in this sense--though only in this sense--that, according to the Jesuits, God's general concurrence is "indifferent" with respect to moral good and evil. However--or so the Jesuits claimed--when we add that (i) God is the giver and conserver of all causal power (including the power of free choice), that (ii) no causal power can be exercised by a secondary agent without God's freely bestowed general concurrence, that (iii) in offering his general concurrence with a voluntary act God always intends what is morally good, that (iv) he never inclines voluntary agents toward what is morally evil, and that (v) by his prevenient actual grace he very frequently inclines (without necessitating) them toward what is morally good, we have more than enough reason to attribute all moral and ontological goodness to God's influence as well as to that of the secondary agent. Besides, they point out, the Dominican view has the seemingly untoward consequence that God premoves the sinful agent to an act which, given the complete set of concrete circumstances in which it occurs, constitutes a sin--and this seems tantamount to saying that God, far from merely permitting the sinner to sin, actually induces the sinner to sin. (This sounds very much like the early criticism that Lebiniz levelled at the Dominican theory.) The Jesuit alternative is to say that in the case of voluntary acts, God stands prepared to cooperate causally with the voluntary agent's free choice, regardless of how that agent might choose. Only this view, they claim, opens up sufficient conceptual space for a robust and plausible account of what it is for God to permit sinful action without inducing it.

What of Leibniz? The passage Sleigh cites as evidence for Leibniz's rejection of the Jesuit theory makes perfectly good sense, given what I have just said. Leibniz seems to have been persuaded by the Dominicans that it is principally because of God's premotion that morally good voluntary actions occur; that is, the fact that a given morally good action occurs depends primarily on God's influence and only secondarily on the voluntary agent's influence. So it is straightforwardly true that by his general concurrence God communicates more goodness (read: ontological goodness plus moral goodness) to a morally good act than to a morally evil act. Leibniz concurs with this principle, even while rejecting the immediate premotions of the Dominicans in favor of what we might call mediated premotion.

II. Comments on Carriero

1. Summary

I turn now to Carriero's paper, which is both highly suggestive and rich in detail. After briefly summarizing the paper, I will focus on just one of the many questions it raises in my mind.

According to Carriero, we should not be misled by appearances into thinking that Leibniz's postulation of "mindlike points" as the ultimate substances of the universe constituted a radical break with the Aristotelian tradition's multifaceted reflections on the notion of primary substance. We might be thus misled if we concentrated exclusively on the relatively novel seventeenth-century problematics that Leibniz found himself confronted with: the impossibility of finding within matter conceived of as pure extension any entities that could plausibly be thought to possess the unity required of ultimate substances; the special worry about mind-body interaction and the unity of the human person; and the more general suspicion that a dualism of irreducibly material substances and irreducibly minded substances might no longer be ‘philosophically tenable'. In like manner, we might be misled by Leibniz's own emphasis on the mental properties of monads into thinking that consciousness--or perhaps the unity afforded by consciousness--was the fundamental element he had in mind in positing monads. To be sure, all of the foregoing elements were relevant to the particular shape that Leibniz's metaphysics finally took. However, according to Carriero, the most powerful motive driving Leibniz's monadology was his conviction that teleology, which had been driven out of the corporeal world along with Aristotelian natures, substantial forms, and irreducibly biological substances, is a deeper and, so to speak, more real feature of the world than anything that fell directly under the purview of the new mechanistic physics. Hence, on Carriero's view, the most plausible reconstruction of Leibniz's monadology should begin with the centrality of the teleological aspects of the monads and then go on to show how quintessential features of Aristotelian substances--form or structure, intrinsic unity, readiness to act and susceptibility to be acted upon, power or force, natural tendency or appetite, end-directed action, etc.--having been driven from their natural place, so to speak, within physics--can be resurrected within metaphysics, where metaphysics is no longer conceived of in a Aristotelian manner as continuous with physics and as its culmination and ruling science, but is instead conceived of as the hidden foundation of physics in a now bifurcated universe. The upshot is that Leibniz's monadology, far from being wholly disconnected from Aristotelian/scholastic reflection on the notion of primary substance, was explicitly intended to be a re-positioning of Aristotelian substance-theory within the new landscape presented by seventeenth-century science and philosophy.

2. The puzzle: Why not go all the way?

I would like to focus on a question which Carriero raises near the end of his paper and which has often bothered me: Given Leibniz's strong Aristotelian proclivities, why did he accept the exclusion of teleological realities from physics? I'm still not satisfied after reading the paper that I have a very firm grip on the answer. (Maybe I'm just naive--a possibility, by the way, that I do not entirely rule out. I still have bad memories of a public session in which Bill Hasker stared down at me from on high and asked very slowly and very loudly, "Do you really mean to be re-introducing form and matter at this late date!?")

