Leibniz

Leibniz

Leibniz

Leibniz

Synopsis

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was hailed by Bertrand Russell as 'one of the supreme intellects of all time'. A towering figure in seventeenth-century philosophy, his complex thought has been championed and satirized in equal measure, most famously in Voltaire's Candide.

In this outstanding introduction to his philosophy, Nicholas Jolley introduces and assesses the whole of Leibniz's philosophy. Beginning with an introduction to Leibniz's life and work, he carefully introduces the core elements of Leibniz's metaphysics: his theories of substance, identity and individuation; monads and space and time; and his important debate over the nature of space and time with Newton's champion, Samuel Clarke.

He then introduces Leibniz's theories of mind, knowledge, and innate ideas, showing how Leibniz anticipated the distinction between conscious and unconscious states, before examining his theory of free will and the problem of evil. An important feature of the book is its introduction to Leibniz's moral and political philosophy, an overlooked aspect of his work.

The final chapter assesses legacy and the impact of his philosophy on philosophy as a whole, particularly on the work of Immanuel Kant. Throughout, Nicholas Jolley places Leibniz in relation to some of the other great philosophers, such as Descartes, Spinoza and Locke, and discusses Leibniz's key works, such as the Monadologyand Discourse on Metaphysics.

Excerpt

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is undoubtedly one of the major philosophers of the Western tradition, but he is also an unusually difficult philosopher. His two most famous doctrines are apt to appear bizarre and implausible: many readers find it hard to overcome their initial resistance to the theory of monads and the thesis that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds. Indeed, the latter thesis made Leibniz an easy target at the hands of Voltaire in Candide (1759). A further source of difficulty is of a wholly different nature. Although he published one philosophical book, Leibniz never produced a definitive statement of his philosophical theories and arguments; there is no Leibnizian masterpiece which can be set beside Benedict de Spinoza’s Ethics (1677) or John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Instead the reader is forced to turn to a countless array of essays and letters in order to gain a coherent picture of his philosophical achievements. Most of Leibniz’s works, both long and short, were unpublished during his lifetime, and have only gradually been exposed to the light of day in the three hundred years or so since his death; indeed many of his writings remain unpublished to this date. Leibniz himself was well aware of how difficult it was for his contemporaries to appreciate his contributions to philosophy, for he wrote: ‘He who knows me only from my published writings does not know me’ (D VI 1 65).

Despite the fragmentary character of many of his writings, Leibniz is a systematic philosopher; his ideas in logic, metaphysics, theology, and the foundations of physics form a largely coherent whole. In . . .

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