Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life

Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life

Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life

Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life

Synopsis

Though it did not yet exist as a discrete field of scientific inquiry, biology was at the heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of G. W. Leibniz. In Divine Machines, Justin Smith offers the first in-depth examination of Leibniz's deep and complex engagement with the empirical life sciences of his day, in areas as diverse as medicine, physiology, taxonomy, generation theory, and paleontology. He shows how these wide-ranging pursuits were not only central to Leibniz's philosophical interests, but often provided the insights that led to some of his best-known philosophical doctrines.


Presenting the clearest picture yet of the scope of Leibniz's theoretical interest in the life sciences, Divine Machines takes seriously the philosopher's own repeated claims that the world must be understood in fundamentally biological terms. Here Smith reveals a thinker who was immersed in the sciences of life, and looked to the living world for answers to vexing metaphysical problems. He casts Leibniz's philosophy in an entirely new light, demonstrating how it radically departed from the prevailing models of mechanical philosophy and had an enduring influence on the history and development of the life sciences. Along the way, Smith provides a fascinating glimpse into early modern debates about the nature and origins of organic life, and into how philosophers such as Leibniz engaged with the scientific dilemmas of their era.

Excerpt

In the very near future, research in the humanities will be greatly transformed. It will be inherently collaborative, geographically diffused, and electronic. If this prediction is correct, then the present book will surely soon appear as a sort of transitional fossil between the two ages, for it could never have been written without the support of a vast network of fellow researchers, many of whom have had only, or primarily, virtual contact with its author. Nor could it have been written without access to the sort of electronic resources that simply did not exist even a decade ago, the most important example of which are the scans of Leibniz’s lh iii manuscripts graciously, and forward-thinkingly, made available online by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Fortunately, behind the nodes in our new, virtual Republic of Letters, there are also human beings, and I have learned from face-to-face encounters with many of them. Dan Garber, François Duchesneau, Christia Mercer, Alan Gabbey, Catherine Wilson, and Roger Ariew are my intellectual models of long standing, and their support for this project has been an absolute sine qua non of its coming-into-being. As a graduate student at the Leibniz-Forschungsstelle in Münster, my early encounters with Martin Schneider, Thomas Leinkauf, Hans Poser, Herbert Breger, and most of all Heinrich Schepers, were also crucial for my eventual formation as a Leibnizian. Along the way I have benefited greatly from interaction with Vlad Alexandrescu, Raphaële Andrault, Peter Anstey, Ric Arthur, Dennis Des Chene, Stefano di Bella, Michel Fichant, Stephen Gaukroger, Ursula Goldenbaum, Tahar ben Guiza, Glenn Hartz, Hartmut Hecht, Mark Kulstad, Mogens Lærke, Christian Leduc, Martin Lenz, Gideon Manning, Yitzhak Melamed, Steve Nadler, Antonio Nunziante, Enrico Pasini, Arnaud Pelletier, Anne-Lise Rey, Markku Roinila, Paolo Rubini, Eric Schliesser, Sebastian Stork, Evelyn Vargas, and Charles T. Wolfe. Andreas Blank and Brandon Look both deserve particular thanks for the extensive comments they offered on early drafts of the manuscript. I have learned much about the history of science, and about why philosophers should take it seriously, from James Delbourgo, Nicholas Dew, Moti Feingold, Vera Keller, Bill Newman, and Emma Spary, among others. Special thanks are also due to Andrea Falcon, Carlos Fraenkel, Alison Laywine, Sara Magrin, Stephen Menn, and Dario Perinetti, among others, for making Montreal such a stimulating place to work on the history of philosophy. My graduate research assistant, the up-and-coming hps

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