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On Leibniz

Expanded Edition

Nicholas Rescher

Publication Year: 2013

Contemporary philosopher John Searle has characterized Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) as “the most intelligent human being who has ever lived.” The German philosopher, mathematician, and logician invented calculus (independently of Sir Isaac Newton), topology, determinants, binary arithmetic, symbolic logic, rational mechanics, and much more. His metaphysics bequeathed a set of problems and approaches that have influenced the course of Western philosophy from Kant in the eighteenth century until the present day. On Leibniz examines many aspects of Leibniz’s work and life. This expanded edition adds new chapters that explore Leibniz’s revolutionary deciphering machine; his theoretical interest in cryptography and its ties to algebra; his thoughts on eternal recurrence theory; his rebuttal of the thesis of improvability in the world and cosmos; and an overview of American scholarship on Leibniz. Other chapters reveal Leibniz as a substantial contributor to theories of knowledge. Discussions of his epistemology and methodology, its relationship to John Maynard Keynes and Talmudic scholarship, broaden the traditional view of Leibniz. Rescher also views Leibniz’s scholarly development and professional career in historical context. As a “philosopher courtier” to the Hanoverian court, Leibniz was associated with the leading intellectuals and politicians of his era, including Spinoza, Huygens, Newton, Queen Sophie Charlotte, and Tsar Peter the Great. Rescher extrapolates the fundamentals of Leibniz’s ontology: the theory of possible worlds, the world’s contingency, space-time frameworks, and intermonadic relationships. In conclusion, Rescher positions Leibniz as a philosophical role model for today’s scholars. He argues that many current problems can be effectively addressed with principles of process philosophy inspired by Leibniz’s system of monadology.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Since writing my Princeton doctoral dissertation on Leibniz’s philosophy of science in 1949–1951, now well over fifty years ago, I have returned to this thinker regularly by way of articles on special topics regarding his life and thought. The present volume collects together a representative sampling of these investigations. ...

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1. Leibniz on Possible Worlds

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pp. 1-44

Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds, elaborated and explained by him over many years in many writings, constitutes an interesting but rather complicated doctrine that goes to the very heart of his metaphysical system. The present discussion will provide a compact but synoptic sketch of its principal components. ...

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2. Contingentia Mundi: Leibniz on the World’s Contingency

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pp. 45-67

From the earliest days of his philosophizing Leibniz insisted upon the contingency of the world. It was always one of his paramount aims to avert a Spinozistic necessitarianism, and he regarded the contingency of the world’s constituents and processes as an indispensable requisite towards this end, one in whose absence the idea of divine benevolence would be inapplicable. ...

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3. Leibniz on Intermonadic Relations

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pp. 68-91

His theory of relations represents a crucial component of Leibniz’s philosophy. It is one of those many points of fertile concurrence where logic and metaphysics come together in fruitful symbiosis. But the theory confronts many problems. One of the gravest of these is the question, Are intermonadic relations real, or are they matters of mere seeming? ...

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4. Leibniz and the Plurality of Space-Time Frameworks

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pp. 92-105

Leibniz advocated a theory of space (and time) as “relative”—that is, as relative to the physical things ordinarily said to be located within space (and time). He opposed the doctrine of Newton’s Principia which cast space and time in the role of empty containers existing on their own and having a makeup that is indifferent to the things emplaced in them. ...

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5. Leibniz and the Concept of a System

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pp. 106-116

The aim of this essay is to examine the role of the systems concept in Leibniz’s thinking. It addresses the questions, Whence did Leibniz obtain the idea of system? How did he develop it? What sort of role did it play in his philosophy? ...

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6. Leibniz and Issues of Eternal Recurrence

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pp. 117-135

In the extensive philosophical literature that the Church Fathers devoted to the issue of “eternal recurrence,” three significant distinguishable ideas came to be conflated, namely: ...

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7. Leibnizian Neo-Platonism and Rational Mechanics

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pp. 136-145

One of the saliently definitive doctrines of Neoplatonism issues from the teaching of Plato’s Timaeus (29D–30C) that intelligence, reason, and value are the crucial factors for explaining and understanding the nature of the universe. ...

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8. Leibniz and the World’s Improvability

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pp. 146-169

Until quite recently, no philosopher since Leibniz’s day has grappled seriously with the question of whether it is feasible to see the actual order of nature as the optimal resolution of the problem of world realization under plausible constraints—constraints, that is, which could reasonably be seen as appropriate requirements for realizing a coherent universe.1 ...

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9. The Epistemology of Inductive Reasoning in Leibniz

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pp. 170-179

Philosophers naturally think of Leibniz as first and foremost a metaphysician: the author of the Monadology and the founder of the “new system of preestablished harmony.” From this perspective, Leibniz’s ideas regarding the theory of knowledge fade into the background. In the common way of thinking among philosophers, Leibniz is not a substantial contributor to the theory of knowledge. ...

