Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jan Cover

Committee Chair

Jan Cover

Committee Member 1

Jeffrey Brower

Committee Member 2

Dan Frank

Committee Member 3

Michael Jacovides


Leibniz argued that in natural world, only intra-substantial or immanent causation is possible— the causation that takes place within an individual, when an individual brings about a change in itself. In this dissertation, I address issues arising from Leibniz’s arguments against the rival view that posits a world of causally interacting substances and issues pertaining to Leibniz’s own positive metaphysics of immanent causation and change.

Chapter 1 is devoted to stage setting for the remainder of the dissertation. I first offer a historically informed overview of efficient causation and change before introducing Leibniz’s novel views, including his criticisms of competing accounts and his own positive account. After presenting a detailed roadmap of my project, I articulate the idealistic interpretation of Leibniz assumed in this dissertation, where the only genuine substances are simple monads. Finally, I articulate the methodological approaches I employ.

In Chapters 2 and 3, I reconstruct and assess Leibniz’s most frequent argument against transeunt causation (the causation that occurs when a substance produces a property in a numerically distinct substance), what I call the “Transference Argument.” Leibniz argued that a created substance’s causing an accident in a numerically distinct substance is possible only if the agent transfers the accident from itself to the patient, where upon transference the agent no longer possesses the accident it transferred. Call the transeunt causal requirement that the agent transfer the accident produced from itself to the patient the “Transference Condition.”

Chapter 2 is devoted to two problems with Leibniz’s transference condition. First, Leibniz stated the transference condition throughout his career, but offered little argument for it. Second, God is a transeunt cause in Leibniz’s metaphysics yet God’s causation does not consist in transference. Thus, Leibniz needs a principled way to require transference for creaturely causation while denying that divine transeunt causation consists in transference. Finally, I close off chapter 2 by drawing attention to an important weakness with the transference condition that has not yet been recognized by Leibniz scholars.

In Chapter 3, I argue that there is nothing in Leibniz’s ontology that could be transferred from the cause to the recipient of the effect. I first argue that Leibniz’s ontology consists of simple non-corporeal substances and their modifications. Second, I present and articulate a number of important theses Leibniz affirmed about substances and their modifications, which entail that neither could be transferred. I also show that most of these theses were not unique to Leibniz, but were in fact widely endorsed by his predecessors who defended the possibility of creaturely transeunt causation.

In chapter 4, I continue the study of the nature of Leibnizian accidents, shifting the focus from their role in Leibniz’s critique of creaturely transeunt causation to their positive role in change and as causal relata, where such accidents are the effects of immanent causation. I shall argue that Leibniz’s thesis that accidents are modifications or limitations allowed him to posit mereologically simple substance that have a multitude of accidents at a time and change accidents over time.

In Chapter 5, I address an issue that has divided Leibniz scholars concerning the precise relata in Leibnizian immanent efficient causation. In many passages, Leibniz writes as if it is the substance or individual itself that efficiently causes its later properties or accidents. Call this the “Efficacious-substance” account. The efficacious-substance account is difficult to reconcile with Leibniz’s requirements that change be intelligible and deterministic. In plenty of other passages, he writes as if it is the substances earlier properties or accidents that cause its later accidents. Call this the “Efficacious-accident” account. The efficacious-accident account explains how change is intelligible and deterministic but it faces a “plurality of agents” objection. If a substance’s accidents are the efficient causes of later accidents, then prima facie there is a plurality of efficient causal agents in a substance. This view is incompatible with Leibniz’s requirement that substances be simple, unified entities.

Drawing upon a Scholastic distinction made between two kinds of efficient causes— principle quod efficient causes and principle quo efficient causes, I shall argue that for Leibniz, substances are principle quod efficient causes and their appetitions are principle quo efficient causes. This interpretation combines the strengths of the Efficacious-substance and Efficacious-accident accounts while overcoming their weaknesses. There is just one causal agent, the substance, but change is both intelligible and deterministic because as what an agent produces is explained by its appetitions. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Included in

Philosophy Commons