Divine Minds – Leibniz on Knowledge and the Pursuit of Happiness

Leibniz, in numerous writings, addressed a variety of epistemological issues, from questions concerning the origin and knowability of modal truths and reflections on the nature of epistemic virtues, to arguments intended to counter skeptical challenges. However, partly because of the unedited or untranslated form of Leibniz’s voluminous works, and partly because of a continuing focus in Leibniz scholarship on metaphysical and logical themes, Leibniz’s epistemology still remains largely uncharted territory. The general neglect of Leibniz’s epistemology in the literature is well exemplified by a remark by Michel Serres in his book Le système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématiques, who concludes his examination with the verdict: “Il n’y a pas d’épistemologie leibnizienne” (Serres 1990, 65). The main goal of my dissertation is to fill this gap, and to thereby advance a new interpretation of Leibniz’s philosophy that establishes the importance of his epistemology for his system as a whole.

In order to do so, I first investigate several crucial aspects of Leibniz’s epistemology, ranging from his commitment to nativism to his account of our knowledge of metaphysical and moral truths. I then show how these elements of Leibniz’s epistemology underpin his ethics by examining the central connection between the notions of wisdom, justice and freedom within his moral and political philosophy. The thread that guides me through these chapters is a historical thesis that at the same time serves as a key to unlocking Leibniz’s epistemological and moral thought: Leibniz, I argue, narrows the gap between the divine mind and our human minds by grounding his epistemology on the fundamental similarities he asserts between them – thereby ultimately paving the way for a Humean naturalism which reverberates to this day.