An Oriental Approach
to the Philosophy of Information
Gang Liu, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
The opening sentence in the brief history of the International Association of Computing and Philosophy (IACAP) history reads as follows: 'the convergence of computing and philosophy has a lineage going back to Leibniz, his "calculus" and his "adding machine."' It is obvious Leibniz is regarded as a key figure in forming the new philosophy. In 1992 and 2002 both the 'computational turn' and the 'information turn' were proposed respectively. Both 'turns' mean that the Philosophy of Computing and Information (PCI) or simply Philosophy of Information (PI) is being taken as an orientative rather than a cognitive philosophy. Cognitive philosophy concerns much more with 'what', taking philosophy as an activity pursuing the establishment of knowledge and the corresponding systems. Orientative philosophy, on the other hand, inquires about 'how', that is, it points out the orientation of our interests to a specific field or direction and more importantly it puts emphasis on the methodological aspect of this philosophy.
The shift based on the PI can be seen as a mirror of the shift from the industrial to the information society. And from the perspective of the history of philosophy, such a shift is regarded as a shift of a large tradition. (Liu 2003b) Any school should be rooted in its own context of thought derived from its particular philosophical traditions. In this essay I will argue that Leibnizian philosophy brings about a new tradition in philosophy, that is, the formal tradition in addition to the classic (Platonic) and modern (Kantian) traditions. The line of argument I will take follows four major milestones in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Bertrand Russell, Clarence I. Lewis and Saul A. Kripke. The essential notions are logical calculus, the material implication, the strict implication and the semantics of possible worlds, which brings Leibnizian metaphysics into the modern philosophical discourse.
The formal tradition or more narrowly the Russell-Couturat line of interpretation on Leibniz is regarded as rejecting his metaphysics as well as his connection with China. However, in this essay I reveal the symbiosis of Leibniz's logic and metaphysics with his lifelong relationship with China as a proto-Sinologist. Leibniz not only interpreted the formal system of the Yijing or I-Ching hexagrams, one of the oldest classics in China, with binary arithmetic he also integrated elements of oriental organic philosophy into his metaphysics to try to synthesize the split he was facing.
The ontological position of information in current PI studies is far from clear, meandering between the materialistic and idealistic dichotomy. The question here is whether information itself could occupy an independent ontological category. In the inquiry of the nature of the central doctrine of Leibniz’s possible worlds, we have modal Platonism, a radical interpretation claiming that possible worlds are the same ones as our planet (telescopic theory), and ex post facto modal realism, claiming that possible worlds are only possible states of affairs. Both of these interpretations have been made entirely within the framework of western philosophy. It is just this point that I will argue should be considered from an oriental perspective. Following Leibniz, I will provide a new synthesis with modal information theory (MIT) or modal informationalism in an effort to address the dilemma concerning the ontological position of information.
In 1992 and 2002 the 'computational turn' (Burkholder 1992) and the 'information turn' (Floridi 2002) were proposed respectively. These resulted in cyberphilosophy, a term designating ‘the intersection of philosophy and computing’, (Moor and Bynum 2003, Liu 2004) a new philosophical field which refers either to the PCI (Floridi 2004a) or simply to the PI. (Floridi 1999, 2002; Liu 2002, 2003a, 2003b; Benthem and Adriaans 2004) The scientific concept of ‘information’ has been formally accepted into the realm of philosophical inquiry.
I. Computational/Information Turns as a Shift of Philosophical Tradition
The opening sentence in IACAP's history states that 'the convergence of computing and philosophy has a lineage going back to Leibniz, his "calculus" and his "adding machine."' (IACAP 2005) Clearly Leibniz is regarded as a key figure in forming the new philosophy now under discussion, and it can be argued that Leibniz opened up a formal tradition in philosophy some three hundred years ago with his work on traditional logic.
