Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gottfried Leibniz on the Golden Rule: Faire le Toure de la Chose

THE POLYMATH GOTTFRIED LEIBNIZ (1646-1716) IS A REMARKABLE FIGURE in anyone's book: be it his mathematics, philosophy, logic, physics, biology, medicine, geology, law, ethics, theology, or library science book; he may additionally appear as a footnote or two in your books for half a dozen or so other disciplines. This certainly is not the place to engage in a biographical sketch of the man, which, if it included his intellectual life, might be exhausting, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that he had the unfortunate honor of having had Voltaire's sights aimed upon him: he (and his optimistic assessment of the world: "we live in the best of all possible worlds," le meilleur des mondes possibles, as Leibniz said in his Théodicée) was lampooned by Voltaire, and is the basis for the character Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide. To receive the attention of enfant terrible Voltaire, whether through his wit or his ire, was never a pleasant event, as the Church and her priests well know.

But regardless of being the butt of Voltaire's biting wit, the Lutheran-yet-Catholic-leaning Leibniz, the contemporary of both Spinoza and Locke, had a prodigious mind, one better than Voltaire's, and he seemed to leave his imprint on any topic he put his mind to. And this includes the Golden Rule.

Leibniz profusely appealed to the Golden Rule throughout his writings and throughout his life, and though he does not necessarily understand it in a traditional way, he does not advocate a view of it that, like Locke or (especially) Hobbes, would seek to undermine it. The Golden Rule seems to be genuinely advanced by him as part of his piety which demanded amor Dei super omnia. We may take the word of the Leibnizian scholar, Mogens Laerke:
As it has been noticed many times by a number of commentators, Leibniz very often appeals to this [golden] rule, and in a variety of senses, from the Nova methodus discendae docendaeque jurisprudentia of 1667 to his discussions of Christian Thomasius's theory of natural right in the correspondence with Bierling around 1712. According to Leibniz, this rule is fundamental to both jurisprudence and politics, but also to true theology, simply because jurisprudence and theology 'conspire," as Leibniz explains as early as the Nova methodus.
Mogens Laerke, "Apology for a Credo Maximum: On Three Basic Rules in Leibniz's Method of Religious Controversy," in Marcelo Dascal, ed., Leibniz: What Kind of Rationalist? (Springer, 2008), 399 (hereinafter Laerke (2008)) (citations omitted).

While we cannot look at every such reference in Leibniz's massive written corpus, we can mention a few of these to try to understand the Leibnizian twist on the moral principle. Such references to the Golden Rule in the writings of Leibniz's era, as Laerke points out, were commonplace among the intelligentsia. They seem to have been part of the intellectual milieu, a leftover from the structures of the Christendom that was beginning to get dismantled by a number of forces, political, intellectual, and social. They also seem to have received such emphasis as the hope for a basis of a working ethic following the Wars of Religion. Yet Leibniz seems to have gone beyond merely mouthing what everybody else was mouthing, and the Golden Rule seems to have been an important, integral part of his thinking on personal ethics, and, more broadly, on law and politics.

In starting with Leibniz's thinking on the Golden Rule, one must start with his view of humans as "monads." It is impossible, in Leibniz's thinking, for human souls to peer into the soul of another individual. Human souls are monads, without windows through which we can look into the soul or monad of another.
[N]obody can, strictly speaking, look into the soul of somebody else, even less put himself in the place of the other. Our very individuality depends upon our perspective on the world: from the metaphysical point of view, literally placing oneself in the place of the other would be equivalent to become the other.
Mogens Laerke, "The golden rule: Aspects of Leibniz's method for religious controversy," in Marcelo Dascal, ed., The Practice of Reason: Leibniz and His Controversies (Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2010), 310 (hereinafter Laeke (2010). But what cannot be done in actuality, may be done through an imaginative act of transference, and this is what the Golden Rule enjoins us to do.
[W]e may imagine ourselves in the other's place and thereby try to bridge the difference of perspective . . .
Laerke (2010), 310.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz by Francke (ca. 1700)

The sort of effort required to understand others and thereby attain an objective reality is addressed by Leibniz in a passage in the Conversation du Marquis de Pianese et du Père Emery Eremite where he obliquely touches on the Golden Rule:
[T]his is what gives rise to this diversity of opinion, everybody considering the objects from a certain side: only very few people have the patience to go all the way round the thing [faire le toure de la chose] until they are on the side of their opponent, that is to say, people who will examine the pros and cons with equal zeal and with the spirit of a disinterested judge in order to see which side the balance must lean, because time is needed for this, and our passions or distracts hardly give us any.
(quoted in Larke (2010), 310 (citing A VI 4 2250).

