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Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

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The German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, was born on July 1, 1646, and died on November 14, 1716. He was a universal genius and a founder of modern science. He anticipated the development of symbolic logic and, independently of Isaac Newton, invented calculus with higher notation, including symbols for integration and differentiation. Leibniz also advocated Christian ecumenism in religion, codified Roman laws, and natural law in jurisprudence, proposed the metaphysical law of optimism (satirized by Voltaire in Candide) that our universe is the "best of all possible worlds," and transmitted Chinese thought to the Europe. For his work, he is considered a progenitor of German idealism and a pioneer of Enlightenment.

Leibniz was the son of a professor of moral philosophy in Leipzig. An early youth, Leibniz learned Latin and some Greek by himself at the age of 12 and could then read the books in his father's library. From 1661 to 1666 he was at the University of Leipzig. When he refused admission to his doctoral program in law in 1666, he went to Altdorf University to award him a doctorate in jurisprudence in 1667. In the tradition of Cicero and Francis Bacon, Leibniz chose to pursue the active life of a courtier.

He turned down a teaching position to Altdorf because he had "very different things in sight." After serving as secretary of the Rosicrucian Society in Nuremberg in 1667, he moved to Frankfurt to work on legal reform. From 1668 to 1673 he served the archbishop of Mainz. They were sent to Paris in 1672 to try to dissuade Louis XIV from attacking German areas. Leibniz proposed a campaign against Egypt and also to build a channel for the Suez Isthmus. Although his proposals were unnoticed, Leibniz remained until 1676 in Paris, where he practiced law, examined Cartesian thought with Nicolas Malebranche and Antoine Arnauld, and studied Mathematics and Physics with Christian Huygens.

From 1676 until his death, Leibniz served the Brunswick family in Hanover as librarian, judge, and minister. After 1686 he served primarily as a historian, preparing a Hanover genealogy based on critical examination of primary source materials. Looking for sources, he traveled to Austria and Italy from 1687 to 1690. Because of his Lutheran background, he turned down the Vatican Library guard position that required his conversion to Catholicism.

In his later years, Leibniz tried to build an institutional framework for the sciences in central Europe and Russia. At his urging, the Brandenburg Society (Berlin Academy of Science) was founded in 1700. He met Peter the Great several times to recommend educational reforms in Russia and proposed what later became the Saint Petersburg Academy of Science. .

Though shy and bookish, Leibniz knew no disputing master. After 1700 he opposed John Locke's theory that the mind is a tabula rasa (blank tablet) at birth and that we only learn by judgment. He strongly protested the Royal Society's charge (1712-13) of plagiarism against him concerning the invention of calculus. In his final debate with Samuel Clarke, who advocated Newtonian science, Leibniz argued that space, time, and motion are relative.

Leibniz's most important works are: Theodicee Essais (1710) in which much of his general philosophy is found, and the Monadology (1714). His work was systematized and was modified in the 18th century by the German philosopher Christian Wolff.

Broad, C.D., and Lewy, C., Leibniz: An Introduction (1975); Calinger, Ronald, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1976); Frankfurt, Harry G., ed., Leibniz: A Collection of Critical Essays (1976); Hostler, J.M., Leibniz's Moral Philosophy (1975); Ishiguro, Hide, Leibniz's Philosophy of Logic and Language, 2d ed. (nineteen ninety); Leclerc, Ivor, ed., The Philosophy of Leibniz and the Modern World (1973); Loemker, Leroy E., Struggle for Synthesis (1972); Parkinson, G.H., Logic and Reality in Leibniz's Metaphysics (1965; repr. 1985); Rescher, Nicholas, ed., Leibniz: An Introduction to His Philosophy (1986); Ross, George M., Leibniz (1984); Russell, Bertrand, Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz (1900; 2d ed., 1961); Woolhouse, R.S., ed., Leibniz (1981).