Doctrine of pre-established harmony

Doctrine primarily associated with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) that there is no causation in the world but that each event arises when it does because it was pre-programmed to do so by God when the universe began.

The doctrine is often illustrated by the image of the two clocks -attributed to Arnold Geulincx (1625-1669) – which keep perfect time though neither influences the other, because their maker designed them to do so. The doctrine differs from occasionalism because God does all the causing in a single act at the start of the universe, not on each relevant occasion as it arises.


Leibniz’s theory is best known as a solution to the mind–body problem of how mind can interact with the body. Leibniz rejected the idea of physical bodies affecting each other, and explained all physical causation in this way.

Under pre-established harmony, the preprogramming of each mind must be extremely complex, since only it causes its own thoughts or actions, for as long as it exists. To appear to interact, each substance’s “program” must contain a description of either the entire universe, or of how the object behaves at all times during all interactions that appear to occur.

An example:

An apple falls on Alice’s head, apparently causing the experience of pain in her mind. In fact, the apple does not cause the pain—the pain is caused by some previous state of Alice’s mind. If Alice then seems to shake her hand in anger, it is not actually her mind that causes this, but some previous state of her hand.

Note that if a mind behaves as a windowless monad, there is no need for any other object to exist to create that mind’s sense perceptions, leading to a solipsistic universe that consists only of that mind. Leibniz seems to admit this in his Discourse on Metaphysics, section 14. However, he claims that his principle of harmony, according to which God creates the best and most harmonious world possible, dictates that the perceptions (internal states) of each monad “expresses” the world in its entirety, and the world expressed by the monad actually exists. Although Leibniz says that each monad is “windowless,” he also claims that it functions as a “mirror” of the entire created universe.

On occasion, Leibniz styled himself as “the author of the system of preestablished harmony”.[1]

Immanuel Kant’s professor Martin Knutzen regarded pre-established harmony as “the pillow for the lazy mind”

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