C. C. Hagan

Gottfried Leibniz

Extracts from the book

Leibniz was a key advisor in the courts of these fledgling German states serving Dukes. These courts were the centres of cultural and political life in the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ – the future Germany. It was emerging as a land of great palaces, great homes and great castles. Germany’s multitude of states lacked national pride yet its impressive development saw Hanover with a magnificent opera house and Leipzig as a ‘little Paris’.10 So it was that Leibniz wrote his famous Theodicy (see Chapter 11) explaining how God had created the best of all worlds when in fact Leibniz, knowing what he knew, might have thought that his was the worst of all worlds with wars, religious tortures and executions, plundering, political turmoil and all the upheaval of the age.

Leibniz’s presence at the court of the house of Hanover was bolstered by the patronage of Sophie von der Pfalz whose husband was Ernst August. They were the parents to George I mentioned in the last chapter who became King of England and who left Leibniz behind due to his dispute with Newton. The other renowned woman was the daughter of George I – Caroline von Ansbach who became the Princess of Wales and who acted as go between for Leibniz in the Newton – Leibniz dispute.11 His quest for knowledge involved a vast network of contacts in Europe numbering 1,300 correspondents including such people as Bernoulli, De Volder, Des Bosses, Huygens, Spinoza, Newton, Clarke and his protégé Christian Wolff on a wide range of topics - even the nature of Space and Time.12 Leibniz’s letters to them showed an astonishing depth and coherence. Professor Antognazza defends Leibniz from a charge by Bertrand Russell that Leibniz disclosed the mythical double headed ‘Janus face’ of the appeaser of Dukes in public and a different philosophy in private. (Perhaps Lord Russell, being an earl, was unfamiliar with the day to day struggle of earning a living which normally includes impressing one’s employer as Leibniz had to do). In summary, she says that although metaphysical publications were not within the preferred aims of his employers “the value each publication was measured with reference to his main aim and objectives. Leibniz was a man of synthesis and reconciliation. His overarching goal was the improvement of the human condition. To his mind theoretical reflections on logic, mathematics, metaphysics, physics, ethics and theology were ultimately in the service of life and aimed at the happiness of mankind.”13 The culmination of all his scientific, mathematical and philosophical work saw him complete his Theodicy in 1710 towards the end of his life- a major work exceeding 250 pages.14

These objectives can be seen in his letter to the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great:

“Although I have very frequently been employed in public affairs and also in the judiciary system and am consulted on such matters by great princes on an ongoing basis, I nevertheless regard the arts and sciences as a higher calling, since through them the glory of God and the best interests of the whole of the human race are continuously promoted. For in the sciences and the knowledge of nature and art, the wonders of God, his power, wisdom and goodness are especially manifest; and the arts and sciences are also the true treasury of the human race, through which art masters nature and civilised people are distinguished from barbarian ones. For these reasons I have loved and pursued science since my youth….The one thing I have been lacking is a leading prince who adequately embraced this cause…I am not a man devoted solely to his native country or one particular nation: on the contrary, I pursue the interests of the whole human race because I regard heaven as my fatherland and all well-meaning people as its fellow citizens… To this aim, for a long time I have been conducting a voluminous correspondence in Europe and even as far as China, and for many years I have not only been a fellow of the French and English Royal Societies but also direct as president of the Royal Prussian Society of Sciences.”15

I think this letter sets Leibniz apart from other great scientists, mathematicians and philosophers in that he had a true quest for improvement of the human condition and the promotion of human happiness. He not only wrote over 3,000 works but strived in the hope of support for his many human improvement projects.

Leibniz’s quest for the betterment of the human condition and greater glory of God would sit comfortably with the universal goals of today’s United Nations whose noble goals include human rights, religious freedom, education and at times promotion of the arts, sciences and other ‘wonders of God’. It is not surprising that some leading philosophers see Leibniz as a truly modern mind, not only inventing new science, mathematics and logic but inventing a new synthesis of his new ideas with religion.

Extract from Chapter 7 LEIBNIZ’S WORLD

10Author, Johann Christoph Gottshed, per: Will and Ariel Durant The Age of Voltaire (ibid) , p400
11Oxford Dictionary of World History, (op. cit.) p283 and MR Antognazza , Leibniz (ibid).p8
12 MR Antognazza , Leibniz (ibid).p9
13 MR Antognazza , Leibniz (ibid).pp11-12
14 MR Antognazza , Leibniz (ibid).p10
15 Leibniz letter quoted from MR Antognazza , Leibniz (ibid).p36 in which she cites the source as Guerrier , 206-8