Two of the Brightest of the Enlightenment

What brings together the poetic genius of Alexander Pope and the solid reason of Leibniz is not only the early modern period in which they both lived and wrote, nor even their theology; it is the desire which was shared by both to define their society. Just as “Pope made a magnificent attempt to define the world picture, and the social picture,” so too did Leibniz simultaneously endeavour to rationalize “the social picture[.]”[1] Both ended up leaving an intellectual legacy which continues to portray “a whole culture in its aspirations, policies, arts, and conduct,” with both managing “to do this lucidly, critically, dramatically, and profoundly.”[2] So successful were both in depicting and in their depictions, explaining their societies and the inherent nature of man, that their theology seems almost uniform. This essay will compare the theological implications of Pope and Leibniz, and show that Pope’s Deism was actually a practical manifestation of the Pre-Established Harmony of Leibniz.

Though this argument could well be proven by the consistency of theology found throughout the works of Pope and Leibniz, the focus here will be on the former’s Essay on Man and the latter’s Monadology. The Essay, which is actually a poem, will be proven to the reader to be a philosophical reply to Leibniz’s Pre-Established Harmony outlined in the Monadology. Both works radically reform the position of God in the early modern world and divine influence, as well, both discuss the composition of man and how his structure determines his actions and thoughts. Other similarities that will be explored will be predestination and decomposition and reproduction; an exploration of how God’s qualities and influences pass from one generation of man to another are equally addressed by Pope and Leibniz. Completing this enumeration of such stark similarity, Pope’s summation of “[w]hatever [is], is [right]” will be seen as the true maxim of the early modern era, and will serve as the banner binding the minds of poet and polymath together.[3]

The nature of whatever this ‘is’ is should be seen to be the common thread underlying each of Pope’s and Leibniz’s arguments, and the colour of that thread is the same shade in both instances. While Pope colours his argument with eloquent wit, Leibniz lists his with a statistician’s precision; both say the same thing: that the position of God is one not worth a man aspiring to attain in their contemporary world. “Aspiring to be [g]ods, if [a]ngels fell, / [a]spiring to be [a]ngels, [m]en rebel; / [a]nd who but wishes to invert the laws / [o]f [order], sins against th’ [e]ternal [c]ause[;]” as Pope cleverly posits.[4] The poet is here establishing simultaneously an observation of what he must consider his era’s greatest flaw: overstepping the bounds of ability and positing a remedy for a population which is ignoring the great plan of the world which underlies all.

While Pope was a Deist, he recognized that God may not have continued control in the world he created, but he does have influence—better termed the “[order]” and “[e]ternal [c]ause” of which Pope speaks, and which he argues throughout the poem must govern man and nature.[5] “[I]f [a]ngels fell,” Pope vacates the heavenly sphere, “[m]en rebel” and wish to take their place; aside from a cunning literary vignette, this point is crucial to establishing what will permeate the entire text of the Essay on Man which is that of both physical and metaphysical composition.[6] God’s influence but not his control dictate it, and it must consist of at least these two parts—the material and the conceptual or spiritual.

The position of God in Leibniz’s view of his early modern world is rather similar. Leibniz argues not for God’s intervention in human affairs, but like Pope, establishes that a divine force is not merely in each one of us and every living thing, but that an infinite number of emanations of that same force are themselves what connect us to above, and in that connection, negate any attempt we might make to touch the divine. In this vein, Leibniz argued “that the soul and body are the product of divine intervention.”[7] We are not divine ourselves, and neither Leibniz nor Pope argues for the possibility that we could be, but “God alone is completely detached from bodies” and had left his mark on us, and as will be discussed later, we propagate his mark as we reproduce.[8] What Leibniz did was take the metaphysical and distribute it amongst the physical, through the theoretical existence of monads. This fusion of the metaphysical with the physical in all of creation through the bond of monads and that each monad is a sort of genetic carrier for the will and influence of God comes to be given the term Pre-Established Harmony.

