The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

By Amélie Oksenberg Rorty | Go to book overview

13
God, Mind, and Logic

GOTTFRIED WILHELM LEIBNIZ

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was the polymath's polymath. Trained in
jurisprudence, he codified Roman laws; independently of Newton, he invented
the infinitesimal calculus; he undertook engineering projects; he began work on
a universal grammar; serving as an advisor to the Elector of Mainz, he was sent
as an ambassador to the court of Louis XIV; he urged the conquest of Egypt
and the construction of a canal in the Isthmus of Suez. Himselfdescended from
a Lutheran family, he proposed an ecumenical council to reconcile Protestants
and Catholics; from 1676 until his death, he served the House of Hanover as an
engineer, historian, librarian, statesman. He traveled to Holland, Austria, and Italy,
and he met with Peter the Great to discuss educational programs and the for-
mation of a Russian Academy of Science. And of course he was a logician,
metaphysician, epistemologist, theologian. He waited to publish his attack of
Locke's theory of ideas (New Essays on Human Understanding) until Locke died
in 1704. As a metaphysician, he argued for the identity of indiscernibles; as a
theologian, he used the principle of sufficient reason to reconcile determinism
with the doctrine of free will (Theodicy, 1710); as a physicist, he defended the
relativity of space, time, and motion in the Monadology (1714). His correspon-
dence with Samuel Clark, Malebranche, Spinoza, Arnauld, and Huygens was
largely polemical.


Preface to a Universal Characteristic (1678–79)

There is an old saying that God made everything in accordance with weight, measure, and number. But there are things which cannot be weighed, namely, those that lack force and power "vis ac potentia", and there are also things that lack parts and thus cannot be measured. But there is nothing that cannot be numbered. And so number is, as it were, metaphysical shape, and arithmetic is, in a certain sense, the Statics of the Universe, that by which the powers of things are investigated.

As far as I know, no mortal until now has seen the true principle by which each thing can be assigned its own characteristic number. Indeed, the most learned persons have admitted that they did not understand what I was talking about when I casually mentioned something of this sort in their presence. Not long ago, some distinguished persons devised a certain language or Universal Characteristic in which all notions and things are nicely ordered, a language with whose help different nations can communicate their thoughts, and each, in its own language, read what the other wrote. But no one has put forward a language or characteristic which embodies, at the same time, both the art of discovery and the art of judgment, that is, a language whose marks or characters perform the same task as arithmetic marks do for numbers and algebraic marks do for magnitudes considered abstractly. And yet, when God bestowed these two sciences on the human race, it

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