LEIBNIZ ON MIRACLES1

Sorin COSTREIE

RESUME

Il y a une certaine tension dans la philosophie de Leibniz entre la vue déterministe de l'univers et l'acceptation des miracles. En d'autres termes, comment pouvons-nous concilier l'existence des miracles et un monde de l'harmonie préétablie? C'est un problème difficile, car:

(1) si l'on tente de préserver l'ordre pr éétabli des choses, alors les miracles doivent avoir déjà été assimilés au plan du monde; mais, cela signifie qu'ils ne seront plus miraculeux, ou du moins pas ce que l'on comprend d'habitude par "miraculeux".

(2)  si, au contraire, l'on tente de "sauver" les miracles et de maintenir qu'il y a effectivement de tels phénomènes dans le monde actuel, alors, il faut admettre d'une certaine façon que certaines lois sont susceptibles d'être violées.

Mon but est de donner une description satisafaisante 2 de ce dilemme. Afin de mieux cerner le problème, trois questions  imbriquées seront envisagées tour à tour: les deux règnes du monde, les trois types de lois et l'existence des miracles.

THE TWO KINGDOMS

As Adams points out: "The problem about the nature  of miracles is for Leibniz a part of a more general problem about the relation of the kingdom of grace to the kingdom of nature. And he developed a solution to that more general problem, in terms of pre-established harmony"3.

Christian doctrine requires existence of free will so  that the individual salvation of souls may be based on personal merits. So, souls must be granted the power to act freely, if human conduct is to be punished or rewarded. Mathematical mechanics, on t he other hand, requires a deterministic system, with no exceptions from the laws of nature. Bodies have  to move in accordance with very strict laws, leaving no place for freedom and spontaneous movement . Leibniz tries to accommodate both of these views within a coherent theory of the universe. T he result is his theory of  two realms, namely the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of grace4.

Selon mon sentiment, la même force et vigueur y subsiste toujours, et passe seulement de matière en matière, suivant les lois de la nature et le bel ordre préétabli. Et je tiens, quand Dieu fait des miracles, que ce n'est pas pour souternir les besoins de la nature, mais pour ceux de la grâce. En juger qutrement, ce serait avoir une idée fort basse de la sagesse et de la puissance de Dieu. (LC, Leibniz, I, 4)

In the Kingdom of Nature (‘the city of corporeal  things') God appears to us in the guise of the supreme architect and maker of the world. The material universe is governed by certain physical laws, and the type of causation that is to be found at this level of the world is that of efficient causes. On the other hand, in the Kingdom of Grace ("the city  of souls") God is like a benevolent monarch ruling the world. Here, at this ethical level of the world, we have moral laws and, relatedly, final causes.

[S]ystème de l'harmonie générale que je conçois, et qui porte que le règne des causes efficientes et celui des causes finales sont parallèles entre eux; que Dieu n'a pas moins la qualité du meilleur monarque que celle du plus grand architecte; que la matière est disposée en sorte que les lois du mouvement servent au meilleur gouvernement des esprits, et qu'il se trouvera par conséquent qu'il a obtenu le plus de bien qu'il est possible, pourvu qu'on compte les biens métaphysiques, physiques et moraux ensemble. (T, 247)

We can summarize Leibniz's view regarding these two realms in the following table:

Kingdom ofGod asLaws of(type of) Cause
NatureArchitectPhysicsEfficient
GraceMonarchMoralityFinal
The table must be completed by sa ying that is a misunderstanding if one deduces that the entire structure of the world is limited to two levels 5 only. It must be added that there is also a more fundamen- tal level in the organization of the universe, namely the metaphysical level of the world. This represents a universal level for the constitution of the worlds, because logical laws do not vary from world to world. They are the same in all possible uni verses and they impose conditions even on God's behavior, in the sense in which God's actions have to be self-consistent. Consequently we have three types of necessity6, law and evil 7.
(levels of the) World (type of) Necessity (type of) Law (type of) Evil
metaphysical mathematical logical metaphysical
physical hypothetical physical physical
ethical moral moral moral
TYPES OF LAWS