Generally, there are two approaches to the history of philosophy; one, the usual approach, runs according to the textbooks, and the other, according to the philosophical traditions. G. MacDonald Ross presents the textbook approach in Leibniz. (Macdonald Ross 1984) In the Introduction he presents this familiar picture in the following way:
Traditionally, university courses on the history of modern philosophy have been structured round a pantheon of seven great philosophers: three ‘continental rationalists ’: Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz; three ‘British empiricists ’: Locke, Berkeley and Hume; and Kant. The empiricists were supposed to have believed that all our knowledge was built up out of the data of sense, whereas the rationalists were supposed to have restricted genuine knowledge to what could be deduced from indubitable truths of reason. Kant, on the other hand, created a new synthesis out of what was right in both empiricism and rationalism. Needless to say, this way of viewing the history of philosophy was invented by Kant himself. It has, however, had a remarkably long run for its money. (Ross 1984)
Kant had his own reasons and intentions when he developed the ‘new synthesis’ in his times. However, whenever the philosophy of Leibniz is concerned there are always particular difficulties when forcing him into the Procrustean bed invented by Kant. I will explore this issue in the next section, but first we must examine how we might bring Leibniz into our present discourse of information. To this end I will explore another scheme following the philosophical tradition. Western philosophy can be categorized as classic, modern, and formal traditions (Liu 2003), or Platonic, Kantian and Leibniz-Russellian traditions. (Mu 1997) Here the formal tradition, or the Russell-Couturat line, (Mungello 2004) is concerned with what is known to the philosophers of the Anglo-American tradition due to the works of Bertrand Russell (Russell 1900, rep. 1975) and Louis Couturat. (Couturat 1901)
Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics, viewed Leibniz as the patron saint for cybernetics, because his work is closely related with two concepts: universal language and logical calculus. (Wiener 1948) It is clear why a scientist would view Leibniz’s two great contributions as ‘universal language’ and ‘logic calculus’. In effect, Leibniz presented only an idea with some initial steps; he did not fully realise his ideas. It was Russell who did the technical job. So we have sufficient reason to hook up Leibniz with Russell, that is, from Leibniz’s logical algebra to Russell’s Principia Mathematica.1 Actually, Russell also takes Leibniz to be a pioneer of mathematical logic. (Russell 1955) And it has been generally acknowledged that he became the father of symbolic logic because of the heuristic of the intelligible features of the Chinese characters. (Lewis 1918)
From the evaluations by Wiener and Russell, Leibniz is important only when he is considered technically and his philosophical theory has been overlooked. Russell even thought his metaphysics was nothing but a vain hope. Russell is clear that almost all of Leibniz's useful philosophy comes from his logic (Russell 1900, rep. 1975), and his logic is simply considered to have been a ‘subject-predicate’ logic, that is, P existing in S. As a realist, Russell is a philosopher of single-world assumption or real world model, that is, any symbols and formulas in the formal system should be understood as objective, that is to say, all of these abstracts represents their real beings in the real world. After analysis, they are finally inhabitants in our real world. This view of reality is clearly expressed in his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, where he calls for a sound sense of reality for logicians. (Russell 1930, p.159) To sum up, Leibniz was seen and interpreted by Russell via a single-world perspective, which is partial, possibly misleading, even though Russell is considered to be an expert on Leibniz. It is ridiculous to see that Leibniz’s philosophy was divided into good and bad elements in Russell’s works. In Russell’s opinion, his logic is good but secret and his metaphysics, derived from the logic, is bad and vulgar. Perhaps his logic should not be interpreted only in this narrow, superficial and technical manner, just as Martin Heidegger has pointed out. (Heidegger 1978, Eng. tr. 1984) Logic must have a metaphysical foundation.
Russell turned Leibniz’s symbolic logic into the ‘classic logic’. However, C. I. Lewis was dissatisfied with the key notion of ‘material implication’ in Russell’s system. He thought it too far away from intuition and too weak for commonsense understanding. According to Lewis, it should be strengthened. He proposes the ‘strict implication system’, in which two modal words -- ‘necessary’ and ‘possible’ -- were used, and on which the ‘strict implication’ calculus systems were constructed. Thus he initiated the ‘modern modal logic’. Lewis not only improved Russell’s system with his construction of the strict implication system he also revived Leibniz's theory of possible worlds. Saul Kripke proposes a ‘theory of possible worlds’ in modal logic semantics, and the phrase 'Kripke à la Leibniz' is not uncommon, but it was Leibniz, writing in the seventeenth century, who employed the concept of ‘possible worlds’ for the first time when he was constructing his philosophical cosmology. Leibniz said
Now as in the Ideas of God there is an infinite number of possible universes, and as only one of them can be actual, there must be a sufficient reason for the choice of God, which leads Him to decide upon one rather than another. (Leibniz 1898, § 53 )
Alfred Whitehead was the co-author; therefore, Whitehead was as important as Russell (Michael Heim, email correspondence), Whitehead’s Process and Reality could be seen as a modern version of Leibniz’s Monadology. As Leibniz’s philosophy was divided into good and bad by Russell, it seems to me he took the good one, that is, the mathematical logic and Whitehead took the bad one, that is, the metaphysics!
