223. Nietzsche vs. Leibniz


Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), in section 109 of his book The Gay Science, observes that the world is, despite certain appearances to the contrary, complete chaos:

“Let us be on our guard against supposing that anything so methodical as the cyclic motions of our neighboring stars obtains generally and throughout the universe; indeed a glance at the Milky Way induces doubt as to whether there are not many cruder and more contradictory motions there, and even stars with continuous, rectilinearly gravitating orbits, and the like. The astral arrangement in which we live is an exception; this arrangement, and the relatively long durability which is determined by it, has again made possible the exception of exceptions, the formation of organic life. The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos—in the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms.”

However, G.W. Leibniz (1646-1716), in sections 65-69 of his Monadology, claims exactly the opposite. Despite certain appearances, there is no chaos to be found anywhere at all:

65. The author of nature has been able to employ this divine and infinitely marvellous artifice, because each portion of matter is not only, as the ancients recognised, infinitely divisible, but also because it is really divided without end, every part into other parts, each one of which has its own proper motion. Otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express all the universe. 

66. Whence we see that there is a world of created things, of living beings, of animals, of entelechies, of souls, in the minutest particle of matter. 

67. Every portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fish. But every branch of a plant, every member of an animal, and every drop of the fluids within it, is also such a garden or such a pond.

68. And although the ground and air which lies between the plants of the garden, and the water which is between the fish in the pond, are not themselves plants or fish, yet they nevertheless contain these, usually so small however as to be imperceptible to us. 

69. There is, therefore, nothing uncultivated, or sterile or dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion, save in appearance; somewhat as a pond would appear at a distance when we could see in it a confused movement, and so to speak, a swarming of the fish, without however discerning the fish themselves.


For some more thoughts on order and chaos, go to my posts here and here.

For more posts on Leibniz, go here

2 replies on “223. Nietzsche vs. Leibniz”

  1. Mark A Sang on

    “There is, therefore, nothing uncultivated, or sterile or dead in the universe, no chaos, no confusion, save in appearance”. I love this quote. The entire universe— every stone, planet, and asteroid— has the potential under the right circumstances to serve as garden or pond in its own way.
    This idea of inanimate material still being alive and very much part of the universe and ourselves is why I believe artificial intelligence is very much possible. Maybe something like the internet will one day evolve to a point where new and unknown creatures just suddenly begin appearing, and developing into higher and more complex creatures in the same way single celled creatures developed in the sea millions of years ago. Just a thought.

    • Dwight Goodyear on

      Thanks for your comment Mark! Nice to hear from you. Leibniz can be read as a panpsychist or someone who thinks mind is fundamental and ubiquitous in the universe. Once this is accepted, then, as you say, the emergence of intelligence and consciousness in unexpected places becomes more plausible. Here is a helpful entry on panpsychism in Western philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/

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