Research

Forthcoming
McDonough, Jeffrey K. Space, Monads, and Incompossibility.” Edited by Donald Rutherford. Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy (Forthcoming).Abstract

This essay offers a novel account of how to understand Leibniz’s views on compossibility when applied to infinite worlds constituted by unextended, immaterial substances or “monads.” The first section sets the stage by taking up some essential questions about the relationship between monads and space. The second section argues that – with a better understanding of that relationship – it is possible to see how the so-called “packing strategy” can be applied quite directly, even intuitively, to monadic worlds and substances. The third section argues that thinking through the application of the packing strategy to monadic worlds highlights an important, neglected Leibnizian commitment and reveals surprising affinities between the packing strategy and recent cosmological interpretations.

McDonough, Jeffrey K. A Sibling Rivalry, Triumph and Neglect: The Legacy of Leibniz’s Mechanics.” In Festschrift for George E. Smith, edited by Marius Stan, Eric Schliesser, and Chris Smeenk. Springer, Forthcoming.Abstract

This essay explores the legacy of Leibniz’s mechanics and the philosophical reasons for its neglect. The first section sets the stage by revisiting a particular problem – the problem of the Brachistochrone – that would prove pivotal in the development of Leibnizian mechanics. The second section lays out defining characteristics of Leibnizian mechanics and argues that – against all odds – it triumphed with the development of extremal principles and the rational mechanics of the eighteenth century. The third section argues that Leibniz’s extremal principles cannot be easily dismissed as being incomplete, unexplanatory, or causally and temporally “backwards.” The essay concludes that is no philosophical justification for the continued neglect of Leibnizian mechanics.

McDonough, Jeffrey K., and Allison Aitken. “ Somethings and Nothings: Śrīgupta and Leibniz on Being and Unity.” Philosophy East and West 71, no. 1 (Forthcoming).Abstract
This paper argues that Śrīgupta and Leibniz accept similar metaphysical principles concerning unity, aggregates, and being. It then shows how from those shared principles, Śrīgupta and Leibniz arrive at similar conclusions concerning the reality of ordinary bodies and radically different conclusions about fundamental ontology.
McDonough, Jeffrey K. Causal Powers and Ontology in Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz,” In Causal Powers: A History, edited by Julia Jorati. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Forthcoming.Abstract
This essay focuses on an intriguing cycle in early modern ontology – that is, in the early modern study of what exists. René Descartes helped to usher in a new era in ontology by putting pressure on the causal powers posited by his scholastic forbearers. Nicholas Malebranche went a step further in flatly denying the existence of created causal powers. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, however, demurred, arguing for a return once again of causal powers. Having explored the decline, fall, and rise of causal powers in the ontologies of Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz, the essay closes by asking if early modern debates over causal powers might have anything to teach us about the study of ontology itself.
McDonough, Jeffrey K. Introduction to Teleology: A History.” In Teleology: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Forthcoming.Abstract
Teleology is the belief that some things happen, or exist, for the sake of other things. That, for example, people have eyes for seeing. That they read for pleasure. This volume explores the intuitive yet contested concept of teleology as it has been treated by philosophers from the time of Plato and Aristotle to the modern day. Philosophical discussions are enlivened and contextualized by reflections on the implications of teleology in medicine, art, poetry and music.
2018
McDonough, Jeffrey K., and Zeynep Soysal. “Leibniz's Formal Theory of Contingency.” Edited by Katherine Dunlop and Samuel Levey. Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy 21 (2018): 17-43.Abstract

This essay argues that, with his much-maligned “infinite analysis” theory of contingency, Leibniz is, in fact, onto something deep and important -- a tangle of issues that wouldn’t be sorted out properly for centuries to come, and then only by some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. The essay begins by placing Leibniz’s theory in its proper historical context and draws a distinction between Leibniz’s logical and meta-logical discoveries. It then argues that Leibniz’s logical insights make his “infinite analysis” theory of contingency, as it has been standardly interpreted, more rather than less perplexing. Finally, the essay argues that Leibniz’s meta-logical insights point the way towards a better appreciation of (what we should regard as) his formal theory of contingency and its correlative, his formal theory of necessity. 

