Part 30

The Truths of Reason

by Leibniz
  1. The celebrated Kepler and Descartes (in his letters) after him have spoken of the ’natural inertia of bodies'

It is something which may be regarded as a perfect image and even as a sample of the original limitation of creatures, to show that privation constitutes the formal character of the imperfections and disadvantages that are in substance as well as in its actions.

Let us suppose that:

  • a river had various boats on it
  • the boats differ only in their cargo
    • some are laden with wood, others with stone, and some more, the others less.
    • The boats most heavily laden will go more slowly than the others, provided it be assumed that the wind or the oar, or some other similar means, assist them not at all.

It is not weight which causes this retardation, since the boats are going down and not upwards.

but it is the same cause which also increases the weight in bodies that have greater density, which are, that is to say, less porous and more charged with matter that is proper to them: for the matter which passes through the pores, not receiving the same movement, must not be taken into account.

Therefore, matter itself is originally is inclined to slowness or privation of speed; not indeed of itself to lessen this speed, having once received it, since that would be action, but to moderate by its receptivity the effect of the impression when it is to receive it.

Consequently, since more matter is moved by the same force of the current when the boat is more laden, it is necessary that it go more slowly; and experiments on the impact of bodies, as well as reason, show that twice as much force must be employed to give equal speed to a body of the same matter but of twice the size.

But that would not be necessary if the matter were absolutely indifferent to repose and to movement, and if it had not this natural inertia whereof we have just spoken to give it a kind of repugnance to being moved.

Let us now compare the force which the current exercises on boats, and communicates to them, with the action of God, who produces and conserves whatever is positive in creatures, and gives them perfection, being and force: let us compare, I say, the inertia of matter with the natural imperfection of creatures, and the slowness of the laden boat with the defects to be found in the qualities and the action of the creature; and we shall find that there is nothing so just as this comparison.

The current is the cause of the boat’s movement, but not of its retardation.

God is the cause of perfection in the nature and the actions of the creature, but the limitation of the receptivity of the creature is the cause of the defects there are in its action.

Thus, the Platonists, St. Augustine and the Schoolmen were right to say that God is the cause of the material element of evil which lies in the positive, and not of the formal element, which lies in privation.

Even so one may say that the current is the cause of the material element of the retardation, but not of the formal: that is, it is the cause of the boat’s speed without being the cause of the limits to this speed.

God is no more the cause of sin than the river’s current is the cause of the retardation of the boat. Force also in relation to matter is as the spirit in relation to the flesh; the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, and spirits act…

quantum non noxia corpora tardant.

  1. There is, then, a wholly similar relation between such and such an action of God, and such and such a passion or reception of the creature, which in the ordinary course of things is perfected only in proportion to its ‘receptivity’, such is the term used.

When it is said that the creature depends upon God in so far as it exists and in so far as it acts, and even that conservation is a continual creation, this is true in that God gives ever to the creature and produces continually all that in it is positive, good and perfect, every perfect gift coming from the Father of lights.

The imperfections, on the other hand, and the defects in operations spring from the original limitation that the creature could not but receive with the first beginning of its being, through the ideal reasons which restrict it.

For God could not give the creature all without making of it a God; therefore there must needs be different degrees in the perfection of things, and limitations also of every kind.

  1. This consideration will serve also to satisfy some modern philosophers who go so far as to say that God is the only agent.

God is the only one whose action is pure and without admixture of what is termed ’to suffer’: but that does not preclude the creature’s participation in actions, since the action of the creature is a modification of the substance, flowing naturally from it and containing a variation not only in the perfections that God has communicated to the creature, but also in the limitations that the creature, being what it is, brings with it.

Thus, there is an actual distinction between the substance and its modification or accidents.

This is contrary to the opinion of some moderns, in particular of the late Duke of Buckingham who wrote in his ‘Discourse on Religion’ recently reprinted.

Evil is therefore like darkness, and not only ignorance but also error and malice consist formally in a certain kind of privation.

Here is an example of error which we have already employed. I see a tower which from a distance appears round although it is square. The thought that the tower is what it appears to be flows naturally from that which I see.

When I dwell on this thought it is an affirmation, it is a false judgement; but if I pursue the examination, if some reflexion causes me to perceive that appearances deceive me, lo and behold, I abandon my error. To abide in a certain place, or not to go further, not to espy some landmark, these are privations.

  1. It is the same in respect of malice or ill will.

The will tends towards good in general, it must strive after the perfection that befits us, and the supreme perfection is in God.

All pleasures have within themselves some feeling of perfection. But when one is limited to the pleasures of the senses, or to other pleasures to the detriment of greater good, as of health, of virtue, of union with God, of felicity, it is in this privation of a further aspiration that the defect consists.

In general perfection is positive, it is an absolute reality; defect is privative, it comes from limitation and tends towards new privations.

This saying is therefore as true as it is ancient: bonum ex causa integra, malum ex quolibet defectu; as also that [143]which states: malum causam habet non efficientem, sed deficientem. And I hope that the meaning of these axioms will be better apprehended after what I have just said.

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