That is to say, the possible worlds are much richer than the chosen one. However, we have to accept the present actual no matter what it is for it is chosen by God and He has his reason.
The fundamental idea of Kripke’s semantics of possible worlds is to prescribe the various conditions of modal propositions with respect to the models constructed according to accessible relations of sets of possible worlds. Hence, his semantics based on the work of Alfred Tarski is also called ‘relational semantics’. The semantics of possible worlds have already been widely accepted in the international community of logic, becoming a standard against which to check other kinds of semantics, that is, other newly constructed semantics should be compatible with Kripke’s relational semantics. The semantics of possible worlds realizes the idea of a semantics of formal language originally proposed by Leibniz. With the ideas of semantics shifting from the model of the real world to that of possible worlds, the focus in logical inquiry also shifts from syntax to semantics. In a recent essay, Floridi pointed out that there are five concepts of information that are semantically relevant. (Floridi 2004b)
The rise of PI means a series of transformations, for example, from modern to formal tradition; from real world to possible worlds; from syntax to semantics (Floridi 2004b); from the theory of proofs to the theory of models; from geometry to algebra; from classic logic to modern logic; from pursuing diachronic identity to pursuing synchronic similarity; from the philosophy of science to the philosophy of information (Dodig-Crnkovic 2003); and so on and so forth. In terms of western philosophy, this change can be viewed as from the ‘primacy of forms’ to the ‘primacy of materials’. However, philosophical empiricists have long doubted the efficacy of any philosophical analysis of contents for they don’t believe in such a thing as the primacy of materials. However, the issues discussed by those in favour of the primacy of materials are often related to the fields of metaphysics, ontology or ethics. (Stegmüller 1986, p.151)
II. Leibniz’s China Connection
The formal tradition is one part of the splendour of western achievement, it is the brilliance of western culture. From Leibniz to Russell there are active results, which are positive and constructive rather than negative and destructive. However, it should also be pointed out that the fatal deviation along the Russell-Couturat line is that it is too narrow to encompass Leibniz’s profoundness, and especially his lifelong link with China. It is interesting to see that Leibniz's philosophy was divided into good and bad by Russell; with his Anglo-Saxon perspective he said that Leibniz ‘had a good philosophy which (after Arnauld’s criticisms) he kept to himself, and a bad philosophy which he published with a view to fame and money.’ (Russell 1975) Russell failed to see the fact that in Leibniz’s philosophy there is ‘a concurrence where logic and metaphysics come together in fruitful symbiosis’. (Rescher 1981, p.56) In the next section I will discuss this symbiosis and demonstrate the profound problem of the ontological position of information as well as suggest a possible solution.
The fantastic aspect of Leibniz’s philosophy is that it combines with reason rather than with experience. Logic is only a rational tool with which to approach his metaphysics of nature. Before we follow this further let’s briefly survey China’s impact on Leibniz’s philosophy.
Leibniz is considered to be an avid Sinophile. In his inquiry of a characteristica universalis on which to order all human knowledge, he was drawn to the Chinese I-Ching. (Swetz 2003). Mungello's study of Leibniz shows Chinese thought not as original inspiration but rather as corroboration for his previously and independently developed notions. (Mungello 1977) Nonetheless, the corroboration itself can be seen as an influence. (Mungello 2000) Joseph Needham’s special section of Zhu Xi, Leibniz and the Organic Philosophy (Needham 1956, 496ff.) points out the Chinese thoughts generalized in lixue (lit. studies of reasons and principles, or just Neo-Confucianism (Derk Bodde viz. Youlan 1948) contributes to European thought in a much more significant way than has been previously acknowledged. Given that Leibniz's writings have still not been fully edited and published it must be true to say that the whole significance of his philosophy has not yet been apprehended. Ernest R. Hughes, the Oxford Sinologist, claims in the preface of his
translations of Daxue (Great Learning) and ZhongyYong (The Doctrine of Mean) that Leibniz was influenced by the Neo-Confucianism. (Hughes 1942)
Leibniz’s connection with China can be explored at least in the following three aspects.