Putting aside the problems regarding necessity and evil 8, let's focus now on what Leibniz means by law. As we have just seen, there are three types of laws. The first type includes the constitutive laws of the whole universe, namely the logico-mathematical laws 9. They are general laws, and, due to their modal character, they are true in all possible wo rlds. In fact, since no exception is possible, even God must obey such universal laws. In the second ca tegory, there are the physical laws of the possible worlds. They are contingent and vary from world to world, because they could have been otherwise. On the other hand, they can be seen as falling unde r the category of hypothetical necessity, since, as long as God actualized only one world, namely our ac tual world, they are the only real laws of nature. Their infringement is possible only physically, but not  logically. The third category concerns the moral laws which govern the souls in the kingdom of grace. They are also hypothetical necessities, thereby allowing for free will, in accordance with Christian theology.

But Leibniz, due to his religious convictions, must also allow the existence of miracles. Yet, as we have already seen, they seem incompatible with  the pre-established harmony. Having miracles is important in order to make God omnipotent, but having an unbroken harmony sustains the supreme benevolence and omniscience of God10.

Let's look now closely at the first two types of laws mentioned above, and try to detect where it is possible to get the door open for miracles. With re gard to the first kind of law, since even God is bound to obey the general constitutive laws of the  universe, there can be no miracles concerning that level of world constitution. God's omnipotence is restricted by his consistency, namely by the fact that God could not act incoherently, violating the principles of logic. On the other hand, with regard to the second type of law, namely the physical laws, God's omnipotence is also restricted by his own will. He, and in fact only he, could bring limits to himself . For example, whatever possible world he chooses, he has further to respect its laws, namely to preserve  its physical structure. This means that he can break the physical laws of a particular possible world, but he doesn't want to do it. From God's perspective it is no surprise concerning the history of the world,  and everything that seems to us miraculous, it was embedded there from the very beginning. Leibniz is clear concerning these things:

Cela fait voir que Dieu peut les creatures des lo is qu'il leur a prescrites et y reproduire ce que leur nature ne porte pas, en faisant un miracle (...) Il se peut qu'il y ait des miracles que Dieu fait par le ministere des anges, ou les lois de na ture ne sont point violees, non plus que lorsque les hommes aident la nature par l'art, l'artifice des anges ne different du notre que par le degre de perfection; cependant il demeure toujours vrai  que les lois de la nature sont sujettes a la dispensation du legislateur, au lieu que les veri tes eternelles, comme celles de la geometrie, sont tout a fait indispensables, et la foi n'y saurait etre contraire. (T, 3)
TYPES OF MIRACLES

There are two kinds of miracles: the first are  supernatural, and require God's direct intervention, and the others are  natural, in the sense that they are performed by angels and the laws of nature are not broken. They are 'natural' exactly in the sense that no violation of physical laws occurs. These miracles are performed by angels, also created bein gs, whose actions differ to ours to the degree that what we do might also be seen as miraculous from the perspective of inferior beings like dogs or cats:

[E]t ces anges ou ces substances agissent selon les lois ordinaires de leur nature, étant jointes à des corps plus subtils et plus vigoureux que ceux que nous pouvons manier. Et de tels miracles ne le sont que comparativement, et par rapport à nous; comme nos ouvrages passeraient pour miracu- leux auprès des animaux, s'ils étaient capables de faire leurs remargues là-dessus. Le changement de l'eau en vin pourrait être un mi racle de cette espèce. Mais la  création, l'incarnation et quelques autres actions de Dieu passent la force des créatures, et sont véritablement des miracles, ou même des mystères. Cependant, si le changement de l'eau en vin à Cana était un miracle du premier rang, Dieu aurait changé par là tout le cours de l'univers à cause de la connexion des corps. (T, 249)

We are now able to draw a distinction between miracles of the first rank and miracles of the second rank. In the first category, there are only miracles performed via the direct intervention of God, namely acts like: creation, incarnation 11, annihilation and conservation 12. In the second category there are miracles in which, due to the intervention of  angels, but in accordance with the laws of nature, some things are changed in the world in a miracu lous manner. Both categories are miraculous because such actions surpass the power of us as created creatures.

