Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer

By Michael White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
A Question of Priority

With the dead there is no rivalry.

THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY1

The German mathematician and natural philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was born in Leipzig in 1646. The son of a professor of moral philosophy, he grew up in an environment of strict Lutheran piety and maintained a traditional religious outlook throughout his life. His father died young and, like Flamsteed, Newton and many intellectuals of the period, Leibniz followed an autodidactic course before taking up his official studies. He attended the University of Leipzig to take a law degree, and was so successful that he qualified for his doctorate by the age of twenty. According to the rules of the university, however, he could not be awarded the degree, because he was too young. Embittered, he left Leipzig for the free city of Nuremberg, at whose university in 1666 he completed a dissertation entitled 'De Casibus Perplexis' -- 'On Perplexing Cases' -- which was so brilliant that it not only gained him his doctorate but also brought an offer of a professorship. This he declined, choosing instead to pursue his scientific interests.

Even before attending the University of Leipzig, Leibniz had become fascinated with mathematics and science. Well-read in the classic works of Galileo, Kepler and Descartes, like the young Newton he had continued his private researches throughout his orthodox degree course. His keenest interest had been in the field of logic, and as a teenager he had composed a paper called 'De Arte Combinatoria' --'On the Art of Combination' -- which is now seen by some scholars as providing an early theoretical model for the modern computer.

Leibniz is considered by many to have been Newton's equal. One Newton biographer has gone as far as to say that they were 'Two of the greatest geniuses of the European world, not only of their own

-325-

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Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction - Truth Revealed 1
  • 1: Desertion 6
  • 2 - The Changing View Of Matter and Energy 29
  • 3 - Academia 43
  • 4 - Astronomy and Mathematics Before Newton 66
  • 5 - A Toe in the Water 82
  • 6 - The Search for The Philosophers' Stone 104
  • 7 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice 131
  • 9 - To the Principia 190
  • 10 - Breakdown 222
  • 11 - Metamorphosis 255
  • 12 - Old Men's Battles 294
  • 13 - A Question of Priority 325
  • 14 - Joining the Ancients 343
  • References 363
  • Index 387
  • Picture Credits 403
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