What is the world really made of?

Posted by: Jessica Davis - Teachers College, Columbia University
Designed for: High School, Middle School
Estimated Time Necessary: 2 hrs (with or without take-home component)
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In Leibniz’s 1714 Monadology we have an example of the many different ways that philosophers have theorized about the constitution of our world before they had the technology to know many details that we know now. Although some of Leibniz’s theories have been shown to be incorrect, or perhaps cannot be proven at all, there are also some elements of Leibniz’s works that been shown to be quite accurate. Indeed, Leibniz is credited with inventing the calculus at around the same time as Newton.


Student Assignment: Having read Leibniz’s Monadology, you will present a summary and your own questions about your particular section of the Monadology. You will depict your summary and questions on your own “monad” and post your monad on the classroom wall when you present your findings. Once all student monads have been composited together on the wall — making a larger monad — class discussion can ensue.


Note to Teacher: There are 90 different points in the Monadology, so depending on class size you can give students a few points each. With younger students this can be done as a group project, giving each group a larger number of points to read through together. The Monadology can be assigned to older students to read in entirety independently before class, while you can assign it in class for younger students — simply assign each group only one portion of the text to read, and this way the students end up sharing about their respective sections of the text to teach their classmates.


The Monadology (1714), by Gottfried Wilhelm LEIBNIZ (1646-1716)


What is the world really made of?

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. In which ways has modern-day technology shown Leibniz's theory to be wrong?
  2. In which ways was Leibniz right about the composition of the world?
  3. Why do you think Leibniz's system and philosophy are known as Rationalist according to philosophers?
  4. What are some social implications of a scientist declaring authoritatively that the world exists in perfect harmony?
  5. What are some social implications of a scientist declaring authoritatively that every part of the world is important?
  6. In which ways do we all develop theories about things of which we are uncertain?
  7. In which ways might Leibniz be correct that each part of the world is a part of every other part?
  8. Can reasoning about science and particle reality help us to live better with one another?
  9. Do you agree with Leibniz that we each have the same relationship to reality and the world around us? In which ways do you agree or disagree?