But surpassing the powers of creatures could mean, on the one hand, God's  ontological power of agency, obtaining miracles of the first rank, or, on the other hand, the  epistemological power of understanding some things, dealing in this case with miracles of the second rank. But it would be a misunderstanding, whether somebody will regard the miracles of the first rank only as 'ontological', and the miracles of the second rank only as 'epistemological'. It is clear that creation surpasses the power of human beings in both senses, as making and understa nding something. We could not, of course, create the world as it is, and we could not entirely understand the act of creation. On the other hand, even though miracles of the second rank do not infringe the natural laws, that does not mean that we are capable to duplicate angels' miraculous acts. We have a limited power of creation and understanding, in the sense in which our potential infinity of acts and thoughts has a real and actual limit which cannot be surpassed by any human being.

At this point it is worth pointing out clearly that a miracle could be seen from at least two different perspectives, depending of what power of us is surpasses: our power of understanding or our power of acting. Thus, there are epistemologic al miracles, whenever we cannot comprehend a situation, due to our intrinsic limitations as po ssessing created minds, and ontological miracles, when we are unable, due to our limited power of agency, to  act miraculously. Thus, the miracles of the first rank could be seen as comprising two categories as well. There are  epistemological miracles of the first rank, which result merely from the fact that the laws of the universe cannot be entirely comprehended by any created mind, and ontological miracles of the first rank, namely those which imply that the order of the world is truly violated by a supernatural power . In the first case, we regard things or facts or phenomena as miraculous because we cannot understand  rationally what is going on, due to the limits of our mind. In the second case, it is not simply that the laws as we know them are violated; rather the laws as such are violated. For example it is clear that the incarnation of the God in the human flesh is a ontological miracle, since, as a union of the divine with a human nature, it requires a direct intervention of God in order to surpass the natural laws of  this world. But incarnation can be seen as a epistemological miracle as well, since this p henomenon is beyond the limits of our minds, and we cannot offer any true explanation of how it is done the whole process.

It must be noted that, since the epistemological miracles of the first rank surpasses the power of understanding of any created mind, they are miraculous for angels, as well. The same thing is true with regard of the ontological miracles of the first rank . They surpass also the power of angels, so they are miraculous for them as well. Angels cannot create t he world, they cannot incarnate God in a human body, and so on and so forth.

The miracles of the second ranks can also be seen as comprising two categories. There are epistemological miracles of the second rank, name ly actions of angels that are beyond our power of understanding, and ontological miracles of the sec ond rank, whenever an angel does something that, even it doesn't violate any physical law, it is bey ond our power of agency as well. Further, in the epistemological case, there are two different possib ilities: one in which it is just a question of time before we discover the true natural laws, and the  other where it may be the case that we cannot acquire such a knowledge given the intrinsic limitati ons of our capacities for understanding. Thus, on one hand, we could have an progressive eliminati on of miracles seen as 'still unexplained phenomena', and on the other hand, we can never know entirely the true structure of the world. In the first case miraculous means still "unknown", whereas in the sec ond case we can say that there really are miracles. It is pretty clear that Leibniz endorses the second account. There are epistemological miracles due to our intrinsic limitation as created bein gs. Since for a monkey a spaceship is, no doubt, a miraculous outcome, then also angels' actions will be regarded as miraculous by human beings.

It is also worth noting that Leibniz's defense of regarding some actions of God as miraculous, is, in fact, another way to avoid the doctrine of Occasionalism and Deism. In the first case, since God is the only agent in the world, all the acts in the world are divine acts. But since all acts are done by divine intervention, they are miraculous and thus everything is a miracles, which is equivalent with saying that in fact there are no miracles in the world. There could be miracles only in comparison with natural power of agency of some free agents. In the second case, since God doesn't do anything, he doesn't do any miracles as well. Thus, again, the result will be that there are no miracles in the world. Both ways are unacceptable for Leibniz.

