Plastic Surgery for the Monadology: Leibniz Via Heidegger

By Harman, Graham | Cultural Studies Review, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Plastic Surgery for the Monadology: Leibniz Via Heidegger

Harman, Graham, Cultural Studies Review

Leibniz's Monadology and Heidegger's 'The Thing' are surely among the two greatest short works of philosophy ever written. Along with their equal brevity, they share a number of strengths and defects. As its very title suggests, the Monadology considers the reality of unified objects (monas = unit), and the means by which they relate or fail to relate to other objects. Likewise, Heidegger's 'The Thing' describes a jug as an inner reality that exceeds both the representations we have of it and the history by which it was produced. Moreover, both authors realise that individual things are not bland stumps of featureless unity. Leibniz calls his monad a living mirror, while Heidegger's thing is likewise described as a mirror - play of the cryptic fourfold.

There is also a shared prejudice found in these authors, since both allow for only two separate levels in the cosmos. For Leibniz there is an absolute distinction between unified monads and accidental aggregates; any entity that exists can only be one or the other. For Heidegger, what lies behind present - at - hand entities is the being of those entities: no further levels lie 'beneath' that being, or 'above' presenceat - hand. In other words, there is no continued regress of objects and their parts in either Leibniz or Heidegger. Instead, there is simply one plane of self - contained realities, which can then be aggregated or unveiled in a second plane of relations. There are no levels of the world, no endless descent of objects wrapped in objects such as found today in the writings of Bruno Latour (Pandora's Hope) or Alphonso Lingis (The Imperative).

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the philosophies of Leibniz and Heidegger both entail some form of indirect causation. For both philosophers, one individual thing can never touch another directly. This is proverbial in the case of Leibniz and his windowless monads, which communicate only through God. But it becomes equally clear in Heidegger's case if we submit him to a mildly irreverent reading. For consider the following: Heidegger's 'thing,' just like his earlier equipment or tool - being, withdraws from all human representation. No perception or concept of the hammer ever fully exhausts its silent underground reality; perfect representation is always obstructed by a hidden surplus in entities. But contrary to the usual interpretation of Heidegger, this surplus cannot possibly come from an unconscious praxis lying beneath perception, since praxis can be surprised every bit as much as perception and theory can. Hammers shatter in our hands and startle us; trains topple from viaducts, killing dozens; construction workers plummet from broken scaffolding into the sea. The former practical use of all these tools was apparently blind to a creeping internal rot in the objects upon which they relied. From this we see that both theory and praxis are equally distant from the autonomous life of Heidegger's tools. The thing is equally resistant to theoretical and practical efforts to probe its depths, since it withdraws from all relations with human beings. Heidegger's tool - analysis is not an account of the praxis lying before all theory, but demonstrates instead that the reality of tool - beings lies prior to praxis, theory, and anything else that humans might accomplish. All of this should have been clear several decades ago, but was obscured by the recent fashion for pragmatism, which falsely salutes Heidegger's tool - analysis for merely repeating the earlier insights of John Dewey.

Second, things or objects (we should reject Heidegger's pedantic critical distinction between these terms) do not just withdraw from their relations with theoretical and practical humans. Instead, objects withdraw from each other as well. A snowflake, for instance, must be viewed as a private subterranean reality never exhausted by human efforts to probe it. But rather than withdrawing only from humans, the snowflake also recedes from its causal interaction with any glass window, raven's beak, tree branch, wind, or flame. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Plastic Surgery for the Monadology: Leibniz Via Heidegger


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.