What Are Simple Substances or Monads, and What Do They Mean?June 27, 2021
According to Leibniz, sensible objects are divisible.
In other words, objects are in the state of some compounds. In this case, it is clear that bodies are composed of indivisible, partless, simple substances. Thus there are simple substances as well as compound substances; compound substances are a combination of these. Leibniz calls these simple substances that make up the sensible things monads. (The term monad means unity or oneness in Greek). They are the real atoms of nature or the constituent elements of things.
Monads do not exactly resemble atoms of Democritus and Epicurus. For, according to these ancient atomists, atoms have shapes, whereas Leibniz’s monads have no form and no space. According to Leibniz, “a simple thing cannot be extended because simplicity and extension are incompatible. Monads cannot come into existence by any means other than through creation, nor can they perish without being annihilated. Compound substances can certainly come into existence and perish through the aggregation and dissolution of monads; but monads, being simple, do not accept these processes” (Copleston, 1996: 38).
The fact that monads are not extended leads to the conclusion that they are non-material. Leibniz constructed monads as spiritual, starting from the concept of soul. Monads are simple substances of the spirit type. Even the constituent monads of material substances are essentially spiritual. Although monads are not different from each other in terms of space, shape and quantity, they are distinguishable from each other in terms of quality according to the identity theory of indistinguishables. For if they were indistinguishable, there would have to be one substance, not a different substance. However, according to the principle of sufficient reason, they are separate substances. Because God has created each and every one of them. Monads, which are spiritual and simple substances, are qualitatively different from each other in terms of perception levels and degrees of desire. Each develops according to its own internal structure and legality. They do not give or take anything from each other. Monads are a closed unit, they have no windows. This is how a simple substance has to be; nothing can be added to itself or subtracted by giving something to other monads. Each of them, equipped with a certain degree of perception, reflects the universe for himself.
Another definition of substance is “being capable of action”. In this case, substance does not mean activity itself; activity is the activity of a substance. In this case, every monad has a principle of activity or a primitive power. This power is given to monads by nature and makes them internally mobile. In this respect, monads are a kind of spiritual automaton. This tendency to motion is similar to the principle of self-development, which Aristotle calls entelekheia and Spinoza calls conatus. In Aristotle, for example, the human soul is the entelecheia of the body. In other words, it is its form or idea. The body moves towards realizing this spirituality. Leibniz also seems to have thought of monads as analogous to Aristotle’s substantial forms of living beings. Therefore, every monad is a focus of activity. Leibniz emphasizes that it is necessary to distinguish the primary effective force in the monad from the derivative effective force. For the latter modifies the primary force as a tendency towards any particular motion. It is this change of motion and force that causes monads to aggregate and combine. But this point brings with it metaphysical ambiguity. For how can monads without extension combine to reveal an extended body? Leibniz’s explanation of this point is not very convincing: for him, space is a reducible and relative concept; it can be reduced to multiplicity, continuity and coexistence or the existence of parts at one and the same time. However, these concepts are formally distinct; Existence and continuity are separate concepts. Therefore, space is derived, not primitive, and in this sense, substances cannot have a predicate. “One of the primary errors of the Cartesians is that they thought of space as something primitive and absolute and as constitutive of substance” (cited in Copleston, 1998: 42). Space is thus not a predicate of substances, but rather our way of perceiving them, and as such a phenomenon of the phenomenal order.
How can one pass from the idea of a spiritual and non-extended substance-monad to matter and the idea of material bodies? It seems necessary to bring more or less clarity to this issue. In this respect, Leibniz makes a distinction between primary and secondary matter. The idea of primary matter does not mean the same thing as the idea of body. For primary matter is still nothing but an abstraction, and in this sense it is still passivity. But the secondary matter, the body, includes activity as well as passivity; Thus, passive and active principles together constitute a body, what we humans call the actual material substance. Secondary matter, i.e. body, is thus considered to be endowed with effective force. Secondary matter is that which consists of or resists immeasurability. In this way, pure matter is just passivity. On the other hand, the body has active force as well as passive matter. Leibniz cis