Gottfried Leibniz


Gottfried Leipzig was born on July 1, 1646 to Friedrich Leibniz a Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Leipzig. In 1652, he experienced the loss of his father, at the age of 6. Perhaps it was motivation because in 1654, at the age of eight, he teaches himself Latin in order to read Livy and Calvisius and is permitted into his late father's extensive library. In the next seven years, he would devoted himself to the study of Latin Classics and the Church Fathers.  

In the Spring of 1666, Leipzig started his extensive studies of science and scholastic philosophy and then law. Later that year, he applies for doctor of law but is denied on the grounds that he is too young. Goes to University of Altdorf where it is immediately conferred.

Leibniz laid the modern foundation of the movement from decimal to binary as far back as 1666 with his 'On the Art of Combination', laying out a method for reducing all logics to exact statements. He believed logic, or ‘the laws of thought’ could be moved from a verbal state - which was subject to the ambiguities of language, tone and circumstance - into an absolute mathematical condition:

Leibniz is offered a professorship at Altdorf in 1667, which he declines in order to enter the service of his patron the Baron Johann Christian von Boyneburg and the Elector of Mainz. In 1672 he goes to Paris on a diplomatic mission for Boyneburg. Boyneburg dies the same year and Leibniz stays in Paris four years and is heavily influenced by his first extensive exposure to modern philosophy, meeting Arnauld and Malbranche, and by the mathematical and scientific genius of the physicist, Christiaan Huygens.  

While in Paris, in 1673, he enters the service of the Duke John Frederick of Brunswick. By the time he leaves Paris he has already layed the foundations for his differential calculus. Three years after arriving to Paris, he is asked by John Frederick to return to Germany.  On his way to Hanover he visits England and stops in Holland where he meets Spinoza.  He spends the next forty years in the service of three successive dukes of the Brunswick family in Hanover. In 1679, John Frederick dies, succeeded by Ernst August. This succession leads to a friendship between Sophie, wife of Ernst August, and their daughter Sophie Charlotte, who became queen of Prussia. In 1685, August assigns Leibniz the task of writing the history of the house of Brunswick. Leibniz shows an important connection between the house of Brunswick and the house of Este, one of the most important families of the Italian Renaissance. Ernst August passes away in 1714, succeeded by George Ludwig who also became king of Great Britain. 

In 1686, Leibniz composes Systema Theologicum, a work which sought to bring Protestants and Catholics together on the basis of their creeds, religious unity being one of Leibniz's primary concerns. He also composes Discourse on Metaphysics. In 1695, he publishes New System of Nature and A Specimen of Dynamics. In 1697 he writes On the Ultimate Origination of Things and in the following year On Nature Itself. One of his crowing achievements came in 1700, where the Berlin Society of Sciences founded with Leibniz elected president for life and is made a foreign member of the French Academy. In 1704, he finishes New Essays on Human Understanding, a response to John Locke's Essays Concerning Human Understanding, which he refrains from publishing upon the death of Locke in the same year.

The only philosophical work published in his lifetime was titled Theodicy. He found some sort of confirmation for his theories in the I Ching's depiction of the universe as a progression of contradicting dualities, a series of on-off, yes-no possibilities, such as dark-light and male-female, which formed the complex interaction of life and consciousness. He reasoned that, if life itself could be reduced to a series of straightforward propositions, so could thought, or logic. Heartened by his new insights, Leibniz set out to refine his rudimentary binary system, studiously transposing numerals into seemingly infinite rows of ones and zeros - even though he couldn't really find a use for them.

Being the rationalist philosopher he was, Leibniz famously said "This is the best of all possible worlds," he opened himself to unmerciful ridicule. It all began in the following century with Candide, Voltaire's comical novel of a good-natured young man, Candide and his philosophical mentor, Dr. Pangloss (Voltaire's rendition of Leibniz). In his journeys, young Candide encounters floggings, unjust executions, epidemics, and an earthquake patterned after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which had leveled the city. Nothing, however, can shake Dr. Pangloss's insistence that "Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." When Candide sets out to save Jacques, a Dutch Anabaptist, from drowning, Pangloss stops him by proving that the Bay of Lisbon had been "formed expressly for the Anabaptist to drown in."

It was funny but unfortunately, it all misconstrues Leibniz's thesis. Leibniz was a rationalist, a philosophical term-of-trade for someone who things that reason take precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge ( as opposed, for example, to an empiricist, who maintains that the senses are the primary path to knowledge.) Leibniz got to his idea that this is the best of all possible worlds by arguing by reason alone that:
1. There would be no world at all if God had not chosen to create a world.
2. The "principle of sufficient reason" says that when there is more than one alternative, there must be an explanation for why one of the case rather than another.
3. In the case of God's choosing a particular world to create, the explanation must necessarily be found in the attributes of God himself, since there was nothing else around at the time.
4. Because God is both all-powerful and morally perfect, he must have created the best possible world. If you think about it, under the circumstances it was the only possible world. Being all-powerful and morally perfect, God could not have created a world that wasn't the best.


Leibniz was also an inventor of things other than presenting the ways that we can view events. His stepped wheel calculator was built for decimal numbers. Although he apparently gave some thought over the years to another machine which would incorporate his beloved binary system, the long strings of binary numbers that replaced single decimal digits must have seemed daunting. Actually, they must have seemed overwhelming, because Leibniz seemed to lose the plot towards the end of his life, endowing his binary system with a kind of quasi-religious mysticism. Binary numbers, he came to believe, represented Creation. The number one portraying God; and zero depicting Void. 

In 1716, Leibniz finally succumbed in Hanover after a prolonged case of arthritis and gout. The only one to attend his funeral was his secretary, Eckhart. Even though Leibniz was a life member of the Royal Society and the Berlin Academy of Sciences neither organization saw fit to honor his passing. His grave went unmarked for more than 50 years. Leibniz died without achieving his dream of a universal mathematical/logical language, but leaving the fundamental idea of the binary yes-no/on-off principle for others to play with.


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