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Perspectives on Science 10.1 (2002) 123-146

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Marks and Traces:
Leibnizian Scholarship Past, Present, and Future 1

Brandon Look
Department of Philosophy
University of Kentucky

At the turn of the last century, Bertrand Russell ([1900] 1937) and Louis Couturat (1901) ushered in a new era in Leibniz studies. Where Leibniz had largely fallen into disregard in the post-Kantian world, Russell and Couturat forced scholars to take a new look at this great early enlightenment [End Page 123] thinker. At the same time, their focus on the logical, linguistic, and mathematical aspects of Leibniz's thought also determined to a large degree the focus of subsequent generations of scholars of the history of philosophy. These aspects, in the view of Russell, Couturat, and their followers, were simply of more lasting consequence than Leibniz's conception of theodicy and monadological metaphysics. Yet, surveying recent works on Leibniz, one sees that the tide has turned: scholars have recognized that when we reduce Leibniz to a mere logician or even to a metaphysician sans théologie, we not only lose what is most interesting and important in Leibniz we also lose any way to see his philosophy for the elaborate and beautiful system that it was.

We have witnessed a tremendous boom in Leibniz studies. Not only isLeibniz's thought studied with the same care as that of Kant, but the variety, complexity, and richness of Leibniz's philosophical world-view arenow slowly re-emerging from years of being reduced to a simplistic logical outcome of a handful of metaphysical doctrines. And, again likeKantian philosophy, the entire Leibnizian system is being taken seriously as a crucial moment in the development of modern philosophy. Perhaps we now think both Leibniz and Kant are wrong but both interesting; perhaps we think both are right sometimes in different ways. But there islittle doubt that we have come to realize that a proper under- standing ofthe views of Leibniz is important if we are to have a proper understanding of the entire history of philosophy, and similarly we have come to realize that a proper understanding of Leibniz's thought is onlypossible ifwe understand the many influences on and concerns of Leibniz.

The books under review are the most important to have appeared in the last ten years. 2 They all display a depth of historical understanding rarely equaled in most works of previous generations, and they all demonstrate a high degree of philosophical acuity. Most important, the authors show how penetrating and profound Leibniz's intellect was and how worthwhile the study of Leibniz can be. In what follows I shall sketch the major themes of these books, and I shall conclude with a discussion of some of the general lessons to be drawn from these works as well as some of the philosophical issues that arise from a reading of these books. [End Page 124]

1. Recent Work on Leibniz

1.1 The Young Leibniz

A decade ago one might have complained that Leibniz's early philosophy had been neglected by scholars in favor of his later, seemingly richer theory of monads. This is certainly no longer the case, and the works of Beeley, Busche, Mercer, and Moll have all made or offer to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of Leibniz. Given the nature of scholarship and philosophy, however, it should not be surprising if this work on the young Leibniz were to generate more reflection on the subject rather than less. The questions that lie at the center of all these studies include the following: How and by whom was Leibniz most decisively influenced in his formative years? What problems did he take to be most important and most in need of a solution? How does his early philosophy relate to his mature philosophy?

Konrad Moll's book is the third and final volume of his work on the young Leibniz. 3 Following up on those volumes, which as their titles indicate concerned the influences on Leibniz of his Jena professor Erhard Weigel and the French atomist Pierre Gassendi, this study...


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