The expression ‘monad’ was coined by Leibniz in the eighteenth century. The metaphysics of monads is most famously spelled out in Leibniz’s article “Monadology.” Monads are simple substances which lack extension, figure and divisibility. They are the elements of all compound objects, “the real atoms of nature” (“Monadology,” §3). All monads, even non-living “bare” monads, are endowed with both perception and appetition.
Because of their simplicity, monads cannot come into being or cease to be by natural means, but only by creation or destruction. The only qualities of monads are intrinsic, and any change that comes about in them is due to an internal principle. The internal principles of monads are fully co-ordinated with one another, resulting in a harmonious correlation of changes in nature, which appears just as if monads were acting upon one another. (This is the so-called “pre-established harmony.”
From Kant’s point of view, monads are noumena, or beings of the understanding. Kant criticized the monadology in that it illicitly treats sensible appearances as if they were were objects of the understanding alone, thereby “intellectualizing” them (A271/B327). This criticism is laid out in “The Amphiboly of Concepts of Reflection,” which is described here.
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