- The Leibniz-Arnauld Correspondence: With Selections from the Correspondence with Ernst, Landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfelsby G. W. Leibniz
In February 1686, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz sent a letter to Antoine Arnauld, via their mutual friend Ernst, the Landgrave of Hessen-Rheinfels. This letter contained a short summary of Leibniz's most recent philosophical work, the Discourse on Metaphysics, and asked Arnauld for his reaction to it. Arnauld's response was extremely harsh: he called Leibniz's views shocking and useless (9) and advised him to stop engaging in metaphysical speculations (11). Yet, Leibniz did not let this discourage him. In the exchange that followed, Leibniz was intent on convincing Arnauld that the views contained in the Discourseare well supported and less radical than Arnauld initially thought. And while he never convinced Arnauld completely, he managed to allay some of Arnauld's worries. Along the way, the two men discussed topics such as divine foreknowledge, freedom, contingency, complete concepts, substancehood, causation, the laws of physics, and the special status of rational souls. The correspondence continued until March 1690—though Arnauld stopped responding to Leibniz's letters in August 1687. It is indisputably one of the most important philosophical texts from Leibniz's middle period and also sheds light on Arnauld's views.
Even though various editions and translations of this correspondence have long been available, Stephen Voss's new edition greatly facilitates scholarly engagement with this text. Like other volumes of the invaluable Yale Leibniz series, it contains the original language text along with an English translation on facing pages, which is enormously convenient. The volume also includes two short but useful indices and multiple appendices: an edition and translation of manuscript variants as well as an edition and translation of seventeen annotations that Leibniz made in the margins of some of the letters years later. Moreover, an extremely rich 40-page introduction provides a summary of the correspondence and a vast amount of background information about the manuscripts, the correspondence and its intellectual milieu, and, of course, about the edition itself as well as its relation to other editions. Perhaps most importantly, Voss's edition is based on a much wider range of manuscripts than other editions; more on that later. The English translation is often more literal than other translations. This is intentional; Voss opted, as he puts it, to "teach us to hear Leibniz and Arnauld as they spoke in the seventeenth century" rather than to "teach them to speak to us in the twenty-first" (xxiv).
Because the authoritative Akademie edition of the Arnauld correspondence has already been published ( Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe, series 2, volume 2, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2009), one might have expected Voss simply to reprint the French text from that edition. Instead, he produced a new edition, working from sixty-two extant manuscripts that are housed in multiple libraries and archives across Europe. Because the manuscripts of some of the letters that Leibniz sent to Arnauld are lost, Voss reconstructs their content on the basis of extant drafts and copies. These reconstructions are produced with great care: the textual basis for the reconstructions is meticulously documented in an appendix, and they include nothing that does not occur in any of the witnesses to the lost manuscript. This is one important respect in which Voss's approach differs from that of the Akademie and other editors, who merely establish the text of extant manuscripts instead of attempting to reconstruct a lost original. Another important difference is that Voss consulted many manuscripts that were not consulted by other editors. That alone would make Voss's edition indispensable for Leibniz scholars, even if it did not have other virtues. For a list of discrepancies between Voss's edition on the one hand and the Akademie edition as well as Geneviève Rodis-Lewis's edition ( Lettres de Leibniz à Arnauld d'après un manuscrit in...