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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Lucretius and Meillassox vs Leibniz and Whitehead - two theories of the novel

Leibniz is adamant in his criticism of the epicurist notion of clinamen in his Theodicée. His main point is that novelty cannot be explained in terms of the indeterminate, of the casual, by anything random. Leibniz doesn't like the idea that contingency plays a role as such in a determinate world. Partly because he holds that everything is determinate by some monad, by some substantial form, by some agent. The intervention of contingency or indeterminacy on a something otherwise determinate seems to him an undue intervention of something abstract in the concrete course of things. There ought to be a reason in terms of something doing the swerve of the orbit of the atom - there ought to be a
concrete actuality somewhere doing the bending of the orbit.

Whitehead would endorse not only the criticism - that would follow from his ontological principle that states that there is no reason without actual entities - but also the sort of account of novelty Leibniz puts forward. To him, novelty has to be brought by someone. Ultimately, it depends on new eternal objects being actualized in the world or new ways eternal objects are actualized in the world. Without this creative advance - actual entities prehending something new - the world would be "a barren tautological absolute" (Modes of Thought, lecture 5), in his terms. Timothy Mooney (in his "Leibniz and Whitehead") points out that in order for these eternal objects to be brought into the realm of actual occasions, they have to be more than simply potentialities for otherwise actual entities would have at some point the capacity to actualize something that is not actual and this would make them more like substances that enjoy properties or, like Aristotle's, exist both in act and in potentiality (the capacity to prehend a new eternal object, say, is there in the actual entity somehow before the actualization). Mooney then points out that Whitehead's solution is to appeal to God as a actual entity which is not an actual occasion and who prehends all eternal objects. God makes the eternal objects actual. Therefore, there is no actualization carried out by any actual occasion (neither by God, in fact). Eternal objects are always made actual by God. This makes Whaitehead remarkably similar to Leibniz. In Leibniz as well, novelty is introduced when a world is chosen by God. God makes it actual. There are no room for worldly potentialities. The creative advance brought about by each monad (and not by any principle) comes to existence from the beginning in the very moment where God chooses one among many possible worlds.

Interestingly, this Leibniz-Whitehead account of novelty contrasts not only with Epicurist clinamina but also with Meillassoux's hyperchaos. Meillassoux has a principle of facticity bringing in novelty (and regularity) to the world. His principle is an abstract prince that commands as a transcendent element. Not only Meillassoux's conception of contingency contrasts with that of monadologists (and process philosophers) but also his account of novelty. One could say that he generalizes Lucrecius - he finds clinamina everywhere. His principle restates the idea that abstract entities can be invoked to explain concrete ones. From the point of view of Whitehead (or of Leibniz, or of Deleuze, for that matter) such a principle deserves to be explained in terms of what in the concrete world maintains it.

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