This appears to be a reference to the speculative and not the practical intellect, but Leibniz advanced a similar methodology in the area of morals. For Leibniz, the Golden Rule imposes an obligation on persons to "go all the way round the thing (faire le toure de la chose) until they are on the side of their opponent." That is, a man who follows the Golden Rule is supposed to "examine the pros and cons with equal zeal and with the spirit of a disinterested judge in order see which side the balance must lead." He must transfer his vantage point to the perspective of the other, without, at the same time, losing that of his own. For if he completely disregarded his own vantage point, he would lose a little part of the whole picture, and thereby lose objectivity.

For this reason, the Golden Rule required development on a person's part; it required him to faire le toure de la chose. While against Locke, Leibniz rejected accepted the existence of innate ideas, he insisted that these ideas, placed in us by our Creator, required proof and development on our part.

Statue of Leibniz at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

In his New Essays for Human Understanding, written as a response to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Leibniz addressed the issue of whether the rules of morality, in particular the Golden Rule, were innate. Leibniz's Essay is composed as a dialogue between Philalethes and Theophilus, Φιλαλήθης, the "lover of truth," and Θεόφιλος, the "lover of God." Philalethes is the character advancing Locke's views, and Theophilus advances Leibniz's response. In the discussion involving innate principles, Philalethes states: "Moral rules need a proof, ergo [they are] not innate"--for instance that rule which is the "foundation of all social virtue, That one should do [only] as he would be done unto." To which Theophilus, the spokesman for Leibniz, who argues against Locke's rejection of innate ideas, admits, however, that these moral principles, though innate, require proof, and indeed elucidation. In fact, in a very important insight, Leibniz through Theophilus insisted that the Golden Rule itself needed an extrinsic standard, suggesting that it was more a methodological or procedural moral rule than a substantive one.
As regards the rule to the effect that we should do to others only what we are willing that they do to us, it requires not only proof but also elucidation. We should wish for more than our share if we had our own way; so do we also owe to others more than their share? I will be told that the rule applies only to a just will. But then the rule, far from serving as a standard, will need a standard. The true meaning of the rule is that the right way to judge more fairly is to adopt the point of view of other people.
New Essays on Human Understanding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 91-92.

In Leibniz's view, the "proof" and "elucidation" of the Golden Rule required an individual to engage in a disinterested, active exploration of the moral wants of others. This sort of exploration was calculated to allow us virtually to see things from the perspective or vantage point of various individuals, and in a sort of synthesis of them all, Leibniz thought we could grasp the greater reality of the whole. We move from dissent to consent, from heresy to catholicity, from the individual and particular view to a common and general view of things, and thereby move outward from the subjective to the objective. Each of us is like one of the blind men in the proverbial story of the blind men and the elephant, and we must go through the effort of going all-the way-'round the elephant, faire le toure de la chose, in order to understand the entire picture of the reality that confronts us. We know how we want others to treat us, but we do not know how others want us to treat them. In surveying the entirety, and by refusing to be satisfied with just the moiety, we are able to obtain an integral and objective understanding of others as well as ourselves. This allows us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It allows us to know what others would want us to do to them, and so objectifies the Golden Rule.

