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Lecture: Primary matter, primitive passive power, and creaturely limitation in Leibniz
28 January @ 17:00 - 18:30
The Groningen Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Thought will be resuming its lecture series dedicated to the history of medieval and early modern philosophy and science.
Our first guest speaker of 2021 will be Maria Rosa Antognazza (King’s College London).
The title of her lecture is: Primary matter, primitive passive power, and creaturely limitation in Leibniz (abstract below).
The date of the lecture will be 28 January 2021, 17.00h – 18.30h (Central European Time).
In this paper I argue that, in Leibniz’s mature metaphysics, primary matter is not a positive constituent which must be added to the form in order to have a substance. Primary matter is merely a way to express the negation of some further perfection. It does not have a positive ontological status and merely indicates the limitation or imperfection of a substance. To be sure, Leibniz is less than explicit on this point, and in many texts he writes as if primary matter were a positive constituent of a substance. It seems to me, however, that the view most in keeping with the thrust of his mature philosophical system is captured by a striking remark of 1695: “Materia rerum est nihilum: id est limitatio [The matter of things is nothing: that is, limitation].” This becomes especially apparent in texts showing that Leibniz’s conception of primary matter corresponds to his conception of creaturely limitation.
I start by discussing the notion of primary matter in the scholastic tradition. I then show that although Leibniz places the scholastic terminology of primary matter at a crucial juncture of his metaphysics, he thinks of primary matter in a way which significantly deviates from earlier scholastic views. I conclude that despite his adoption of distinctive terminology of Aristotelian scholasticism, Leibniz does not hold a broadly Aristotelian concept of primary matter as the ultimate subject of inherence. Instead he thinks of primary matter according to a Neoplatonic blue-print in which matter is non-being, privation, or mere absence of perfection.
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