CONCLUSIONS

Therefore on Leibniz's account, 'true miracles' ar e only the supernatural actions of God, which go beyond the physics of this world 13, namely the miracles of the first rank. This claim is in accordance with his doctrine of pre-established harmony, accord ing to which everything within the physical world is fixed from the very beginning. God's acts are miraculous only from our perspective, and not from his. This is of utmost importance for the understanding  of Leibniz's system, because otherwise we could not understand his metaphysical optimism, namely that we are living in the best possible world. Ours is the best universe, not because it does not contain  the evil, or at least a minimal amount of it, but because it is the most complete world with t he simplest laws. The principle of plenitude, which proposes this maximal ratio between the simplicity of the rules that govern our world, and the richness of the phenomena of our actual world, can be understood entirely only from God's angle. Generally speaking, this would be the reading key for underst anding his view: in order to comprehend the universe, we have to approach it from God's perspective.

Can we now accommodate in Leibniz's system both the doctrine of pre-established harmony and the existence of miracles? In other words, can we  shed some light on the initial dilemma. Let's try to offer some precise answers in that direction. It is  clear now that miracles of the first rank are not in contradiction with the pre-established harmony,  because God has foreseen his action, and he knew from the very beginning what he would do in the  future. Therefore, for example, the incarnation of Christ is a miraculous action of God, but, on the other hand, it was contained in the initial design of the world. Since he has chosen this particular world, there is no contradiction here, because  here he sent his son. The indirect actions of God, namely the second rank miracles, actions performed with the help of angels, are also in agreement with the plan of the world. These miracles have been here, so to speak, in the world, from the very beginning. But being  here is contrary to our common intuitions that such events deserve to be further seen as miraculous.

In the case of ‘epistemological' miracles, we may say about a divine action that is miraculous only if we are unable to provide a good explanation of it. More than that, we cannot in fact in Leibniz's view, due to the inner limitations of our mi nds, ever completely understand  such phenomena; they surpass the power of our minds. Further, there  are ‘ontological' miracles, since we cannot yield something similar. Could we create the entire universe? Or could we annihilate it? Could we even change the water in wine? Obviously, the answer to all of these is: "No". It must be added that  not everything that surpasses our power of agency constitutes a miracle. For example the motion of planets is not miraculous, since they follow the natural laws of physics. We have an explanation of this phenomenon and we understand very well why do they act in such a manner. A miracle necessitates God's intervention, which can be direct or mediated by the angels' actions, and has to surpass our power of agency or/and understanding.

A real problem might be when, through a miracle, God would change the initial course of the world. This would contradict the pre-established harmony, and, consequently, would raise serious problems in understanding Leibniz's philosophy. But Leibniz, even he accepts that God can act in this way, due to his omnipotence, he will never do something like that.  God is omnipotent and, consequently, he can do whatever he wants, unless contradicting the laws of logic. But acting differently from what he has chosen, means acting self-contradictorily, and that would constitute a violation of the most fundamental law of logic, namely the principle of contradiction. The limits of God are the limits of logic and the limits drawn by himself.

Therefore, in conclusion, Leibniz accepts that  there are miracles in the world and they do not contradict the pre-established harmony of the universe. It is worth noting that a new questions arises in turn: How then is human freedom possible, since even miracles are included in the design of the world? What kind of law is pre-established harmony, metaphysical or physical? I shall try to offer a response to the latter question, leaving the first one open for a future investigation. The principle of pre-established harmony seems to be a very specific feature of actu al world, being a constitutive law of our world. I claim basically that everything is set up from the ve ry beginning, and that there is a certain agreement among various constituents of the universe. As  Adams points out: "theory of preestablished harmony operates on several levels. At the deepest level there is a harmony between the perceptions of different monads. There is also a harmony between bod y and soul. (...) At the highest level there is a harmony between ‘the Physical kingdom of Natu re' (...) and ‘the Moral kingdom of Grace'" 14. This harmony has to be a sign of perfection, since is  a harmony among the elements of the best possible world. Our world was chosen to became actual by God in the virtue of its maximal point of equilibrium between simplicity of natural laws  and the abundance and variety of  creatures and phenomena. This is the reason for God's choice of our world, because  "nothing happens without there being a reason" (principle of a sufficient reason ). Like in the other cases, where the balance point between simplicity of laws and the richness of phenomena is lower than that of the actual world, the pre-established harmony should be there lower than in our case. Therefore, it seems that this principle of pre-established harmony is a constitutive principle of worlds, an d in the case of our world we can come upon the highest amount of harmony. This principle facilitate s the organization of hierarchical structure of the world, and brings order and consonance among the different levels and constituents. But recall that in his second letter to Clarke, Leibniz claims that in order to proceed from mathematics to physics it is necessary the appeal to the principle of sufficient reason. Thus, the two mentioned principles seems to share the same metaphysical nature, since they play a constitutive role in the creation of the world.

