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Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. / 1902
Discourse on Metaphysics, Correspondence with Arnauld, and Monadology contains Leibniz’s most important philosophical works. In Discourse on Metaphysics, Leibniz looks at the nature of physical substance, motion, and God’s place in the universe. He argues that God is an absolutely perfect being; that, while God is good, goodness and God are separate things; and that, all things considered, God created the best world possible. The correspondence with Arnauld is a series of letters between Leibniz and the French Roman Catholic theologian Antoine Arnauld, discussing similar topics as Discourse. In Monadology, Leibniz attacks the Cartesian assertion that mind and body are two separate substances that communicate with each other. Leibniz argued that the whole universe is made of many little substances called monads. The monads are programmed to act in certain ways, and the actions of each monad are coordinated with the actions of all the other monads. This gives the impression of communication between substances when actually it is just a pre-established harmony.
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Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) was born in Leipzig, Saxony, at the end of the Thirty Years War. His father was a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Leipzig. Leibniz attended the University of Leipzig when he was 15. He earned a BA in philosophy in 1662, at the age of 16, and a master’s in philosophy two years later. The following year, 1665, Leibniz earned a BA in law from the university. He published his first book at the age of 20. At 21, he applied for a doctoral program in law at the University of Leipzig and was denied. He left Leipzig and enrolled in the University of Altdorf, where he earned a doctorate in law in 1666.
Following his education, the Elector of Mainz, Johann Philipp von Schönborn, asked Leibniz to help him redraft the legal code of Mainz. Leibniz travelled to Paris in 1672 and began a self-study program in mathematics and physics. In 1676, Leibniz moved to Hanover to work in the court of the Duke of Brunswick. While in the employ of the House of Brunswick, Leibniz developed a system of infinitesimal calculus, which he published in 1684. Leibniz also published works of law, history, philosophy, philology, and theology during that time. In 1708 he was accused by Newton and others of having stolen the calculus from Newton during a trip to London in 1776. Though he was found guilty by the Royal Academy at the time, later mathematicians have exonerated Leibniz. Leibniz died in Hannover in 1716.