The fact that Leibniz is sometimes called “the German Plato” seems to be sufficient to claim that there are certain resemblance between the philosophies of these two distinguished men and evokes the intention to trace the similarities and dissimilarities between their ideas. Reading the dialogue Timaeus by Plato and Leibniz’s essay Discourse on Metaphysics proved that there is a whole range of issues which could be exposed to comparison. One of the most significant one is Plato’s account of the order of the cosmos, which presents a pattern of all-embracing harmony similar to that Leibniz proposes speaking of the universal order.
Let us dwell now on these two pieces of philosophy in more detail in order to discover the parallelism between them. As was stated before, the two philosophers’ views on how a universe is organized are united by the idea of harmony. The researcher shouldn’t be deceived by the difference in style and way of allegory, which may obscure a clear vision of the described phenomena. Yes, figuratively speaking, Plato seems to be more of an astronomer or even an alchemist in his metaphor, whereas Leibniz reveals his mathematical and theological inclinations, referring in turn to geometrical explanations and to ethical justification of the universal harmony. However, the core ideas remain the same. First and foremost, both of them attempt to prove that cosmos is based upon the principle of divine order, which was specially initiated by the Creator or Demiurge. It is peculiar, that if it is natural to expect the belief in the single Maker from a Christian theologist Leibniz, it is somewhat surprising that it occurs to Plato, in whose times monotheism was at least not mainstream. Whatever a name for the Creating essence is, in both cases it underlies the universal hierarchy, being the source for the initial creative intention. Both philosophers understand God as the ultimate perfection, as a moral maxim, which provides a pattern for his creations. Leibniz states: “God is an absolutely perfect being. Whence it follows that God who possesses supreme and infinite wisdom acts in the most perfect manner not only metaphysically, but also from the moral standpoint”. For Plato, perfection of God is not only the static law of Universe but also the reason why he created the world: “He was good, and the good can never have any jealousy of anything… God desired that all things should be good and nothing bad, so far as this was attainable”. Thus, moral justification of the order’s creation is present in both cases, although causality is more important for Plato, for, as he says, “Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created”. For Leibniz, it is significant that the order, of which he will proceed to speak in his essay, was inherent in the act of creation as well, not only in the final product: “But it is well to bear in mind that God does nothing out of order…This is so true that not only does nothing occur in this world which is absolutely irregular, but it is even impossible to conceive of such an occurrence…Thus we may say that in whatever manner God might have created the world, it would always have been regular and in a certain order”.
Describing his model of cosmos, Plato focuses mostly on the alchemical aspect of cosmology, turning to the traditional pattern, suggested by the Greek mythology. Thus, he illustrates the process as alchemical mixing of four elements – fire, water, air and earth. The focuses also on the astronomical objects like moon, planets and starts to disclose the paradox between everlasting movement and unchanging constancy, which is reflected in the cyclicity of life. He attempts to create the model of balance between rest and motion, which holds the universe together. God’s law is something that is ever stable and which penetrated human existence from the moment of creation, so it cannot undergo any moral evolution.
Leibniz is less liable to mythological models and creates another allegory of the Universe as an ideal state with God as perfect monarch. “And if the dominant principle in the existence of the physical world is the decree to give it the greatest possible perfection, the primary purpose in the moral world or in the city of God which constitutes the noblest part of the universe ought to be to extend the greatest happiness possible. In fine, God being at the same time the most just and the most debonair of monarchs, and requiring only a good will on the part of men, provided that it be sincere and intentional, his subjects cannot desire a better condition. To render them perfectly happy he desires only that they love him”. Thus, Leibniz proposes a specific hierarchy, which both leans on moral pattern of God as a perfect monarch and a free choice of a human. This combination is demonstrated by the nature of the state as a Republic on the one hand and the necessity of a monarch’s presence on the other hand. The more a person chooses to follow the example of God, the higher he is in the ladder of spiritual ascension, the closer he is to the Maker. The harmony is realized through God humanizing, i.e. getting involved in human existence, participating in every sphere, and through people spiritualizing thus approaching the Divine.
Although there is some evidence of hierarchical construction in both philosophers’ works, the greater role is played by the concept of reflection and multiplication. In Plato’s dialogue, the notion of the universal soul is presented. Through the act of creation God wants to create his copy, that is another God, and he creates the Universe as his reflection. Plato writes: “Such was the whole plan of the eternal God about the god that was to be, to whom for this reason he gave a body, smooth and even, having a surface in every direction equidistant from the centre, a body entire and perfect, and formed out of perfect bodies. And in the centre he put the soul, which he diffused throughout the body, making it also to be the exterior environment of it; and he made the universe a circle moving in a circle, one and solitary, yet by reason of its excellence able to converse with itself, and needing no other friendship or acquaintance. Having these purposes in view he created the world a blessed god”. As we see, Plato describes the universe as an integral being, possessing both divine and human qualities. In fact, he depicts the cosmos as if he depicted man. This peculiarity confirms the idea that the pattern is the same for both a universal and individual soul. “For which reason, when he was framing the universe, he put intelligence in soul, and soul in body, that he might be the creator of a work which was by nature fairest and best. Wherefore, using the language of probability, we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God…
The body of heaven is visible, but the soul is invisible, and partakes of reason and harmony, and being made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures, is the best of things created”. It is also important to mention that Plato insists on the simultaneous creation of the world’s body and soul, stressing their indissoluble connection. The above mentioned aspects of Plato’s cosmology contribute to the general picture of the harmonious cosmos he intends to reveal.
A similar idea of all creatures reflecting and multiplying the same diving pattern occurs in Leibniz’s essay. He states that “every individual substance expresses the whole universe in its own manner and that in its full concept is included all its experiences together with all the attendant circumstances and the whole sequence of exterior events”. Every human – and not only human but any God’s creature- is a kind of mirror which reflects God and the whole cosmos. Therefore, a human soul is a small model of the universe, which overlaps with Plato’s idea of the universal soul. Leibniz writes: “Thus the universe is multiplied in some sort as many times as there are substances, and the glory of God is multiplied in the same way by as many wholly different representations of his works. It can indeed be said that every substance bears in some sort the character of God’s infinite wisdom and omnipotence, and imitates him as much as it is able to” As we can see from the above abstract, the purpose of this multiplication lies in the sphere of spirituality. Its aim is to realize God’s static essence in the universal motion. Again, parallels with Plato are evident, if we remember the purpose of creation as realization of the divine good and the harmonious balance between rest and motion he proposes. Apart from this, at any level of multiplied pattern soul everything that can happen is present, i.e. all potential choices and events.
After analyzing the two philosophical works, it became plain that Plato’s notion of the cosmic order is to a large extent finds it reflection in Leibniz’s essay. Both concepts presuppose that the world was created by intention of the Maker, whatever is name can be. Everything in the world is submitted to the universal order, nothing happens on accident. Plato suggests the idea of the universal soul, which has the same composition as a soul of every creature and functions in the same way, combining corporal and spiritual parts. A similar model is proposed by Leibniz, who focuses on the idea of imitation and multiplication of God in every substance. For both philosophers, mirroring of God has a highly spiritual meaning, aimed at realization of his glory and wisdom. In some cases the philosophers use different approaches to disclose their conception. Thus, Plato refers to alchemical way of describing how the universe functions, whereas Leibniz offers a model of a perfect republic with an ideal monarch at the head of it. Yet, despite the differences, the two philosopher’s core idea is the same – universal harmony is achieved through infinite interaction of all elements – God and human, rest and motion, stability and change.