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1 I indebted to Vlad Alexandrescu, Gerry Callaghan, Liam Dempsey and Andrei Zltescu for comments and useful suggestions on earlier versions of my paper.
2 J'ai limité mon analyse aux ouvrages majeurs de Leibniz:  Théodicée (T), Discours de Métaphysique (DM), Monadologie (M) et la Correpsondance de Leibniz Correspondance avec Arnauld (LA) et Clarke (LC).
3 See Adams (1994), p. 82.
4 The distinction has Platonic roots, and can be found also in St. Augustine, when he talks about Civitas Dei.
5 To which correspond two related types of causes and, consequently, two types of laws: moral and physical laws.
6 "Cette convenance a aussi ses règles et ses raisons; ma is c'est le choix libre de Di eu, et non pas une nécessite géométrique, qui fait préférer le convenable et le porte à l'existence. Ainsi, on peut dire que la  nécessité physique est fondée sur la nécessité morale, c'est-à-dire sur le choix du sage digne de sa sagesse; et que l'une aussi bien que l'autre doit être distinguée de la  nécessité géométrique. Cette nécessité physique est ce qui fait l'ordre de la nature, et consiste dans les règles du mouvement et dans quelques  autres lois générales qu'il a plu à Dieu de donner aux chooooses en leur donnant l'être". (T, 2)
7 "On peut prendre le mal métaphysiquement, physiquement et moralement. Le  mal métaphysique consiste dans la simple imperfection, le mal physique dans la souffrance, et le mal moral dans le péché". (T, 21)
8 I have already tackled the issue of ‘possibility' in the Leibniz's system in Costreie (1998), and I intend to discuss the problem of evil in Leibniz's philosophy in a further paper.
9 Leibniz is usually seen as a kind of proto-logicist in  the philosophy of mathematics, as long as, on his account, mathematics can be entirely reduced to logic.
10 In fact, the conflict comes from detecting an inner tension among the predicates of God, namely between his omniscience and omnipotence. If the supreme being is omni scient, then he knows everything in detail, so the evolution of the universe is pre-established. But in this case nobody could change the course of evolution, not even God himself, so God is not omnipotent. Paradox!
11 "Incarnation" could be seen also as an argument, besi de the usual one (concerning the best balance between the simplicity of hypotheses/laws and the richness in phenome na), for the fact that we a re living in the best possible world. This is so just because God sent his son to this  particular world and not to any other, which means that this world has to have a very special feature in comparison to the others, namely being the best possible world.
12 In the case of ‘creation', ‘incarnation' and ‘annihilation' the ranking is sustained by textual evidence: T 249 and LC, Leibniz, IV, 44. In the case of ‘conservation' I am following Adams' interpretation, where conservation is understood broadly in terms of creation: see Adams (1994), p. 95-7.
13 "Si le miracle ne diffère du naturel que dans l'app arence et par rapport à nous, en sorte que nous appelions seulement miracle ce que nous observons rarement, il n'y aura  point de différence interne réelle entre le miracle et le naturel, et, dans le dond des choses, tout sera é galement naturel, ou tout sera également miraculeux. Les théologiens auront-ils raison de s'accommoder du premier, et les philosophes du second?" (LC, Leibniz, V, 110)
14 Adams (1994), p. 83.