Because God, in regulating the whole, had regard for each part, and particularly for each monad, and since the nature of the monad is representative, nothing can limit it to represent only a part of things. However, it is true that this representation is only . . . the detail of the whole universe[.][9]

By this, Leibniz presents his case that God is not the providential force many in early modern Europe saw him to be, but rather, the architect of the means of choice. Pope agrees, saying “the question (wrangle e’er so long) / [i]s only this, if God has plac’d him wrong? / [r]especting [m]an, whatever wrong we call, / [m]ay, must be right, as relative to all[;]” reiterating the Deism which seeps forth from the new order argued for by both the poet and Leibniz.[10] Leibniz, in pondering what God “had regard” to create “for each part” of existence, including body and mind, establishes that man is subject to infinite representations which are each “the detail of the whole universe.”[11] God, when these works of Pope and Leibniz, were presented to the early modern society in which they each lived, would have been sealed up and untouchable forever. Man no longer has the need or capability to reach God, for God makes up every part of man. This repositioning of God in the early modern world and the redefinition of divine influence as no longer active, but rather passively inherent, is the first of the four similarities between Pope’s Deism and Leibniz’s Pre-Established Harmony.

With it established that both poet and philosopher believed in a divinely-established though not divinely-regulated universe and humanity, their concerted claims of the composition of man must naturally follow. Pope held the conviction that man was not imperfect, but, as Deism propounds, with his inherent abilities, able and obliged to do what he ought. Man was not only the image of God, but the physical reflection of the creator in a metaphysical mirror composed entirely of an infinite amount of state, place, time, and space.

Then say not [m]an’s imperfect, [h]eav’n in fault; / [s]ay rather, [m]an’s as perfect as he ought; / [h]is knowledge measur’d to his state and place, / [h]is time a moment, and a point his space. / If to be perfect in a certain sphere, / [w]hat matter, soon or late, or here or there? / The blest today is as completely so, / [a]s who began a thousand years ago.[12]

God can not be at fault for the actions of humanity, because he has constructed man of metaphysical components enabling man to act as God does, and only seeking the aid of the creator in the form of the tendencies and qualities that “began” in man “a thousand years ago” when he was made.[13] Therefore, Deism is built on the same Pre-Establish Harmony that Leibniz used to atomically break man down. “His time a moment, and a point his space” are what make a man, not the hands of God constantly cradling and provoking him from above. Leibniz, too, divided the composition of man into two divinely-influenced but not divinely-intercepted parts. “[A]lthough each created monad represents the whole universe, it more distinctly represents the body which is particularly affected by it, and whose [intelligence] it constitutes[;]” Leibniz believed that each monad was subject to a pre-programmed perception contained in each, programmed by God, and this is what led the soul to act as it does in man, and the body to act as it does.[14] Morality is not circumstantial, but rather perceptive. “[A]ll bodies are in a perpetual flux, like rivers, and parts enter into them and depart from them continually . . . [t]hus the soul changes body only little

. . . and there are also no completely separated souls [sic], nor spirits without bodies[;]” thus is established Leibniz’s binary system of metaphysical and physical sorts.[15] Just as man is not changed by God, the soul is not tampered with by the body, but both are dependent on the existence of one another. Action is relative to the stance and perception of the monad in Leibniz’s system, and in Pope’s, based on whatever state or place the time of the action is to be a part of.

This atomic anatomy of man and nature flows into the question of the influence of the two pre-programmed parts on the life and decisions of man and beast, even object. Deism, just as Pre-Established Harmony, does away with an active divine design and like Leibniz’s system, can be said in its monadological terms to opt instead for a passive divine design which underlies both of the two components of body and soul in the form of pre-programmed perception, found only in the infinite monads. “But [all] subsists by elemental strife; / [a]nd [p]assions are the elements of [l]ife[,]” Pope explains, “[t]he gen’ral [order], since the whole began, / [i]s kept in [n]ature, and is kept in man[;]” and by this he means to say that man will never look to God if he follows instead what is actually in him: the programmed particles of God’s creation which each, in their Leibnizian perspectives, allows every part of man to act, think, and feel just as he is so able, but never as he is destined to.[16] “It can also be said that God the architect pleases in every respect God the legislator, and, as a result, sins must carry their penalty with them by the order of nature,” not by God’s pre-ordination or intervention, Leibniz said, but by the choices made by the perceptions of our monads “in virtue of the mechanical structure of things.”[17] Appealing to this structure is recognition of our mechanical being, and in that recognition, we dispel the notion that God directs us and plans out our lives. On this, both Pope and Leibniz, again, agreed.