Extensive Reading. The style of scholarship in the seventeenth century is rather different from today's to emphasis on narrow specialization. Scholars had to write extensively and read extensively in different fields of inquiry. When he was 20 years of age Leibniz read De Re Litteraria Sinensium Commentarius (Commentary on Chinese Literature) by Gottlieb Spizel (1639-1691), where it introduced Chinese natural philosophy alongside a detailed account of the doctrine of the I-Ching. He had also read Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), a proliferate Jesuit scholar who published around 40 works, most notably in the fields of oriental studies, and so on. Kircher's China Monumentis Illustrata (Illustrated Mementos of China) (1667) was an encyclopedia of China, which combined accurate cartography with mythical elements such as dragons. The Belgian Jesuit Philippe Couplet (1623-1693) published a book entitled Confucius Sinarum philosophus (Confucius as a Chinese Philosopher 1687). It can be identified from a letter dated on December 19, 1687 that Leibniz read this book in the very year when it was published. (Leibniz an Landgraf Ernst von Hessen-Rheinfels 1687) In this letter Leibniz briefly reviewed Couplet's book.
Novissima Sinica and Correspondence with J. Bouvet. In a letter dated on December 14,1697, Leibniz wrote : ‘Je farai donc mettre une affiche à ma porte avec ces mots: bureau d’addresse pour la Chine, afin que chacun sache, qu’on n’a s’addresser à moy pour en apprendere des nouvelles.’ (Leibniz 1697, p.869) He was preparing a board on his office door as ‘The General Office on Chinese Affairs’ and anything concerning China should be handled by this office and would be transferred to the missionaries. Later he met Claudio Filippo Grimaldi (1638-1712) in Rome, an Italian Jesuit who stayed in China for some 17 years. By April 1697, Leibniz had accumulated enough information on China from Grimaldi and others to publish Novissima Sinica (Latest News from China 1697). Leibniz was an avid letter writer seeking the news on current events associated with China, especially with Jesuit missionaries to China, among whom were Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730), one of the first French Jesuit missionary members to China. Correspondence proved as important as books in transmitting Chinese philosophy to Europeans. Indeed, in the seventeenth century, letters served to communicate knowledge in the way that scholarly journals do today. (Mungello 2003) As a result, letters among scholars were often lengthy and were reproduced by secretaries for further circulation. The correspondence allowed writers to exchange ideas that were too controversial to obtain the official approval needed for publication. Leibniz's correspondence from 1697 to 1704 is one of the most striking transmissions of philosophic knowledge of that period.
These letters have been cited widely and often by scholars, and in the beginning of 1920s the Japanese scholar Gorai Kinzo went to Hanover to copy all of the letters and saw the diagram Bouvet had sent to Leibniz, that is, the Xiantiantu (lit. prior to heaven system) worked out by Shao Yong (1011-1077), a famous Chinese philosopher of Neo-Confucianism. In his doctoral thesis on the impact of Confucianism on German political thoughts Kinzo used some of these letters.
Leibniz studied the diagram of Fuxi’s characters , and annotated his copy in red ink. Leibniz must have observed this diagram previously but did not notice its possible connection to binary numbers. (Swetz 2003) He sent his binary arithmetical interpretation to Bouvet and it was Bouvet who pointed out the association. Bouvet was driven by the possibility of revealing an ‘Ancient Theology’. In their collaboration, they complemented and reinforced each other’s beliefs. Unfortunately, their faulty Sinology also deceived them. In effect, there is also another system called Houtiantu (lit. later heaven system) initiated as early as the 11th century BCE. Shao Yong created a revolution in the system by inventing the Xiantiantu, initiating a new school of inquiry of the I-Ching, thus the mathematical school, in addition to the numerical and rational schools, happened to be present already in China for a thousand years, and Leibniz’s inquiry is taken as purely mathematical. (Dong 1987)
Pioneer of Sinology. Enlightenment Europeans admired Chinese cultures, and cultural borrowings and assimilation were apparent in both directions, at least up to the end of the 1700s. There were three groups of people throughout Europe. First, the Jesuits who studied and publicized China at the most serious and deepest level. Second, ‘proto-Sinologists’ who were serious scholars but took a less focussed approach in their study of the many different aspects of Chinese cultures. Andreas Müller of Clavis Sinica (Key to the Chinese Language) fame was a proto-Sinologist, and Leibniz is another good example of a proto-Sinologist. Thirdly, the popularizers, who took a shallower approach to the study of China and sought to find in China support for European political and intellectual movements. (Mungello 1999)
