Explanatory pluralism and Leibniz's animal economy

01 October 2017 → 30 September 2021
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Theory and methodology of philosophy
    • Philosophy
    • Other philosophy, ethics and religious studies not elsewhere classified
Project description

The project has two connected aims: (1) to analyse and assess Leibniz’s treatment of what he calls ‘animal economy’ (roughly speaking, the physiology of macro-scale living bodies) and (2) to show that he is an explanatory pluralist with respect to biology. The project addresses the accounts of ‘animal economy’ alongside Leibniz’s metaphysical treatment of biology (most famously, in the form of his monads). The latter has received increasing attention over the last few years, while the former is, as yet, less widely studied. The problem in question is that Leibniz makes little to no attempt to resolve the contradictions between his various treatments of living things, often using several incompatible approaches even within the same account. The eclecticism of Leibniz’s work in general is well known; the project aims to show that this is not dilettantism but a productive philosophical approach in its own right. My hypothesis is that explanatory pluralism is productive for Leibniz because it allows him diverse means of addressing the complexities of biological phenomena. Throughout the early modern period, certain aspects of biology (life itself, reproduction, health, etc.) repeatedly proved resistant to being reduced to unitary explanations. Leibniz attempts to overcome this difficulty (with some success) by helping himself to as many disparate kinds of explanation as he needs in order to make sense of biological phenomena metaphysically, physiologically, and medically.