On their fourth similarity, that of Pope’s Deism regarding destruction and replication of man’s constituency in comparison with Leibniz’s legacy of the monads, agreement is again met. “Thus one can state[,]” as Leibniz himself did on the matter, “that not only is the soul (mirror of an indestructible universe) indestructible, but so is the animal itself, even though its mechanism often perishes in part, and casts off or puts on its organic coverings.”[18] So the fleshy vessel which constitutes the body which in turn carries the soul will inevitably perish, depending on its infinite layout of monads, but the monads themselves will remain, only to reform as another object, animal, person, or thing. This is the legacy Leibniz ascribed to existence, and in the demise of the physical, the metaphysical replicates itself by rearranging its composite parts, continually, until all of existence—the universe itself—is annihilated.

“And if each system” of the body, made up each of infinite composite parts, “in gradation roll, / [a]like essential to th’ amazing whole; / [t]he least confusion but in one, not all / [t]hat system only, but the whole must fall[,]” expressed the Essay on Man, wherein Pope “[l]et Earth unbalanc’d from her orbit fly, / [p]lanets and [s]uns run lawless thro’ the sky” should any of the vessel of the man perish and die.[19] If it is in the perspective of one, it is in the perspective of the whole; so bodily death calls for total metaphysical metamorphosis and restructuring. Thus, both Leibniz and Pope have provided in their theology for the continuance of order without intervention, and for the pre-programmed—not the pre-ordained—to rule.

From the veritable ashes of cyclical, divinely-created but not divinely-regulated existence springs the phoenix of the position of God in the early modern world, flying away from the antiquated natural philosophy of the classics who sought to cage it, and make it untouchable. The theologies of Pope and Leibniz made God approachable to man by completely separating his intervention from man’s grasp, and instead filled man’s hand with the keys to a monadology and Deist wit that unlocked the binary formula underlying all, proving perfection was already on Earth, and that it was relative to the perception of each of its beholders. Predestination is discussed by both thinkers, but each throws it into disrepute; God has no need to regulate or control an entire population constituted from his very eyes. And destruction is never concrete, so the need to abide by an established religious order is also tossed out, for heaven is existence, and existence is assured by an infinite amount of metaphysical matter clogging up the most perfect of universes. Whatever will be, will be; that is what it is.



Leibniz, G. W. “The Principles of Philosophy or the Monadology.” In Modern Philosophy: an Anthology of Primary Sources, edited by Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins, 235-243. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998. Originally published in Roger Ariew and D. Garber, trans., Philosophical Essays (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1989).

Pope, Alexander. An Essay on Man, or the First Book of Ethic Epistles to H. St. John L. Bolingbroke. EMSP 2000.06 course handout. Halifax, N.S.: University of King’s College, 2007.


Humphreys, A. R. “Pope, God, and Man.” In Writers and their Background: Alexander Pope, edited by Peter Dixon, 60-100. London: G. Bell & Sons, 1972.

Rutherford, Donald. Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

[1] A. R. Humphreys, “Pope, God, and Man.” In Writers and their Background: Alexander Pope, edited by Peter Dixon (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1972), 62.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, or the First Book of Ethic Epistles to H. St. John L. Bolingbroke. EMSP 2000.06 course handout (Halifax, N.S.: University of King’s College, 2007), 515.

[4] Ibid., 509.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Donald Rutherford, Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 213.

[8] G. W. Leibniz, “The Principles of Philosophy or the Monadology,” in Modern Philosophy: an Anthology of Primary Sources, edited by Roger Ariew and Eric Watkins (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 241.

[9] Ibid., 240.

[10] Pope, Essay, 506.

[11] Leibniz, Monadology, 240.

[12] Pope, Essay, 507.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Leibniz, Monadology, 241.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Pope, Essay, 510.

[17] Leibniz, Monadology, 243.

[18] Ibid., 242.

[19] Pope, Essay, 513.