The process described by Leibniz therefore prevents us from adopting the view of any particular person. The obligation is to go all the way round the thing (faire le toure de la chose), and not stop at anyone's particular vantage point, whether or own or that of someone else, but to grasp everyone's vantage point. This avoids some of the problems in the Golden Rule if it is applied restrictively, taken the vantage point only of merely an other, and not of the others. The issue is described in In his Méditation sur la notion commune de la justice, where Leibniz expressly discusses the golden rule in the context between a judge and a criminal:
It could may be said that nor harming anybody, neminem laedere, is the precept of the law called jus strictum, but that equity also demands that we do something good, when this is suitable [lorsque cela convient], and that it is in this that consists the precept, which demands that we grant everybody what belongs to him, suum cuique tribuere. But this suitability [convenance] or "that which belongs" is known as the rule of equity or equality: Quod tibi non vis fieri aut quod tibi vis fieri, neque aliis facito aut negato. It is the rule of reason and of our Lord. Put yourself in the place of the other and you will be at the true point of view to judge what is just and what is not.

Some objections have been made against this great rule, but only because it is not applied everywhere. It is for example objected that a criminal can claim to be pardoned by the sovereign judge in virtue of this maxim, because the judge would wish the same thing if he found himself in a similar position. The reply is easy. It is necessary that the judge places himself not only in the place of the criminal, but also in the place of those others who have an interest in the crime being punished.
(quoted in Laeker (2010) (emphasis in original Laeker), 311 (quoting DR 123-24)). Thus, in applying the golden rule, the judge must "go all the way round the thing," faire le toure de la chose, and look at the entire moral reality by considering not only the criminal's vantage point, but the vantage point of the victim, the victim's family, and the people whose law he is enforcing and whose common good he is to consider in applying that law. By expanding one's view from the other to others in a context such as this one, we can avoid some of the problems in applying the Golden Rule.

As Laerke explains this Leibnizian gloss on the Golden Rule:
Whereas the first part of the quotation states the primitive rule of charity (putting oneself in the place of the other), the second part clearly states that the golden rule should be considered as a principle for procuring the general felicity (putting oneself in the place of all others). Thus, there is a test of generalization for any act of charity. One must ask: if this is a charitable act towards this other (to spare this criminal, for example), is this also charitable towards everybody else (the victims of the criminal, for example)?
Laerke (2010), 311. There is a clear advantage to Leibniz's formulation. But there is also a concomitant disadvantage. That disadvantage is the generalization, the lack of the concrete that may arise as a consequence.

Leibniz also believed that the Golden Rule was a principle of jurisprudence. It was more than merely a rule of personal morality. In a short essay entitled La place d'autruy (The Place of the Other), Leibniz describes how the Golden Rule has both a role in individual morality and in public law and politics.
The other's place is the true point of view both in politics and in morals. Jesus Christ's precept of putting oneself in the other's place is not only good for the end our Lord speaks of, i.e., morals, in order to know our duty with respect to our neighbor, but also for politics, in order to know what designs our neighbor may harbor against us. One's best access to these designs is obtained by putting oneself in his place . . . This fiction stimulates our thoughts, and has served me more than once to guess with utmost precision what was concocted elsewhere.
DA 164 (N. Naaman Zauderer, trans.). As Laerke puts it in discussing Leibniz's treatment of the golden rule in his Conversation du Marquis de Pianese et du Père Emery Eremite: "The originality of Leibniz's appeal to the golden rule resides in this reflexive development of it: no simply as a rule of caritas, but as a rule of caritas prudentis, which turns it into a full law of justice."

In summary, Leibniz rejected Locke's view that Golden Rule was not innate, but he agreed that it required proof and elucidation. Leibniz saw the rule as procedural, not substantive ("the rule, far from serving as a standard, will need a standard"). It provided a means, a method for discovering an objective, unbiased morality (the means was to "faire le toure de la chose"), but it was not the source of that morality. The Golden Rule was both a rule of reason and part of the sublime teachings of Jesus Christ. Importantly, for Leibniz, the Golden Rule was both a personal principle, a principle of morality within the context of Christian love (caritas), and a public, political principle, a principle of justice or prudent love (caritas prudentis). Finally, the Golden Rule was a way to objectify, to generalize our moral knowledge so that we may leave the limits of a parochial, subjective view of what was good and right.

The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell

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