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10. Leibniz, Keynes, and the Rabbis

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pp. 180-200

Leibniz’s fascination with difficult legal issues dates from his early years and found expression in the doctoral dissertation De casibus perplexis in jure, which he presented to the University of Altdorf at the age of twenty in 1666. This interest in law intersected with his concern for combinatorics and probability when, in a 1687 letter to Vincentius Placcius, ...

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11. Leibniz and Socialized Medicine

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pp. 201-204

In the autumn of 1688 Leibniz at last realized his long-standing aspiration for an audience with the ruling prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Leopold I. He nursed the hope of persuading the emperor to appoint him as an advisor for projects of public interest, and in the course of this audience he made many proposals along these lines. ...

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12. The Contributions of the Paris Period (1672–1676) to Leibniz’s Metaphysics

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pp. 205-218

This essay seeks to elucidate the biographical background of the preceding discussion of Leibniz’s recourse to the idea of perfection maximization through infinitistic comparisons. In pursuing this goal, it will assess the extent to which the philosophical and mathematical work of Leibniz’s Parisian period contributed to the formation of his entire metaphysical system.1 ...

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13. Leibniz Finds a Niche (1676–1677)

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pp. 219-255

On 1 November 1675 the royal treasury of Louis XIV paid out the sum of 100,000 livres in gold coinage to Christophe Brosseau, representative in Paris of John Frederick of Hanover, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and premier member of the house of Brunswick, which ruled various principalities in the Lower Saxon region of Germany. ...

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14. Leibniz Visits Vienna (1712–1714)

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pp. 256-288

Vienna, capital of the Holy Roman Empire, had long been a focus of Hanoverian interest in connection with not only the elevation of the dukedom to an electorate in the imperial system, but also the Grand Alliance’s war against France. Then too the “princely conspiracy” had led to the exile of Prince Maximilian Wilhelm from Hanover to the imperial service.1 ...

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15. Leibniz Crosses the Atlantic

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pp. 289-299

In 1967 Kurt Müller published a comprehensive survey of the Leibniz literature.1 It is striking that in this inventory of some 3,400 items, no more than a handful issued from North America. It will seem unbelievable to contemporary North American Leibnizians that one can count on one’s digits the North American scholars who had published on Leibniz ...

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16. Leibniz and American Philosophy

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pp. 300-312

In these deliberations I propose to sketch a small chapter of the large story of Leibniz’s vast influence upon subsequent philosophizing. The protagonists of this story are four American thinkers whose work was significantly prominent in the first half of the twentieth century, ...

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17. Leibniz and Cryptography

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pp. 313-351

It is unquestionably an exaggeration to say, with Voltaire, that men use speech only to conceal their thoughts from the view of others. But it is certainly the case that they sometimes do so. ...

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18. Leibniz’s Machina Deciphratoria: A Seventeenth-Century Proto-Enigma Machine

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pp. 352-368

G. W. Leibniz (1646–1716) was the quintessential Renaissance man, a German Leonardo da Vinci but with a difference. For instead of focusing on the plastic arts like Leonardo, Leibniz worked more abstractly—with mathematics. He invented the calculus, topology, determinants, binary arithmetic, symbolic logic, rational mechanics, and much else besides. ...

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19. Process Philosophy and Monadological Metaphysics

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pp. 369-378

Monadological metaphysics is intimately bound up with a process-philosophical perspective. And from the days of Leibniz and Boscovitch processoriented thinking has figured prominently in monadological philosophizing. After all, the term “monad” has both a physical and a metaphysical sense. ...

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20. Was Leibniz Ennobled?

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pp. 379-384

Leibniz’s earliest biographers unhesitatingly considered him ennobled and even sometimes spoke of him as Baron von Leibniz. Guhrauer conjectures (vermuthet) in his 1846 pioneering Leibniz biography that he was ennobled in January 1690, on the occasion of the crowning of Joseph I as King of the Romans.1 ...

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21. Leibniz Disillusioned Parting Ways from J. D. Crafft

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pp. 385-396

Johann Daniel Crafft or Krafft and sometimes Kraft (1624–9 April 1697) was for many years Leibniz’s collaborator and business partner. And not just that—he was as close a personal friend as Leibniz ever had. ...

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pp. 397-400

This inventory of my Leibnizian writings merits a brief preliminary account of the history of my concern with the work of this fascinating and many-sided thinker, whose influence has been a recurrent leitmotiv in my life. Indeed, our initial contact dates from a development of merely symbolic importance ...

Name Index

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pp. 401-406

Back Cover

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p. 418-418

E-ISBN-13: 9780822978145
E-ISBN-10: 0822978148
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962182
Print-ISBN-10: 0822962187

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013