Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the “machines of nature” – from the so-called Monadology, §§63–72.

April 9, 2007

63. The body belonging to a monad that is its entelechy or its soul constitutes together with the entelechy that which can be called a living being, and together with the soul that which is called an animal. Now this body of a living being or an animal is always organic; since each monad is, in its own way, a mirror of the universe and the universe is ruled according to a perfect order, there must be an order in that which represents, i.e. in the perceptions of the soul, and consequently in the body that is represented in correspondence with the universe.

64. Thus every organic body of a living being is a kind of divine machine, or natural automaton, which infinitely surpasses all artificial automata. Because a machine made by the art of man is not machine in every one of its parts. For example: the tooth of a brass wheel has parts or sections that for us no longer count as something artificial, and no longer have anything which, on account of the use for which the wheel was destined, indicates a machine. But the machines of nature, i.e. the living bodies, are still machines even in their smallest parts, into infinity. That is what distinguishes nature from art, i.e. the divine art from ours.

65. And the author of nature was able to carry out this divine and infinitely marvellous work of art, because not only is every part of matter divisible into infinity, as the ancients recognised, but, moreover, each is actually divided without end into further parts of which every one possesses a movement of its own: for otherwise it would be impossible that each particle of matter should be able to express the entire universe.

66. From which one sees that there is a world of creatures, of living beings, of animals, of entelechies, of souls, in the slightest part of matter.

67. Every part of matter can be conceived of as garden full of plants and a pond full of fish. But again every twig of a plant, every member of an animal, every drop of its humours is such a garden or such a pond.

68. And although the earth and the air between the plants of the garden; or the water between the fish of the pond are neither plant nor fish they always contain these, but in a subtlety that for us is imperceptible.

69. And so there is nothing fallow, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe; no chaos and no confusion except apparently; much as a pond might seem to one who from a distance perceived a confused movement and a swarming, so to speak, of fish, without discerning the fish themselves.

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt, with reference to the original French (parallel French and German texts can be found in Hartmut Hecht’s Reclam edition, Stuttgart: 1998).

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