Knowledge through the Use of Principles - Ch. 1 "The Idea of Principle in Leibnitz" by Jose Ortega y Gasset

Chapter 1 - The Idea of Principle in Leibnitz

Jose Ortega y Gasset opens this work with an introduction to the idea of what a principle is. They are the proper way in which human beings come to knowledge about reality. They are inescapable. They drive our desire to know and please us when we have uncovered them. Principles are the patterns of reality that rationalize it, allow us to understand it, provide a framework of rules and boundaries for us. They support our daily life and yet call us toward uncovering them in their ultimate forms. Gasset also introduces the philosophy Leibnitz as the philosopher who emphasized knowledge as principles the most in the history of philosophy. Therefore, he is a good starting point to explore the nature of thought, knowledge, and the idea of deductive reasoning through principles. 

Leibnitz's Focus on Principles
Gasset begins the book by explaining that all knowledge is always knowledge in relation to a principle. [Here, the translator notes that "principle" is being referred to as -origin, source, beginning, fundamental truth, law, or motive force-] If it is in the sciences, one processes data in terms of an explanatory law or formula. If it is in philosophy, one tries to justify all occurrences according to ultimate principles at the root of existence. It is in an intermediate stage that we live as human beings, always encountering the empirical datum of a singular thing, yet always incorporating that datum into a framework of universal principles. Yet we do not live in the complete abstractions of ultimate principles, for these transcend our senses too much as human beings. Rather, there is always a dichotomy of the two which make up human life. [The singular and the universal, the physical and the immaterial, the unique and the pattern] 1

"Always the same, we see them at the greatest possible distance. The other forms of knowledge range across the intermediate zone which extends from the place where we normally and spontaneously are, a place made up of vaguely generalized facts, to that last line of the horizon where the root principles lie hidden. Philosophy, which is intellectual radicalism or extremism, is determined to reach by the most direct path that last line of the horizon where the ultimate principles abide; therefore, it is not merely a form of knowledge that, like others, is drawn from principles, but philosophy is a formal exploration directed to the discovery of those principles." These fundamental principles which lay at the roots of reality not only support us in our search for knowledge, but actually compel us to ultimately seek to understand themselves as the highest form of knowledge, not other ends.

Here Gasset introduces Leibnitz as the philosopher of principles par excellence. He makes the claim that Leibnitz used the greatest number of principles in his work of any philosophy, created new ones, was always drawing them forth in his work, and believed that knowledge depended on them. 2 Gasset then offers a list of ten principles Leibnitz used:

"1) The principle of principles. 
2) Principle of identity.
3) Principle of contradiction.
4) Principle of sufficient reason.
5) Principle of uniformity or the harlequin principle.
6) Principle of the identity of the indiscernible, or principle of differentiation. 
7) Principle of continuity.
8) Principle of the better or of the expedient.
9) Principle of harmony or rule of law (principle of symmetry in modern mathematics).
10) Principle of the least effort or of the optimum forms."

Gasset says that besides the second and third principles, that Leibnitz was the one who formally introduced the others to the world. This is where the first part of the book comes from. It this idea of principle, as such, that Leibnitz brought forth so powerfully that Gasset is going to explore. Gasset calls this Leibnitz's "principle-ism." 

There are some objections, though, that must be addressed about Leibnitz's work and his use of principles. First, there is a lack of precise terminology which gives some play to his formulations. Secondly, he never spoke about the hierarchy of principles, or their relation to one another. 3 Third, he offers a bit of a contradictory statement about principles. He says that we must always try to prove them, yet traditionally the principle is that which is not proven [because it is either self-evident, would result in absurd conclusions, are is accepted by faith.] So this too must be worked out. "The two series of statements above stand in sharpest contract with one another. Note that in each series the one which is stated last is not, like the others, of a more or less external character; on the contrary, it is a doctrinal thesis, and one might even say that it is internal and even visceral to the doctrine. So we are left, then, perplexed at this dual, changeable attitude of Leibnitz toward principles." 4
1 - Ortega y Gasset, Jose. The Idea of Principle in Leibnitz and the Evolution of Deductive Theory. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971). 11
2 - 12
3 - 13
4 - 14