Leibniz’s theory is best known as a solution to the mind–body problem of how mind can interact with the body. Leibniz rejected the idea of physical bodies affecting each other, and explained all physical causation in this way.
Under pre-established harmony, the preprogramming of each mind must be extremely complex, since only it causes its own thoughts or actions, for as long as it exists. In order to appear to interact, each substance’s “program” must contain a description of either the entire universe, or of how the object is to behave at all times during all interactions which appear to occur.
The word “harmony” is associated with images of synchronization, agreement, and accord. The original Greek word harmonia with its musical insinuations is actually a relative of the word harmos, which stands for the word “joint” in the anatomical sense. Leibniz stays rather true to these roots of the word when it comes to his doctrine of pre-established harmony. The doctrine, in short, primarily deals with the idea of causation in the universe, or rather, the lack thereof, by virtue of God’s beneficence and power in deciding to make everything in tune with everything else.
The first unusual consequence of the doctrine of pre-established harmony, then, is that is annihilates all possibility of a real cause-and-effect framework between substances, something which might come as a surprise because it is so intuitive for us as far as relating one event to the other to say that one thing caused another.
The second consequence that strikes one as relevant is the still-implicit sense of being determined, even if it is only one’s individual substance that acts. The sense of causal determinism in a universe without real causation remains because true knowledge of someone would make one able to predict all that person’s future actions.
Leibniz provides an excellent example of how pre-established harmony solves the mind-body problem in the aforementioned letter to de Beauval. He tells one to consider two clocks or watches in perfect agreement. This can be occur in one of three ways:
- Natural influence (like pendulum clocks) [The way of influence]
- Having someone watch over them constantly to avoid any lack of harmony [The way of assistance]
- Having them programmed perfectly so that they will always be in agreement [The way of pre-established harmony]
As Leibniz writes, then, it is a natural result of whatever it is that God had in mind when creating the “machinery the world” that “the springs of the bodies are ready to act of themselves, as they should, at precisely the moment the soul has a suitable volition or thought” and that “the soul, in turn, has this volition or thought only in conformity with the preceding states of the body.
It is a good theory to hold in over to avoid the many potential problems in more classical theories, since it has a timeless element to it.
The main criticisms one can have against it, though, concern whether it is truly the simplest hypothesis with regards to the mind-body problem, or whether it is actually one of the more complex, since it does necessitate the existence of a God in the first place. But this does very little as far as saying “pre-established harmony is false,” it only makes it much easier for people to lean towards other directions.
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