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ottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born into an academic family in Leipzig, Saxony, in 1646, two years prior to the Peace of Westphalia that brought to an end the bloody Thirty Years’ War. His mother was the daughter of a well-known jurist and professor of law, and, after the death of her parents and before her marriage, had been a member of two other academic households: that of a theology professor and then of a law professor.Leibniz grew up in a conservative area surrounded by strict Lutherans, not only in his immediate and extended families but in Leipzig generally.
And second, he authored the provocative statement that this world is “the best of all possible worlds.” This claim was famously lampooned in Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide, in which the title character, “stunned, stupefied, despairing, bleeding, trembling, said to himself: — If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others like?
” Leibniz’s posthumous reputation, already marred by the accusation he had plagiarized Newton’s calculus, never recovered from Voltaire’s mockery.
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 ) (1714) is a highly condensed outline of Leibniz's metaphsics.
Complete individual substances, or monads, are dimensionless points which contain all of their propertiespast, present, and futureand, indeed, the entire world.
The true propositions that express their natures follow inexorably from the principles of contradiction and sufficient reason.
At fourteen, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig to study philosophy.
“I was very young when I began to meditate,” he would later write, “and I was not quite fifteen when I strolled for whole days in a grove to take sides between Aristotle and Democritus.” Even then, Leibniz was nagged by the tension between the teleological account of nature inherited from Aristotle and engrained in academia, and the new mechanical physics, represented by Galileo and Descartes, that hearkened back to the ancient Greek atomist Democritus.
How are we to make sense of a man who contributed prominently to so many fields, including both religion and science?
In our day, it is common to think especially of religion and science as either pulling in opposing directions in their respective understandings of the world, or as parallel but different domains. One of the hallmarks of Leibniz’s vast undertakings is that he strove to unify his kaleidoscopic interests into a single whole that deeply integrated faith and science, philosophy and politics, and shaped both his public and private life.