The Labyrinths of Leibniz’s Philosophy

by Aleksandra Horowska (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 256 Pages


This volume explores the various ‘labyrinths’ of Leibniz’s philosophy, that is, hard-to-solve problems in which the human mind becomes entangled. Although the Hanoverian explicitly distinguished two such labyrinths (freedom and continuum), one may notice that in his theory there are more intricate issues the thinker can resolve with the help of the ‘Ariadne’s thread’ – a certain principle to be followed by the reflecting mind. In the perspective of the mazes of theodicy, consciousness and absolute and relative differences, the authors try to unravel issues such as: the etymology of ‘theodicée’, the concepts of freedom and metaphysical evil, the reception of monadology by Olivier Sacks, the understanding of ‘panpsychism’, the similarity between jurisprudence and theology, and many others.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations (a Selection)
  • Preface (Aleksandra Horowska)
  • Introduction (Daniel Garber)
  • Leibniz’s Word-Formation Creativity: A New Etymology of the Word théodicée (Marek Krajewski)
  • The Puzzle of Metaphysical Evil and Theodicy in Leibniz (Jan Levin Propach)
  • Leibniz and the Labyrinth of Divine Freedom (Charles Joshua Horn)
  • Platonis notitiae innatae (quas reminiscientiae nomine velavit): Leibniz on Plato’s Theory of Anamnesis (Aleksandra Szokalska)
  • Spinoza, Leibniz, Panpsychism? (Jolanta Żelazna)
  • Leibnizian Context of the Hypothesis of the “Mind Incarnate” (Halina Święczkowska)
  • Monadologia neurologica: Oliver Sacks’s Exposition of the Monadological Theory of Consciousness (Bogusław Paź)
  • The Timeliness of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s Question: “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” (Bogdan Lisiak)
  • The Nature of Similarity between Jurisprudence and Theology in G. W. Leibniz’s Nova Methodus… (1667) (Aleksandra Horowska)
  • Authors’ Notes
  • Index nominum
  • Index rerum praecipuarum
  • Series index

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Abbreviations (a Selection*)

* The authors of the papers also use their own abbreviations.

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Aleksandra Horowska


If one were to try to find a possibly adequate figurative representation of the activity of a mind engaged in solving a particularly difficult problem, one could refer to the metaphor of a labyrinth. This recognisable construction, present already in ancient cultures, is a complex and highly complicated, but at the same time well-ordered structure, containing many corridors and dead ends, but also at least one exit, which can be found with good guidance. Traversing its passageways towards the exit can be a long-term process, and certainly one with a high risk of failure, especially if the wanderer is deprived of ideas and tools to enable him to find the right path. According to the Greek mythological tradition, the only persons to escape from the Cretan labyrinth were its creator – Daedalus (who did it with difficulty) and Theseus, to whom Ariadne gave a magic thread received from Daedalus, which led him to the Minotaur present at the heart of the building, and then allowed the triumphant hero to get back outside. If one interprets Theseus on his way to meet Pasiphaë son, “the unhappy prince” (as Zbigniew Herbert described him1), as a mind seeking to solve an almost insoluble and overwhelming problem, this journey is in fact a delving into the meanders of its own architectonics of concepts and ideas, and an attempt to avoid the numerous pitfalls that can cause this process, the process of reflection, to be endless and to come to a standstill. Entering the labyrinth of thought is therefore something just as dangerous and simultaneously exciting as entering a physical one.

A similar metaphor can be found in the writings of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz filled with tropes of this kind which have not only rhetorical but also purely cognitive as well as poetic qualities. Both this and other types of metaphor was discussed by Cristina Marras in the book Metaphora translata voce: Prospettive metaforiche nella filosofia di G.W. Leibniz (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2010). With regard to the mentioned metaphor, one can quote the famous fragment of the short text entitled De Libertate, Contingentia et Serie ←9 | 10→Causarum, Providentia: “Duo sunt nimirum Labyrinthi Humanae Mentis, unus circa compositionem continui, alter circa naturam libertatis, qui ex eodem infiniti fonte oriuntur” (A VI,4,1654). This phrase became the motto of a conference that took place in 2016 in Wrocław and was organised to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Leibniz’s death2. This academic event was the genesis of this volume, as some of the text that comprise it are an elaboration of the papers that were presented then. It was also a prelude to the establishment of the Polish Leibnizian Society, which was founded one year later in the same place at the initiative of Professor Bogusław Paź from the University of Wrocław.

The title and subject matter of this volume naturally refer to above quotations and similar expressions from other works such as Vindicatio Justitiae Divinae et Libertatis Humanae (A VI,4,1528) or Théodicée (G VI,29 et al), to name a few. In this respect, it follows the trend set by other authors such as Dominique Berlioz and Frédéric Nef with their edited volume entitled L’actualité de Leibniz: les deux labyrinthes (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1999), Jean-Pascal Alcantara with his book Sur le second labyrinthe de Leibniz: mécanisme et continuité au XVIIème siècle (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003), Jacques Bouveresse with the work Dans le labyrinthe: nécessité, contingence et liberté chez Leibniz (Paris: Collège de France, 2013), or Richard Arthur with his Monads, Composition, and Force: Ariadnean Threads through Leibniz’s Labyrinth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) and with the earlier Labyrinth of the Continuum: Writings on the Continuum Problem, 1672–1686 (Yale: Yale University Press, 2001, reprint: 2013) that contains translations of Leibnizian texts.

