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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Life and Works
. . Logic & Truth
. . Individual Substances
. . Sufficient Reason
. . Space & Time
. . Best of All Possible
. . Freedom
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After completing his philosophical and legal education at Leipzig and Altdorf, Gottfried Leibniz spent several years as a diplomat in France, England, and Holland, where he became acquainted with the leading intellectuals of the age. He then settled in Hanover, where he devoted most of his adult life to the development of a comprehensive scheme for human knowledge, comprising logic, mathematics, philosophy, theology, history, and jurisprudence. Although his own rationalism was founded upon an advanced understanding of logic, which Leibniz largely kept to himself, he did publish many less technical expositions of his results for the general public. These include a survey of the entire scheme in The New System of Nature (1695), a critical examination of Locke's philosophy in Leibniz Nouveaux Essaies sur l'entendement humain (New Essays on Human Understanding) (1704), and an attempt to resolve several theological issues in the Théodicée (Theodicy) (1710).

La Monadologie (Monadology) (1714) is a highly condensed outline of Leibniz's metaphsics. Complete individual substances, or monads, are dimensionless points which contain all of their properties—past, present, and future—and, indeed, the entire world. The true propositions that express their natures follow inexorably from the principles of contradiction and sufficient reason. Leibniz

The same themes are presented more popularly in the Discours de Metaphysique (Discourse on Metaphysics) (1686). There Leibniz emphasized the role of a benevolent deity in creating this, the best of all possible worlds, where everything exists in a perfect, pre-established harmony with everything else. Since space and time are merely relations, all of science is a study of phenomenal objects. According to Leibniz, human knowledge involves the discovery within our own minds of all that is a part of our world, and although we cannot make it otherwise, we ought to be grateful for our own inclusion in it.

Recommended Reading:

Primary sources:

  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe (Reichl, 1923- )
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophical Texts, ed. by Richard Francks and R. S. Woolhouse (Oxford, 1998)
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and the Monadology, tr. by R. Montgomery (Prometheus, 1992)
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding, ed. by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge, 1997)
  • Philosophical Papers and Letters, ed. by Leroy Loemker. (Chicago: University Press, 1956)
  • Leibniz and Clarke: Correspondence, ed. by Roger Ariew (Hackett, 2000)

Secondary sources:

  • Bertrand Russell, A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz: With an Appendix of Leading Passages (Routledge, 1993)
  • The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz, ed. by Nicholas Jolley (Cambridge, 1994)
  • Leibniz: Critical and Interpretive Essays, ed. by Michael Hooker (Minnesota, 1982)
  • Anthony Savile, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Leibniz and the Monadology (Routledge, 2000)
  • Christia Mercer, Leibniz's Metaphysics: Its Origins and Development (Cambridge, 2001)
  • Donald Rutherford, Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature (Cambridge, 1997)
  • Hide Ishiguro, Leibniz's Philosophy of Logic and Language (Cambridge, 1991)
  • Nicholas Jolley, The Light of the Soul: Theories of Ideas in Leibniz, Malebranche, and Descartes (Clarendon, 1998)
  • Robert Merrihew Adams, Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist (Oxford, 1998)

Additional on-line information about Leibniz includes:

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Last modified 23 November 2011.
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