Leibniz’s last and most substantive work on Chinese philosophy was the Discours sur la théologie naturelle des Chinois (Discourse on the natural theology of the Chinese), which was stimulated by a distorted interpretation of Chinese philosophy given by another influential seventeenth-century philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715). Malebranche wrote a small book on the existence and nature of God (Malebranche 1708) based on inadequate sources. Malebranche wrote this dialogue mainly because he perceived the influence of Spinozism in Chinese philosophy. Writing the dialogue gave him the chance to combat these irreligious traces, and to distance his own philosophy from Spinozistic monism, and to rebut critics like theologian Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694). Malebranche attacked the Chinese for recognizing only one substance, which consisted of matter that differed in degree ranging from gross to rarefied. Malebranche’s interpretation dealt with a particular school of Confucian philosophy developed by Zhu Xi (1130-1200), known as Neo-Confucianism. Leibniz’s Discours rebutted Malebranche’s interpretation of Neo-Confucianism and showed them to be the distortions of a philosophic Eurocentrism. In addition, Leibniz justified Neo-Confucianism in a manner that made his Discours the most knowledgeable explanation of Chinese philosophy by a seventeenth-century European philosopher. (Mungello 2003)
A century later after the publication of Novissima Sinica, Johann Gottlieb Buhle (1763-1821) depicted a different picture of China in his Course of the History of Philosophy (1796). He said that it is obvious that the Chinese have commercial exchanges with European countries...but in the aspects of culture and the employment of reason it seems that the Chinese have not made the kinds of progress that might be expected. On the contrary, they remain at a common or vulgar level. He did not mention the failure in the Rites Controversy of the Jesuits. And yet he pointed out that there was a government monopoly, secret police elsewhere, and bound the qualified and talented personnel into this tradition as well. The indifference and suppression hurt the capability and encouragement of these people. Leibniz hope was corrupted. This may be one reason to go back to Leibniz and reconsider his writings. (Poser 2000, 12)
As we have seen, from a narrow line of interpretation Leibniz’s lifelong connection with China is regarded as peripheral to his main philosophical concerns. (Mungello 2004) It seems that the Anglo-American philosophers often overlook this historical link. Actually, it seems impossible to have an appropriate understanding of Leibniz’s philosophy without his connection with China. He is an ‘alternative’ in the history of western philosophy for he introduced an oriental organic and naturalistic worldview especially in his doctrine of possible worlds. (Liu 2004)
III. Modal Information Theory: A New Synthesis
Modern modal logic opens up a tremendous promise for its application to both Information and Computing Science (ICS) and Information and Computing Technology (ICT). It can be imagined that this theory will still have more important roles to play with the development of quantum information sciences and a substantial step towards the realization of the idea of building quantum computers. Einstein once said that it was difficult to understand the meaning of a concept when it became more and more universal and came into the horizon of the people more frequently. Hence, it is necessary to carry out inquiry from different perspectives, which would result in more achievements. It seems that information is a ‘magic’ concept of this sort. However, its ontological position is not determined as yet from the present state of inquiry. Just as Jon Barwise said: ‘the place of information in the natural world of biological and physical systems is far from clear.’ (Barwise and Seligman 1997, xi) It is not hard to see that on the very planet where we are living, that is, ‘the natural world of biological and physical systems’, the position of information is still a problem to be settled. On the other hand, Floridi also employed the materialistic and idealistic dichotomy we are familiar with, saying:
Most people agree that there is no information without (data) representation....this principle is often interpreted materialistically, as advocating the impossibility of physically disembodied information, through the equation “representation = physical implementation”. The view that there is no information without physical implementation is an inevitable assumption when working on the physics of computation, since computer science must necessarily take into account the physical properties and limits of the carriers of information. It is also the ontological assumption behind the Physical Symbol System Hypothesis in AI and cognitive science. (Floridi 2004b, Liu 2004b)
This is obviously the materialistic view of information; however, it is also arguable that the representation of information does not necessarily require a physical implementation. Floridi then presents the idealistic scenario:
...environments in which there are only noetic entities, properties and processes (e.g. Berkeley, Spinoza), or in which the material or extended universe has a noetic or non-extended matrix as its ontological foundation (e.g. Pythagoras, Plato, Leibniz, Hegel), seem perfectly capable of upholding the representationalist principle without also embracing a materialist interpretation. The relata giving rise to information could be monads, for example. (Floridi 2004b)
Essentially, Floridi is arguing that if one drops the Cartesian dichotomy, that information is different from the physical/material and from the mental, then there appears the possibility of a novel independent ontological category for information. It seems that without a better way out, he has to come back to Wiener’s complaint that information is information. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day. (Wiener 1948, p.132). It can be concluded that there is still no satisfactory solution to the ontological status of information. Under the framework of western philosophy with its long history of mind-body dualism, it is unlikely to find an acceptable solution for the concept of information.
