Central Works of Philosophy - Vol. 2

By John Shand | Go to book overview

3
G. W. Leibniz
Monadology

Douglas Burnham


Introduction

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz wrote the Monadology in 1714, near the end of his life. It was a life of considerable accomplishment. He was born in Leipzig in 1646 and although the son of a professor of moral philosophy, and educated in the law, Leibniz chose neither of these as a career. Instead, he became an intellectual all-rounder at the court of the Duke of Hanover, working as librarian, official historian, legal advisor and, frequently enough, international diplomat. In these capacities he travelled often and widely in Europe, giving him ample opportunity to meet the foremost intellectuals of the day, including the philosopher Spinoza. Leibniz was a polymath, who made significant contributions in many areas of physics, logic, history, librarianship and, of course, philosophy and theology, while also working on ideal languages, mechanical clocks, mining machinery, and a host of other projects. Among other achievements in mathematics, he invented the mathematical technique of calculus independently of, but at around the same time as, Newton, setting off a long-running, nationalistic controversy.

It is little wonder, then, that he published relatively little. What he often called his philosophical “system” was more or less completed by the 1680s when he wrote the “Discourse on Metaphysics” (1686). Like many others of his works, this was not published in his lifetime, and only appeared in print more than 250 years later. After the “Discourse”, over the next 30 years or so, Leibniz worked

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