Gottfried Leibniz

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Gottfried Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) was a Christian German polymath famous for his contributions to mathematics and philosophy. He was a major intellectual force in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is known as the last "universal genius".

In mathematics his greatest achievement was his independent discovery of differential and integral calculus, also simultaneously invented by Isaac Newton. Modern calculus follows the notations and conventions of Leibniz, not Newton.

In philosophy, Leibniz disagreed with Descartes' "I think therefore I am" and he instead thought that neither form alone (the mind) or matter alone (the body) could explain the existence of an individual. Instead, Leibniz created a philosophy known as "monadology", which holds that souls are all there are in the universe. Even a table, according to Leibniz, is nothing other than a collection of "windowless monads" which cannot interact.

In physics, Leibniz proposed the use of "dynamics" or kinetic energy to explain motion, rather than "mechanics" that is based on Cartesian coordinates. Leibniz held the view that light always travelled the path of least resistance.

Leibniz was a Lutheran who dreamed of reuniting the Lutheran faith it with the Roman Catholic Church, and also of reconciling modern thinkers like Hobbes and Descartes with the Aristotle of the Scholastics, or even the earlier Greek philosopher Aristotle.

An ugly dispute developed between Newton and Leibniz over who discovered calculus first. Most British historians gave the credit to Newton, while the continental historians credited Leibniz. Both deserve credit: while Newton was the superior mathematician, Leibniz provided the more intuitive notation.

See also


  • Ball, W. W. Rouse. "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646 - 1716)," in Ball, A Short Account of the History of Mathematics (4th edition, 1908) online edition
  • Broad, C. D. Leibniz: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Brown, Stuart. Leibniz. University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
  • Jolley, Nicholas, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz. Cambridge University Press. 1995.
  • Jolley, Nicholas. Leibniz. Routledge, 2005.
  • Look, Brandon C. "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2007) online edition