It seems that our problems encountered today are quite similar to those Leibniz encountered some three hundred years ago. Therefore, when the position of the information is under discussion, we have to go back to Leibniz to make another new synthesis from an oriental perspective. Just as Heidegger pointed out that in Leibniz ‘not only does the ancient and medieval tradition of logic converge in him in an independent new form; he becomes at the same time the stimulus for posing new questions, providing suggestions for tasks which are in part taken up only in recent times. From Leibniz we can create for ourselves perspectives reaching back to the ancients and forward to the present, perspectives important for the foundational problems of logic.’ (Heidegger 1978, 1984, p.22). No doubt Heidegger’s evaluation of Leibniz is worth praising. But I would like to move a step further to suggest that in Leibniz there not only converged ancient and medieval western tradition, but also the oriental tradition, especially the tradition of Neo-Confucianism. In effect, Leibniz employed Neo-Confucianist thought to make a new synthesis of the split in western philosophy. Such a split
cannot be integrated simply dependent on pure western philosophical elements or resources. Neo-Confucianism is an organic knowledge of nature, a theory of synthesis, or an organic naturalism. The system of thoughts of Neo-Confucianism represented by Zhu Xi stands for the highest level of Chinese philosophical ideas (Needham 1969, 1987, p.61). However, it is just this point that has been ignored by the western philosophers. Now, it is still necessary for us to try to make a new synthesis of the concept of information from the Chinese perspective.
This situation is rather similar to the one met by Leibniz three hundred years ago. At that time, he also faced two irreconcilable conflicts of theological idealism and atomistic materialism, which never got a successful solution in the history of European thought. (Needham 1980) Leibniz became a bridge maker trying to solve the antimony. Actually, Leibniz had already made a new synthesis prior to Kant. In effect, he introduced the organic worldview from Neo-Confucianism to integrate the split he was facing. (Liu 2004) That’s why I cherish Leibniz in the present situation concerning the ontological status of information.
After the establishment of the semantics, the nature of the possible worlds has been widely discussed among logicians and various views have been proposed. Among these there are two famous realist interpretations, namely David K. Lewis’ radical realism (Lewis 1987) and Kripke’s soft realism (Kripke 1972). The radical realism is also called modal Platonism, a dualist interpretation in terms of Platonism, which was criticized and scorned as the ‘telescopic theory’. While Kripke proposed the soft realism in respect of Aristotle’s logic, and possible worlds were understood as Aristotle’s ‘potentia’, in Aristotle’s logic the predicate is actually assigned as ontological. Therefore, his logic in effect focuses on the predicate. Now that Kripke is in line with the ontological position of the predicate, he is sure to be in favor of Aristotle’s ‘potential infinity’ rather than the ‘actual infinity’ in the first order logic. Kripke’s interpretation eliminates the possible worlds in reality, which is understood as ‘possible states’ of affairs. (Kripke 1972) It should be pointed out that these two interpretations have been presented in an entirely western philosophical framework, so they approach Leibniz’s philosophy too narrowly to encompass his profoundness.