Penultimate draft
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz on Freedom and Contingency.” In The Oxford Handbook of Leibniz, edited by Maria Rosa Antognazza. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.Abstract
This essay attempts to clarify Leibniz’s theories of freedom and contingency by viewing them against the backdrop of his efforts to reengineer important philosophical concepts. In developing a concept of freedom, Leibniz is above all concerned to preserve divine and human responsibility (Section 1). His account of freedom requires him to reject necessitarianism, that is, the view that all things are absolutely necessary (Section 2). Leibniz therefore carves out two concepts of contingency. The first is centered on the thought that something may be contingent considered by itself – that is, per se – even if it is necessary in light of God’s goodness or will (Section 3). The second is centered on the thought that it may be possible to draw a distinction between contingent and necessary propositions in terms of logic alone (Section 4).
Penultimate draft
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz's Optics.” In The Oxford Handbook of Leibniz, edited by Maria Rosa Antognazza. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.Abstract
Although often overlooked today, optics thrived in the early modern era as a science of first rank, engaging many of the best minds of the period and producing some of its most dramatic scientific results. The present essay attempts to shed light on Leibniz’s efforts to contribute to the development of early modern optics by focusing on his derivations of the laws of reflection and refraction. The first three sections accordingly examine Leibniz’s attempts to derive the central laws of geometrical optics in works drawn from his early, middle, and later optical studies. The fourth section briefly sketches Leibniz’s efforts to extend the sophisticated techniques found in his optical writings to related problems in natural philosophy. Connections to more familiar themes from Leibniz’s philosophy are drawn along the way.
Penultimate draft
2017
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Berkeley on Ordinary Objects.” In The Bloomsbury Companion to Berkeley, edited by Bertil Belfrage Dick and Brook, 385-396. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.Abstract
Berkeley famously maintains that spirits and ideas exhaust the fundamental ontology of the world. How then do ordinary objects – tables and chairs, cats and dogs – fit into Berkeley’s metaphysics? Section 1 of this essay presents the core of Berkeley’s account of ordinary objects as well as a longstanding objection to that account, namely that he must deny the commonsense conviction that ordinary objects persist even when not perceived by us. Sections 2 through 4 consider three lines of response to the problem of the persistence of ordinary objects that have been attributed to Berkeley by his commentators. Finally, section 5 suggests that those three lines of response might perhaps best be seen as complementary – rather than rival – threads in Berkeley’s considered understanding of things such as birds and bees, mountains and lakes.
Penultimate draft
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz sur l’harmonie préétablie et la causalité.” In Lire Leibniz, edited by Christian Leduc, Mogens Laerke, and David Rabouin. Paris: Vrin, 2017.Abstract

This chapter offers and overview and interpretation of Leibniz’s theories of pre-established harmony and causation. It is divided into three sections. The first section explicates Leibniz’s theory of pre-established harmony, relates it to opposing theories, and show how it sets up Leibniz’s suggestion that there are two realms, one of bodies and efficient causation, one of minds and final causation. Section 2 looks more closely at Leibniz’s understanding of causation within realm of bodies. Section 3 does the same for Leibniz’s account of causation within the realm of minds or “monads.”

Penultimate draft
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz on Pre-established Harmony and Causality [English version].” In Lire Leibniz, edited by Christian Leduc, Mogens Laerke, and David Rabouin. Paris: Vrin, 2017.Abstract

This chapter offers and overview and interpretation of Leibniz’s theories of pre-established harmony and causation. It is divided into three sections. The first section explicates Leibniz’s theory of pre-established harmony, relates it to opposing theories, and show how it sets up Leibniz’s suggestion that there are two realms, one of bodies and efficient causation, one of minds and final causation. Section 2 looks more closely at Leibniz’s understanding of causation within realm of bodies. Section 3 does the same for Leibniz’s account of causation within the realm of minds or “monads.”

