The Philosophy of Spinoza & Leibniz


Bryan Magee and Anthony Quinton discuss the 17th-18th century philosophers Spinoza and Leibniz. Both were rationalists who developed elaborate philosophical systems out of only a few basic principles of logic/reason, but ended up with quite different views. Spinoza was a monist and pantheist. He identified everything with one substance, what he called “God or Nature”, and understood everything as a mere aspect or mode of this great unity of existence. Thus, there is ultimately only one true entity or being for Spinoza. He also rejected free will, any personal conception of God, as well as purpose within the world, leading many to think of him as an atheist. Leibniz, on the other hand, embraced plurality in his metaphysical system. He posited an infinite array of indivisible substances he called “monads” which were immaterial, incorporeal, mind-like points. Since these were taken to be fundamental, Leibniz was something of an idealist or panpsychist. The existence of matter was taken to be derivative, a mere appearance of something ultimately mental or quasi-mental in nature. And like Spinoza, he was also a determinist who thought that everything had to have a cause and complete explanation, leaving no genuine room for objective randomness or chance. Both thinkers were extremely influential, not only on other philosophers, but on scientists as well.

This interview is from a 1978 BBC program. Subtitles/transcript is available. This is a re-upload with better quality. In any case, it’s a good introduction to Spinoza and Leibniz, and is definitely worth checking out.

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