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On Kant’s Knowledge of Leibniz’ Metaphysics—a Reply to Garber

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Daniel Garber has put forward an argument that aims to show that Kant’s understanding of Leibniz’ metaphysics should be discounted because he could only have had access to a small and narrow sample of Leibniz’ works from around 1710–1714. In particular, Garber argues that as Kant could not have read Leibniz’ correspondence with Arnauld or his correspondence with Des Bosses he could not have had an adequate conception of Leibniz’ understanding of the relation between substance and body. I will show that Kant could have read some of the Arnauld correspondence and practically all of the Des Bosses correspondence, as well as a number of other related texts that are important for understanding Leibniz’ metaphysics, over a decade before writing the Critique of Pure Reason. Garber’s historical-textual argument for dismissing Kant’s account of Leibniz’ metaphysics is therefore seriously misleading.

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  1. 1.

    The literature on this topic is vast. See Levey (2011), for a summary of the debate with particular focus on Garber’s considerable contribution to the discussion.

  2. 2.

    The most recent and extensive account is (Garber 2009)

  3. 3.

    For example, it is not only, or even primarily, historians of philosophy that today have an interest in Mackie or Evans, whose distance in time from us is comparable to Leibniz’ distance from Kant. It is true that Leibniz was mentioned in some works on the history of philosophy at the time that Kant was aware of, such as the highly influential Brucker, J. 1742–4: Historia Critica Philosophiae, 5 vol. Leipzig. vol. 5, pp.:335ff, but this work also included a long entry on Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) and so the conception of ‘history’ here includes the very recent past.

  4. 4.

    V-Met /Mron AA 29:827. Kant is here referring to §230–245 of Baumgarten’s Metaphysica, in particular §234.

  5. 5.

    Kant makes this point also in On a Discovery. Baumgarten is not mentioned here. Instead Kant takes the objection to arise from the fact that Leibniz “has occasionally so expressed himself that one might sometimes interpret his doctrine of simple being, as if he wanted to understand matter as a composite thereof” and then suggests that “it is fairer, so long as it is reconcilable with his express words, to understand him to mean by the simple not at part of matter, but the ground of the appearance”. ÜE, AA 08:203

  6. 6.

    (Leibniz and Bernoulli 1745; Kortholt 1742; Raspe 1765). Kortholt’s collection of letters was probably known to Kant as Knutzen, M 1745: Systema Causarum Efficientium Leipzig, refers to it in §29.

  7. 7.

    For a discussion of Kant’s probable knowledge of this work see (Storrie 2013)

  8. 8.

    If Kant had access to Dutens a number of interesting questions arise. In the Metaphysik Mrongovius Kant refers to Leibniz’ doctrine of the vehicle of the soul by saying that the “opinion of Leibniz, that the soul has here already and also will have in the future a vehicle <vehiculum> of matter which is indestructible, is sensible and explains nothing” (V-Met/Mron AA 29:920 See also Metaphysik K 2 (V-Met-K2/Heinze AA 28:769) Is it a reference to the ‘divine machine’ of the Monadology or the ‘substantial bond’ theory of the Des Bosses correspondence?

  9. 9.

    There are few cases where we can tie Kant’s statements about Leibniz to any particular Leibnizian text. One instance would be Kant’s Opus Postumum (OP AA 21:411) verbatim quotation of Leibniz’ motto on the proposed medal for Rudolf August, Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg in a letter to C. Schulenburg dated March 29, 1698. This is the only time this motto occurs in Leibniz’ writings. The letter was published twice in Kant’s lifetime, in Köhler, H. 1720: Des Hn. Gottfried Wilh. von Leibnitz, Ehemaligen Käyserl. Reichs- Hof- und Churfürstl. Braunschweig-Lüneburgischen Geheimben Justitz-Raths, Jena, and Nolten, R. 1734: Mathematischer Beweis der Erschaffung und Ordnung der Welt, Leipzig, strongly suggesting that Kant must have consulted one of these two works.


  1. Bellegarde, G. & Hautefage, J. eds. (1775–81). Oeuvres de Messire Antoine Arnauld, 43 vol. Sigismond D’Arnay et Cie: Paris-Lausanne.

  2. Des Maizeaux, P. (1720). Recueil de diverses pièces, sur la philosophie, la religion naturelle, l’histoire, les mathematiques, etc., 2 vol., Amsterdam.

  3. Dutens, L. (1768). Gothofredi Guillelmi Leibnitii Opera Omnia, 6 vol. Geneva: de Tournes.

  4. Garber, D. (2008). What Leibniz really said. In D. Garber & B. Longuenesse (Eds.), Kant and the early moderns (p. 71). Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

  5. Garber. (2008). :75.

  6. Garber. (2008). :77.

  7. Garber. (2008). :64.

  8. Garber. (2008). :65.

  9. Garber. (2008). :71.

  10. Garber, D. (2009). Leibniz: Body, substance. New York: Monad Oxford University Press.

  11. Garber, D., & Brown, J. R. (1985). Leibniz and the foundations of physics: The middle years. In K. Okruhlik J. R. Brown (Eds.), The natural philosophy of Leibniz (pp. 27–130). Dordrecht: Reidel.

  12. Gerhardt, C. (1875–90): Leibniz: Die Philosophischen Schriften, 7 vols. Berlin.

  13. König, S. (1752). Appel au public, du jugement de l’Académie royale de Berlin : sur un fragment de lettre de Mr. de Leibnitz, cité par Mr. Koenig. Leiden.

  14. Kortholt, C. (1742). Epistolae Ad Diversos. Leipzig.

  15. Leibniz, G. (1729). Lettre De M. Leibniz à Mr Arnauld. Continuation Des Mémoires De Littérature Et D’histoire, 8(1), 111–119.

  16. Leibniz, G. W., & Feller, J. F. (1718). Otium Hanoveranum, sive Miscellanea. Lipsiae...: Leipzig: impensis Joann. Christiani Martini(IS), Martini, Johann Christian.

  17. Leibniz, G. W. & Bernoulli, J. (1745). Got. Gul. Leibnitii et Johan Bernoulli Commercium Philosophicum et Mathematicum, 2 vol. Lausanne.

  18. Levey, S. (2011). On two theories of substance in Leibniz: critical notice of Daniel Garber, Leibniz: body, substance, monad. The Philosophical Review, 120(2), 285–319.

  19. Look, B. & Rutherford, D. eds. (2007). The Leibniz-Des Bosses correspondence (p. XV). Newhaven: Yale University Press.

  20. Raspe, R. (1765). Oeuvres philosophiques. Amsterdam.

  21. Rutherford, D. (2004). Idealism declined: Leibniz and Christian Wolff. In P. Lodge (Ed.), Leibniz and his correspondents (p. 216). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  22. Storrie, S. (2013). Kant’s 1768 attack on Leibniz’ conception of space. Kant-Studien, 104(2), 145–166.

  23. ÜE AA (1995). All English translations of Kant’s works are from The Cambridge edition of the works of Immanuel Kant. P. Guyer & A. W. Wood (General Editors), (8: pp. 250–251) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Correspondence to Stefan Storrie.

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Storrie, S. On Kant’s Knowledge of Leibniz’ Metaphysics—a Reply to Garber. Philosophia 43, 1147–1155 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-015-9651-1

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  • Kant
  • Leibniz
  • Idealism
  • Metaphysics
  • Daniel Garber