A Brief History of the Philosophy of Space and Time
Few contemporary philosophers undertake an analysis of the nature of space and time without at least nodding in Leibniz’s direction, and the enduring interest of Leibniz’s contributions in this area will be a theme to which we repeatedly return. My aim in this chapter is rather different. Though Leibniz may have occasionally possessed insights that were, as Reichenbach put it, “too sophisticated” by the measures of his intellectual context, it is nonetheless the case that his views are part of a rich and multi-voiced conversation about the nature of space and time. One is hard pressed to find in Leibniz a question about space or time that was not posed, if not settled, either by those before him or by his early-modern peers. Furthermore, Leibniz is usually quite aware of his engagement with a tradition that provides form and content for the articulation of his own views. This is not to say that Leibniz uncritically absorbs and passively mirrors the views of others. To the contrary, his insights about space and time are not infrequently highly original, and at times widely divergent from prevailing orthodoxies. Additionally, even on those occasions when we find him forging an agreement with others, it is often an agreement reached on distinctly Leibnizian grounds. Be this as it may, the conceptual grid that makes for Leibniz certain kinds of questions intelligible is not one that originates de novo from his own writings. Why Leibniz would deem certain problems worth pursuing, questions worth asking, or answers worth considering can best be understood by seeing him as a participant in a larger narrative that runs through the history of philosophy. This chapter traces that narrative.
KeywordsInfinite Number Material Object Ontological Status Human Soul Substantivalist Theory
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