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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Creatio ex nihilo und creatio nihili: Etwas und Nichts im Schöpfungsdenken der frühen Neuzeit

This contribution to a volume on the“ultimate why-question” discusses ambiguities in Leibniz’s formulation of the question, “[. . . ] pourquoi il y a plus tôt quelque chose que rien”. This formulation poses two problems: Leibniz does not explain how to understand the concepts of “something” and “nothing”. And it is not clear, whether “something” and “nothing” are contradictory opposites, so that there is either nothing or something, or whether both concepts denote principles which are effective in the world at the same time. My analysis rests on the hypothesis that the relevant context for Leibniz’s question is the theology of creation.

Hence, the paper compares eight different approaches to “creation from nothing” (Thomists, Scotists, Taurellus, Lubinus, Timpler, Keckermann, Kircher, Knorr von Rosenroth, van Helmont). Candidates for the nihil the world was created from include absolute non-being, thoughts in God’s mind, unformed  matter, imaginary space, or a self-contraction of the Divine spirit. These different approaches can be translated into different versions of the “ultimate why-question”. The paper concludes that Leibniz’s formulation contains a comparison between two Divine acts of creation, because not only “something”, but “nothing” as well owes its subsistence to the Divine will. This rises substantial questions: either God created first an imperfect entity in order to create the world as a whole, or Leibniz subscribes to an emanative understanding of creation that either levels the difference between creation and (natural) generation or is based on misunderstanding God as a material entity.