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Home Leibniz and the Perfection of Clocks

Leibniz and the Perfection of Clocks

Matteo Favaretti Camposampiero


Abstract. Throughout his life, Leibniz showed serious interest in the construction of clocks and actively contributed to their technical improvement. He described the mechanical and especially the pendulum clock as a paradigmatic kind of machine, and therefore as a suitable model for exploring the nature and boundaries of mechanistic philosophy. After an overview on Leibniz‟s technology and physics of clocks (Section 1), this paper reviews the main occurrences of the clock analogy in his philosophical writings. Section 2 considers the epistemological use of the clock analogy and its evolution from an early stress on the hypothetical component of natural science to a later concern with the full inspectability and intelligibility of natural processes. Section 3 details the manifold uses of the clock analogy in metaphysics to illustrate features of the world, of both inanimate and living bodies, and even of God, the soul, and the soul-body union. The possibility of construing machine metaphors in terms of either structure or function solves the apparent ambivalence of Leibniz‟s approach to the clock analogy. It also explains his persistent reference to perfection and standards of perfection, thereby bringing to the fore the teleological strand of this concept.

Keywords: Leibniz, clock, machine, artefact, mechanism, perfection, function, teleology

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