Ohad Nachtomy is associate professor at the philosophy department at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His publications include over forty articles and the following books: Living Mirrors: Infinity, Unity, and Life in Leibniz's Philosophy, forthcoming with Oxford University Press; Possibility, Agency, and Individuality in Leibniz’s Metaphysics, Springer, 2007; The Life Sciences in Early Modern Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2014, coedited with Justin E. H. Smith; Machines of Nature and Corporeal Substances in Leibniz, Springer, 2010, coedited with Justin E. H. Smith; and Examining Multiculturalism in Israel (in Hebrew), Magnes Press, 2003.
Early modern philosophy and science; philosophy and history of biology; Wittgenstein’s philosophy; multicultural theory (especially in the Israeli context)
Leibniz and the Reenchantment of Nature
The present research project will focus on Leibniz and his subtle response to the Cartesian attempt to mechanize the phenomena of life. On the one hand, Descartes’ attempt to mechanize virtually all of the functions that had traditionally been assigned to the vegetative and sensitive souls, led to a radicalization of the mechanistic agenda, in which even the mental becomes naturalized, thus eliminating Descartes’ problematic mind/body dualism. This approach is evident in the work of 18th century physiologists, such as La Mettrie. On the other hand, Descartes’ agenda faced strong resistance and led to the invocation of various kinds of incorporeal principles, vital forces, and ‘plastic natures’ (e.g. More and Cudworth), which were supposed to be irreducible to mechanization and resistant to description in quantitative terms. Avoiding these two extremes, Leibniz offers a subtle and influential – if under-appreciated – reconciliation. Leibniz had developed an ingenious way to bypass what Justin Smith has called “that tired debate between vitalists and mechanists”. Leibniz developed a sophisticated way to fully embrace mechanism but to avoid its more dire consequences by re-introducing life into the very foundation of the natural world. The upshot of this project is to spell out Leibniz's attempt to recast organic world of living beings in terms of more exquisite mechanisms - what he often calls natural or divine machines.