Monads and Machines

  • Pauline Phemister
Part of the The New Synthese Historical Library book series (SYNL, volume 67)


Pauline Phemister raises a number of queries and problems concerning the distinction between living and non-living machines. Leibniz contends that the presence of the dominating monad “in” the mass that comprises the organic body gives rise to the animal or corporeal substance that exists as a living, unified entity. From pre-formed seeds, the organic body of this corporeal substance comes into existence as a living machine that is also a machine in the least of its parts and whose organizational structure and internal complexity sustains and preserves it as a biological entity. However, if, granting pre-formation, physiological functions are explicable solely by appeal to the mechanism of the body, what need is there for the dominating monad? Conversely, how can Leibniz rule out pre-formation in bodies we normally presume to be inanimate and as lacking dominating monads? Examination of common defining characteristics of living machines – self-motion, self-repair, nutrition, reproduction and inner complexity – brings into focus some of the difficulties and limitations attached to the use of such empirical data to distinguish living from non-living machines.


Active Force Organic Body Dead Force External Thing Plastic Nature 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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