Let's start with the main considerations which, according to Carriero, led Leibniz to argue for a deeper metaphysical reality than that captured by the physics of his day. The first consideration was the impossibility of finding entities with substantial unity within matter conceived of as extension. The second consideration--and the one I want to focus on--is this: Leibniz took the failure of Descartes's mechanics to indicate the presence of teleological realities like force (or power) and activity as constituents of ultimate reality. But since mechanistic physics, even as amended after Descartes, viewed matter as inert and thus could not accommodate notions like power and action, the ultimately real had to be thought of as underlying whatever it is that physics investigates. Carriero puts it this way:

Leibniz thinks that when we try to understand what this conserved force or activity is, we will find ourselves compelled to leave physics and enter metaphysics. I think this works as follows. The entity that is conserved is the effort or striving of organic substances. These organic substances owe their teleological character, in turn, to simple substances or monads: in particular, the teleological structure of each organic substance is grounded in its dominant monad. The bottom line here is that Leibniz does not think it is possible to understand notions like force and activity without introducing suitable seats of teleology, a realm of souls or monads.

As a result, the so-called "laws of motion," which prescribe (or at least describe) regularities in the motions of bodies, turn out to be incidental to the unfolding of the underlying metaphysical world of monads--roughly analogous to the way in which an Aristotelian philosophy of nature takes that which happens "always or for the most part" in stable environments to be incidental to the teleologically ordered activity which flows from the active and passive causal powers had essentially by natural material substances. Yet the Aristotelian will insist that these causal powers are properties of the material substances themselves.[1] The question is: Why didn't Leibniz concur in assigning causal powers to physical entities, i.e., to bodies? Why did he instead treat bodies as phenomenal and ascribe causal power to a separate realm of monads?

Carriero begins his reply as follows:

I think that the main reason that Leibniz regards the road back home to scholasticism as blocked off here is that there is, so to speak, another world on the scene, the world of mechanistic physics. That world already implicitly attributes a nature to matter or body as such: its nature is to follow the laws of motion. Moreover, the order that physics concerns itself with is not teleological .... But, then, to try to attribute to a physical system a teleological nature on top of its physical nature would be in effect to give the system two natures: a mechanical nature and a tendency to realize some end. I think that it is in order to avoid this incoherence that Leibniz thinks that seats of teleology must be found outside of physical entities.

But why should Leibniz accept the atrophied conception of nature "implicitly" attributed to bodies by mechanistic physics? After all, this nature (if we can call it that) is little more than a body's obediential potency (as the scholastics would say) to follow any laws of motion that are imposed on it from without, since the body itself has no intrinsic principles of acting and being acted upon that might put limits on the precise content of those laws. And where's the incoherence in claiming that bodily substances have, in addition to their other properties, quantitative and dynamic properties that are precisely the properties that physics should be studying--especially if one has argued, as Leibniz has a few pages earlier in Carriero's paper, that what is conserved in physical interactions is "the same quantity of active power" and "the same quantity of motive action"?

Although Carriero correctly points out at this juncture that "there is nothing corresponding to the mechanistic conception of body in the scholastic world view," he nonetheless concedes (as he must) that an Aristotelian might plausibly think of the science of motion as studying corporeal substances just insofar as they are corporeal and irrespective of whatever other properties they might have. In other words, the Aristotelian would deny that in order to have a science of motion, one must posit a set of entities having only those properties relevant to the study of motion. Why couldn't Leibniz have held such a view?

Carriero protests:

But such a viewpoint would be radically incomplete: it would allow us to account only for certain aspects of the behavior and activities of physical substances, leaving out their higher functions.

True enough. An Aristotelian world would have room for various chemical and biological sciences, as well as human sciences, that are irreducible to physics. But where I would be tempted to say, "So what?", Carriero finds a problem for Leibniz:

A mechanistic conception of body or matter of the sort Leibniz is concerned with pretends to a certain sort of completeness, as a full description of a certain order of reality. This completeness means that a physical representation of reality is insulated from outside interference. Conservation laws are suggestive of this insularity. They make it difficult to see how higher-level forms and principles could make a difference without disrupting the physical order.