Penultimate draft
McDonough, Jeffrey K., and Jen Nguyen. “Monad.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Taylor and Francis, 2017.Abstract
This article provides a brief overview of Leibniz’s understanding of monads for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It explains their metaphysical role, their intrinsic nature, and their tri-part division into bare monads, sensitive monads, and minds.
Penultimate draft
2016
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz and the Foundations of Physics: The Later Years.” The Philosophical Review 125, no. 1 (2016): 1-34.Abstract
This essay offers an account of the relationship between extended Leibnizian bodies and unextended Leibnizian monads, an account that shows why Leibniz was right to see intimate, explanatory connections between his studies in physics and his mature metaphysics. The first section sets the stage by introducing a case study from Leibniz's technical work on the strength of extended, rigid beams. The second section draws on that case study to introduce a model for understanding Leibniz's views on the relationship between derivative and primitive forces. The third section draws on Leibniz's understanding of the relationship between derivative and primitive forces in order to shed light, in turn, on his understanding of the relationship between extended, material bodies and unextended, immaterial monads. The fourth section responds to a likely objection by arguing that Leibniz's monads may, in a perfectly reasonable sense, be spatially located.
Offprint
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz on Monadic Teleology and Optimal Form.” Studia Leibnitiana Sonderhaft, Leibniz and Experience, ed. Arnauld Pelletier (2016): 93-118.Abstract
This essay attempts to bring out the hidden coherence in Leibniz’s account of monadic teleology by drawing on the notion of an optimal form. The first section introduces Leibniz’s understanding of an optimal form through his work on the technical problem of determining the shape of catenaries, that is, the shape of freely hanging cords suspended at two ends.  The second section argues that Leibniz’s notion of an optimal form provides him with a surprisingly elegant model of how monads might be subject to two kinds of teleology at the same time.  The third section considers various ways in which monads may nonetheless pursue courses of action that are sub-optimal and takes up a famous objection raised by Pierre Bayle.  Finally, the fourth section argues that Leibniz’s notion of an optimal form provides him with a rather ingenious account of the role of reason in the teleological unfolding of rational monads.  The essay concludes with some brief remarks concerning the recently much debated question of whether Leibniz was or was not a systematic philosopher.
Penultimate draft
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz’s Formal Theory of Contingency Developed.” In Internationaler Leibniz-Kongress X vorträge, edited by et. al Ute Beckmann, 1:451-466. New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2016.Abstract
This essay further develops a meta-logical interpretation of Leibniz’s formal theory of contingency by taking up two additional issues not fully addressed in earlier efforts. The first issue concerns the relationship between Leibniz’s formal theory of contingency and his views on species and essentialism. The second issue concerns the relationship between Leibniz’s formal theory of contingency and the modal status of the actual world.
Offprint
McDonough, Jeffrey K. ““Comments on Julia Jorati’s “’How to be More Spontaneous: Leibniz on the Best Type of Agency’” for Activity, Spontaneity, and Agency in Later Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy – An International Conference, University of Toront,” 2016. PDF Copy
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Reply to ‘A Leibnizian Way out of the Rationalist’s Dilemma’ by Chloe Armstrong, Part II,” 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The second part of an invited, two-part reply, for a featured discussion of my paper “Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists,” posted on The Mod Squad: A Group Blog on Modern Philosophy.

McDonough, Jeffrey K.Reply to ‘A Leibnizian Way out of the Rationalist’s Dilemma’ by Chloe Armstrong, Part I,” 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The first part of an invited, two-part reply, for a featured discussion of my paper “Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists,” posted on The Mod Squad: A Group Blog on Modern Philosophy

McDonough, Jeffrey K.Freedom and the Ability to Sin.” Edited by Rachel Jonker Liz and Jackson. Logoi 3 (2016): 10-11. Publisher's VersionAbstract
A short piece for Logoi on Saint Anselm of Canterbury and his understanding of the relationship between freedom and sin
2015
McDonough, Jeffrey K.Leibniz, Spinoza and an Alleged Dilemma for Rationalists.” Ergo 2, no. 15 (2015): 367-392. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In a stimulating recent paper, “Violations of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (in Leibniz and Spinoza),” Michael Della Rocca argues that rationalists face a daunting dilemma: either abandon the Principle of Sufficient Reason or embrace a radical, Parmenidian-style monism. The present paper argues that neither historical nor contemporary rationalists need be afraid of Della Rocca’s dilemma. The second section reconstructs Della Rocca’s argument in five steps. The third section argues that Leibniz’s treatment of relations undermines one of those steps in particular and thus provides him—as well as contemporary rationalists—with a way out. The fourth section argues that a similar way out is available to Spinoza, and that it’s a better way out than either of the two options Della Rocca offers on Spinoza’s behalf. The essay concludes with an historically-minded suggestion for those eager to revitalize the once-again popular notion of grounding.

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