How Reality Works: Occasionalism vs Pre Established Harmony

Pre-established harmony and occasionalism account for causality in abstract, non physical substances; monad interaction and God.

While these concepts are distinctly different by name, the essence of the definition behind each concept are similar in terms of their fundamental function to the respective doctrine that utilizes them.

Leibniz believed there was one substance to make up this world and that ultimately, the mind and body are made of the same substance, but he also asserted that the mind and body are metaphysically distinct.

Following his pre-established harmony, minds and bodies were programmed at creation to coordinate natural states and actions harmoniously. This programming is a process that occurred at the beginning of creation, by God himself, and persists through reality due to its indestructible qualities, similar to the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed.

Pre-established harmony, developed by Leibniz, accounts for pattern causality in the world. It explains apparent causality where no true causality exists. Causality simply refers to the reflection of a divided but linked intelligence that he refers to as Monads. Monads are intelligently and harmoniously linked and persist through all fundamental building blocks of reality and the universe.

Monads are the fundamental unit of reality that Leibniz used to explain reality. Their properties are as follows; elementary particles, eternal, indecomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, non-interacting but harmoniously interconnected via the pre established harmony of the universe.

Following Leibniz thought, God, at the beginning of time, synchronized the universe by establishing harmony amongst all monads which allows them to reflect the properties of one another simultaneously as they develop and change so that interaction is not necessary.

Monads describe a divided but linked intelligence that every living thing has a piece of. The change in one monad is immediately received and reflected by all other monads in existence.

To solve the problem of implausible causality between the physical body and the non physical mind, aka a non physical thought in the mind causing the body to produce a physical movement, pre-established harmony offers the following solution: The Monad of the mind reflects the intention of the non physical thought at the time it is made, causing the Monad of the body to interpret, reflect and carry out the physical action, no interaction necessary.

For example, the will to walk forward would form the thought, walk forward, and that thought would be reflected immediately in the monad of the mind of the person willing it.

Instantaneously, that change in the person’s monad would be received and reflected {via pre-established harmony} amongst all other monads in existence to match the held intention and to carry out the action. When a change occurs in a single monad, every other monad in the world spontaneously reflects this change.


Occasionalism, developed by Malebranche, states that God is responsible for causality in the universe, and that God interprets the intention to turn it into action by influencing the physical body once information is taken from the non physical mind.

This provides another solution to the mind body problem: God is the link of communication that is able to interact with both the non physical substance of the mind and the physical substance of the body.

While minds cannot be the true cause of motion, they are the occasional cause, meaning the intent to move the body that occured in the mind prompted God to move the body the way the mind intended.

Since minds are moving bodies all the time, God in occasionalism is just as active as Monads are in pre established harmony.

It is clear that there is credit given in both occasionalism and pre-established harmony to the same force or power that is able to perform the following process instantaneously; identify an intention willed by non physical (A), carry the information of that intention from non physical (A) to physical (B) so that (B) can fulfill the intention of (A).

In mind-body dualism, (A) would be the mind and (B) would be the body. Occasionalism says God is responsible for this instantaneous process while pre-established harmony says harmonious intelligent Monads are responsible.

It is important to observe that both philosophers are identifying the same process. The only difference comes when attempting to define what is responsible for this process of causality between distinct substances.

Both Leibniz’ account of pre-established harmony and Malebranche’s occasionalism define their own ‘ideas of responsibility’ for this instantaneous interception of causations.

If the mind intends the body to carry out an action, pre-established harmony states that the intent of the mind would be instantaneously received and reflected by the Monad of the mind and therefor all other Monads in existence to carry out the action, while occasionalism states that the intent of the mind would be instantaneously received and reflected by God who would will the body to carry out the action.

Do you see how both accounts of causlity are crediting the same process?

God, in terms of occasionalism, performs the same task that monads do in pre-established harmony.

It is easy to perceive God as an individual type of being or as a singular entity, but in this sense, it is apparent that God cannot be that, since he must be everywhere, all the time, present in or with everyone and everything in order for occasionalism to work. Monads fit the same definition, they are present in everything and with everyone, everywhere and all the time. The main difference here is that occasionalism names this phenomenon ‘God’ and pre-established harmony names this phenomenon as ‘many modals’ but both names account for the same fundamental process. That process being the causality; an intention that is carried out to cause action.

There is a deep relation between Malebranche’s occasionalism and Leibniz’ pre-established harmony when observed from this perspective.

It is important to identify that one must forgo any previous perceptions or definitions behind their thought of God and of monads in order to see the similarity.

A fair parallel example to highlight this relation would be if a new concept was discovered at the same time by two different people in opposite locations and therefore the same concept received two different interpretations and names for it, while fundamentally, the concept is one and the same.

I believe it is fair to argue that both Malebranche and Leibniz are referring to the same causation process but through interpretation differences, gave credit to this process with different names and attributes, in efforts of trying to make sense of it’s nature.





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Alexandria Elizabeth Sharifi

Alexandria Elizabeth Sharifi

A mix of science, philosophy, wisdom, psychology, literature and love. An ongoing exploration of the lessons I’ve learned from the reality unfolding around me.