There are two questions here. First, is this line of reasoning compelling on its own? I think not--not, at least, if we take it at face value to imply the reducibility of all the natural sciences to the science that studies the motions of simple inert bodies. And even without rehearsing the problems inherent in every form of physical reductionism ever known to philosophy, we can agree that no amount of hand-waving in the direction of conservation laws will hide the fact that the applicability of such laws to closed systems goes no way at all toward showing that the physical universe as a whole is itself a closed system. The second question, and the one that mainly concerns me here, is whether Leibniz himself would have found this sort of consideration compelling. I'll leave that question to the audience, hoping that the answer is no or, at least, that this was not the principal consideration leading him to accept the pretensions of mechanistic physics.

Well, are there any other reasons why he might have accepted those pretensions, even while relegating physics to the realm of the phenomenal? Here I sink into unabashed--though, I hope, not completely uninformed--speculation. Given my own modest acquaintance with Leibniz, I hazard to guess that he was influenced here by the philosophical problems he had with transeunt efficient causality. I think I can understand and even (to a certain degree) sympathize with his qualms, even if it has always been difficult for me to see why he would deem immanent efficient causality any less problematic than transeunt causality. In any case, perhaps the central role that transeunt causality plays in an Aristotelian philosophy of nature ruled out in Leibniz's mind any possibility of using that philosophy of nature in interpreting the new physics.

Perhaps, on the other hand, when all is said and done, it was simply a cultural certitude in Leibniz's time and place that the Aristotelian conception of an individual nature, with its own intrinsic principles of action and intrinsic standards of perfection or flourishing, was dead beyond any hope of resuscitation. After all, the rejection of Aristotelianism was not limited just to physics, but had already by the seventeenth century played a crucial role in ethics as well. I have spent a lot of time the last few years reading and teaching St. Thomas's ethics and pondering its complex relation to the eudaimonistic virtue-ethics of Plato and Aristotle. When, with all this in mind, I think about early modern ethics and about the diagnosis of our contemporary predicament offered by the likes of Elizabeth Anscombe and Alasdair MacIntyre, I am always impressed by the strikingly parallel effects that the demise of Aristotle's conception of nature had in the realms of early modern physics and ethics. The rebellion against eudaimonistic ethics had begun already in the middle ages, but had reached its pinnacle in the sixteenth-century rejection of Aristotelianism by the Reformers. As a result, in ethical theories one sees a shift away from virtue-dominated ethics with its teleological conception of intrinsic standards of human perfection toward law-dominated ethics, in which the giver of the moral law (at first God, but later on the sovereign or social convention or the autonomous individual as rational agent) imposes that law on individuals who are no longer conceived of as having thick built-in standards of perfection or, at least, no such standards that are relevant to morality; that is, the nature of the individuals puts no limits on the precise content of the moral law. This, by the way, is an understanding of law and lawgiver which is wholly foreign to St. Thomas. (For what it's worth, this shift occurs even where one would perhaps least expect it, viz., in mainstream late medieval and early modern Catholic moral theology--and with profoundly deleterious effects. So at least argues Servais Pinckaers in his recent book The Sources of Christian Ethics (Catholic University of America Press, 1995), to my mind the most important book in Catholic moral theology in a long, long time.) To complete the parallel, in physics Aristotelian natural substances with their characteristic active and passive powers and their dynamic readiness to act and be acted upon by other natural agents are replaced by inert bodies whose natures, as noted above, put no limits on the precise content of the laws of motion that the lawgiver (God or simply chance) imposes on them.

Again, I have invoked this parallel between physics and ethics in an effort to get clear about the philosophical and cultural milieu within which, from an Aristotelian perspective, Leibniz performed brilliantly but in the end caved in to the intellectual imperialism of the mechanists. Of course, there were other notable attempts to cope with this situation. Yet while I must confess a certain fascination with, and even admiration for, the uncompromising Christian anti-Aristotelianism with which Malebranche and Berkeley tried to mute certain lamentable consequences of the scientific revolution, from an Aristotelian perspective it is Leibniz who is the hero, albeit a flawed hero. He saw exactly what was at stake in the overthrow of Aristotelianism, and he saw a lot that he didn't much like. I just wish he were around today to see the modest renaissance of Aristotelianism across a wide range of philosophical disciplines--including, interestingly, the philosophy of physics.


1. I want to let you know, by the way, that my colleague Joe Bobik is about to publish a translation, commentary, and interpretation of two works by St. Thomas on natural philosophy, including his work on how elements survive in higher-level mixed bodies. In this work Joe has done for St. Thomas's natural philosophy what he earlier in his career did for the De Ente et Essentia. I thought some of you might be interested.