The aim of this volume was not limited to a presentation of the two renowned labyrinths of freedom and continuum, which were explicitly named by the Hanoverian and which were discussed in the works indicated above. Indeed, its purpose was primarily to identify and analyse the “new” labyrinths of Leibniz’s philosophy: problems that are as difficult to solve as they are elementary. They “demand” to be unravelled and waiting – like the Minotaur – for their Theseus. The condition for a cognitive victory is the use of a tool indirectly offered by the architect of the labyrinth himself, that is Ariadnae filum, or perhaps better: Daedali filum. In the perspective of Leibnizian philosophy, it is a certain principle that orders our thinking and give it a proper direction. It can be noticed ←10 | 11→that both this useful instrument and the problem itself come from exactly the same source.

The volume consists of three main parts. In the first, entitled The Labyrinth of Theodicy, or Divine Justice, the authors undertake an analysis of issues related to perhaps the best-known, and certainly the most disputed thread of the Leibnizian philosophy. In the first essay Marek Krajewski, carrying out a peculiar detective investigation (in the manner of the protagonists from his own novels), looks for a new etymology of the word théodicée. In the second one, Jan Levin Propach explores the labyrinth of different interpretations of the Leibnizian concept of metaphysical evil. In the third text, Charles Joshua Horn analyses the very relevant issue of Divine freedom, which remains one of the biggest challenges for theology and philosophy. In the second part, entitled The Labyrinths of Freedom and Consciousness, the authors discuss issues of particular importance from epistemological and anthropological perspectives. Aleksandra Szokalska examines the relationship between Plato’s and Leibniz’s theories of cognition, focusing especially on the philosophical connection between anamnesis and apperception. Jolanta Żelazna tackles the issue of panpsychism, which is associated with many misunderstandings. Halina Święczkowska attempts to uncover the Leibnizian basis of Antonio Damasio’s philosophy of mind. And Bogusław Paź finds and gives an in-depth explanation of the very modern dimension of Leibniz’s theory of consciousness in the form of the “neurological” monadology created by Oliver Sacks. The third part, entitled The Labyrinths of Absolute and Relative Differences: Being-Nothing, Identity-Similarity, contains two essays. In the first, Bogdan Lisiak presents some aspects related to the interpretation of the famous Leibnizian question in the perspective of modern natural sciences. And in the final essay Aleksandra Horowska delves deeply into foundations of the Leibnizian similarity between jurisprudence and theology, analysing its various elements and aspects. All these issues could not be, of course, identified with all labyrinths from the Hanoverian’s philosophy, which itself seems to be one large labyrinth with a fractal structure, containing infinitely many others. Discovering and exploring new labyrinths is a task for contemporary studies on Leibniz’s theories. Attention should be drawn in particular to the maze, the idea of which appears in the mind of the viewer looking at the Kufic inscription of the Pir-i Bakran Shrine in Iran, depicted on the cover of this book. It is a fascinating labyrinth of language.

To conclude this brief foreword, I would like to express immense gratitude to my supervisor, Professor Bogusław Paź, for inspiring me to create this volume, his invaluable help in editing it and numerous comments in this regard. I would also like to express my appreciation to the authorities of the Institute of ←11 | 12→Philosophy, especially Professor Ilona Błocian and Doctor Paweł Wróblewski, and the authorities of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wrocław for their institutional and financial support, without which the publication of this volume would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Professor Daniel Garber from the Princeton University for contributing the introduction, and Professor Adam Grzeliński from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń for writing the publishing review. I hope this volume will make a valuable contribution to the international studies on the philosophy of this highly intriguing and contemporarily relevant thinker.

Wrocław, 22nd November 2021

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Daniel Garber


The salient feature of the labyrinth is its complexity: it is easy to wander in, but once in, it is very difficult to find your way out. Paths that one might have thought lead out turn out only to take you deeper and deeper in, until finally… Finally, what?

Studying Leibniz’s thought can be terrifying for the scholar. First there is the sheer scope of his interests. There is hardly a subject that did not interest him. His profession was law and diplomacy, and he worked in that for most of his life, leaving behind many pages of writings on jurisprudence and on politics, starting from when he was a very young man until late in his life. Connected with that were his writings on theology—divine justice, his Essais de Théodicée, the only philosophical book that he published. In philosophy there was his metaphysics, culminating in his system of monads, his account of the relation between mind and body, pre-established harmony, his reconciliation between the mechanical world and the active world of living things. In the scientific realm there is his calculus, his dynamics, his geological speculations, and hundreds of pages of investigations of technical problems in engineering that range from the design of machines for the mines in the Harz Mountains to problems of understanding friction. And then there are his historical papers, his studies of China and its culture. In his famous éloge for Leibniz, Bernard Le Bouvier de Fontenelle, then secretary of the Académie Royale des Sciences wrote:

In a way like the ancients who had the skill to drive up to eight horses harnessed abreast, [Leibniz] drove all of the sciences abreast Thus, we are obligated to divide him up here, and, to speak philosophically, to decompose him. While antiquity made one Hercules out of many, we make many savants out of one M. Leibniz.1

Even so, Leibniz himself saw his interests as unified in some way, however diverse they may seem to us.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (January)
monadology theodicy consciousness similarity jurisprudence freedom
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 256 pp.

Biographical notes

Aleksandra Horowska (Volume editor)

Aleksandra Horowska – a PhD student at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Wrocław and a secretary of the Polish Leibnizian Society. Her academic research concerns mainly issues and problems of Leibniz’s philosophy of law, examined in the perspective of philosophical and jurisprudential tradition.


Title: The Labyrinths of Leibniz’s Philosophy