Now we are going to open an organic naturalistic approach to comprehend Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds from an oriental perspective. Possible worlds might be viewed as worlds in information. This would provide one interpretation of modal information theory (MIT) or modal informationalism (MI). According to Leibniz’s idea, the number of possible worlds is infinite and then we apply the notion of actual infinity to possible worlds, that is, the ‘abstraction of actual infinity’ employed in single-world assumption is employed in the multiple worlds assumption. The notion of infinity is no longer seen as an infinite extending process, as it were, rather it is seen as a finished totality, or just ‘allatonceness’. In this way, ‘infinite’ would be seen as ‘finite’; alternatively we could treat ‘infinite problems’ with ‘finite methods’. As far as human beings do not have a position of God, we don’t have God’s eye to view all of the details at one time. Therefore, the axiomatic method could only be confined to a certain model. Models are artifacts by which we can investigate those essentially non-constructive objects. Conversely, we would be able to have an infinite possibility in constructive capability. It is necessary to point out that the MIT proposed here is different from first order logic, in which the three principles of the nonemptiness of individual domains, two-valuedness and extensionality are not necessary and sufficient conditions. This is because the possible worlds on our horizon are no longer limited in the physical or ‘natural’ world, on the contrary they are informational and metaphysical worlds. And this could ensure the plurality of subjects and analyticity of all propositions. This is coincident with Leibniz’s subject-predicate logic, from where his metaphysics is derived, that is, the subject is in the possible world and the predicate in the actual world. Just as Leibniz put it ‘...every predicate, necessary or contingent, past, present, or future, is comprised in the notion of the subject...’ (Leibniz 1686).
In effect, in Leibniz's Monadology, each monad represents a unique perspective, and in the totality of monads, each monad has to be accepted. This can be explained via the law of sufficient reason. To my understanding, each monad or perspective stands for a unique modality and what’s more, not a single perspective or modality can be partitioned by more than one monad. Otherwise, the chances for larger changes would be missed.
MacDonald Ross provides an interesting example to show this constructively infinite possibility:
A better model of Leibniz's system would be an elaboration of the example of the cube. Computer graphics can be used to create animated film sequences representing the changing shapes and positions of imaginary objects from particular perspectives. We can imagine an infinity of such films, each from infinitesimally different viewpoints, all being run simultaneously. Even though the objects and their interactions are entirely Fictional, it will be as if there had been infinitely many cameras filming one and the same scene from different points of view. The simplest way of describing what they portrayed would be by adopting that fiction, even though its only reality would be as a formula in a computer program. But although this formula would not be real in the sense of having a physical embodiment outside the computer, it would be objective. It would be the only representation not biased towards one or other perspective, and all the others could be derived from it. (MacDonald Ross 1984, p.98)
A re-discovery of Leibniz’s philosophy is essential; his ideas might have been too radical to be accepted in his own age, let them not be too radical to be accepted by ours, especially with the advent of a new field, the philosophy of information.
Barwise J. and Seligman J. 1997. Information Flow-The Logic of Distributed Systems Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Burkholder, L. (ed.) 1992. Philosophy and the Computer, Boulder- San Francisco-Oxford: Westview.
Couturat L.1901. La logique de Leibniz d'après des documents inédits, Paris, F. Alcan (reprint: Hildesheim, Olms, 1969).
Dodig-Crnkovic G. 2003. Shifting the Paradigm of the Philosophy of Science: the Philosophy of Information and a New Renaissance, Minds and Machines, special issue on the Philosophy of Information, 13: 471-501.
Dong, Guangbi. 1987. Mathematical Structures of the Hexagrams in I-Ching, Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Press (in Chinese).
Floridi, L. 1999. Philosophy and Computing: An Introduction, London-New York: Routledge.
—. 2002. What is the Philosophy of Information? Metaphilosophy, special issue edited by T. W. Bynum and J. H. Moor with the title CyberPhilosophy: The Intersection of Philosophy and Computing, volume 33, issues 1/2, January, pp. 123-145.
—. (ed.) 2004a. Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information, Oxford - New York: Blackwell.
—. 2004b. Open Problems in the Philosophy of Information, Metaphilosophy, No. 4, Vol. 35, pp. 554-582.
Hughes, E. R. 1942. The Great Learning and the Mean-in-Action, Dent, London.
Kripke, S. A. 1963. Semantical considerations on modal logic, Acta Philosophica Fennica 16.
—. 1972. Naming and necessity, in Semantics of Natural Language, ed. Herman and Davison. Dordrecht-Boston-London: Reidel.
Lewis, C. I. 1918. A Survey of Symbolic Logic, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lewis, D. K. 1987. On the Plurality of the Worlds, Oxford-New York: Blackwell.
Moor, J. H. and Bynum B. T. 2003, Cyberphilosophy: The Intersection of Philosophy and Computing (Metaphilosophy), Oxford - New York: Blackwell.
Liu, Gang. 2002. Context, Content and Programme of the Philosophy of Information, Philosophical Trends (Beijing, in Chinese), No. 9, pp. 17-21.
