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Divine MachinesLeibniz and the Sciences of Life$
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Justin E. H. Smith

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691141787

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691141787.001.0001

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The Divine Preformation of Organic Bodies

The Divine Preformation of Organic Bodies

(p.165) Chapter Five The Divine Preformation of Organic Bodies
Divine Machines

Justin E. H. Smith

Princeton University Press

This chapter presents a comprehensive treatment of Leibniz's theory of divine preformation. It considers his contribution to generation theory in its philosophical context as a central problem of natural philosophy as well as in the context of seventeenth-century empirical research. Leibniz leaves no room for spontaneity in the generation of animals. For an epigenesist such as Descartes, in the end sexual generation is on an ontological par with the purportedly spontaneous generation of bees from rotting carcasses or of frogs from pond scum: both proceed according to “minor laws” as a result of the rearrangement of matter. For Leibniz, in contrast, the possibility of a new creature coming into existence as a result of such a rearrangement appears absurd: insofar as an animal is organically embodied, and insofar as this organic body is infinitely complex, it follows that no entirely new creature, with an entirely new organic body, can ever come into existence.

Keywords:   G. W. Leibniz, divine preformation, generation theory, natural philosophy, seventeenth-century empirical research

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