—. 2003a. From the Philosophical Issues of Information to the Philosophy of Information, Studies in Dialectics of Nature (Beijing, in Chinese), No. 1, Vol. 19, pp. 45-49.
—. 2003b. Background Shift of Science and the Philosophy of Information, Philosophical Trends (Beijing, in Chinese), No. 12, pp.11-14.
—. 2004. Cyberphilosophy and a Possible Foundation for the Future Oriental Philosophy of Technoscience in a Framework of Metaphilosophical Pluralism, A keynote presented at Section 4 Modernization and Intercultural Communication in the Cyberage: A Philosophical Inquiry held at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on afternoon of November 20th, during the 27th General Assembly of the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (CIPSH), International Social Sciences Council (ISSC) and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Meeting on Cultures and the Internet, Beijing November 19-20.
IACAP. 2005. http://www.iacap.org/history.php, accessed on the 17th January, 2005.
Leibniz, W. G. 1687. Sämtliche Schriften und Brief, hrsg. von der Preussischen (spatter Deutschen), Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1687-90.Akademie-V·BERLIN, 1970.25.
—. 1697. Sämtliche Schriften und Brief, hrsg. von der Preussischen (spatter Deutschen), Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, XIV, 1923 to present.
—. 1697. Writings on China, Daniel J. Cook and Henry Rosement, Trs. and eds., Open court, Chiago, 1994.
—. 1716. Discours sur la théologie naturelle des Chinois (Lettre sur la philosophie chinoise à M. de Remond). Hannover, Niedersachsische Landersbibliothek, MS 37, 1810, no. 1. For a Chinese translation, see Pang Jing-ren (tr.) A Letter from Leibniz to M. Remond: On the Philosophy of China, Studies for the History of Philosophy of China, nos., 3, pp. 20-30 and 4, pp. 89-97, 1981 and no. 1, pp. 101-107, 1982. And English translation, see Writings on China, 1994. pp. 75-138.
—. 1686. Extracts from Leibniz, in Appendix A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, p. 205.
—. 1898. Monadology, Monadology (Robert Latta tr.), in the public domain elsewhere.
Mu, Zongsan. 1997. Fourteen Lectures on the Converging of the Oriental and Occidental Philosophies, Shanghai: Shanghai Classics Press (in Chinese).
Malebranche, N. 1708. Entretien d’un philosophe Chrétien et d’un philsophe chinois sur l’existence et la nature de Dieu (Dialogue between a Christian philosopher and a Chinese philosopher on the existence and nature of God), in Mal. OC XV.
Mungello, D. E. 1977. Leibniz and Confucianism: The Search for Accord, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
—. 1999. The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
—. 2000. How important of China in Leibniz’s philosophy, in. Wenchao Li and Hans Poser (eds.) Leibniz and China—An International Symposium in Memory of the 300 Anniversary of the Publication of Novissima Sinica, Beijing Science Press (Chin. trs. Wenchao Li, et al.) pp. 44-65.
—. 2003. European responses to non-European philosophy: China, in Daniel Garber and Michael Ayers eds., The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy, Vol. 1.
—. 2004. Book Review on Leibniz and China: a Commerce of Light (by F. Perkins), Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 11.04.
Poser, H. 2000. Leibniz’s Novissima Sinica and the European’s Interest in China, in (Eds. Wenchao Li and Hans Poser) Leibniz and China—An International Symposium in Memory of the 300 Anniversary of the Publication of Novissima Sinica, Beijing Science Press (Chin. trs. Wenchao Li, et al.) pp. 1-18.
Rescher, N. 1981. Leibniz’s Metaphysics of Nature: A Group of Essays, Dordrecht, Boston, London: Reidel.
Ross, G.M. 1984. Leibniz, New York: Oxford University Press.
Russell, B. 1900. A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd (reprint 1975).
—. 1930. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, Edinburgh: Neil & Co., Ltd.
—. 1955. A History of Western Philosophy: And its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
Swetz, F. J. 2003. Leibniz, the Yijing, and the religious conversion of the Chinese,
Mathematics Magazine, vol. 76, no. 4 (October), pp. 276-291.
Stegmüller W. 1986. Hauptströmmungen der Gegenwartsphilosophie Eine Kritische Einführung, Band II, Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner.
Wiener, N. 1948. Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1961.
Youlan, F. (1948) A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, (Collier-Macmillan), reprinted 1997: Free Press