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date: 23 February 2020

(p. xvii) Introduction

(p. xvii) Introduction

G. W. Leibniz (1646–1716) is one of the towering figures of early modern thought. A giant of modern philosophy, comparable to philosophers of the greatest magnitude, he also made original contributions to an extraordinary variety of other fields, ranging from physics and mathematics to geology, physiology and technology, from history and librarianship to jurisprudence, politics and theology. Since the “re-discovery” of him in the early twentieth century following the publication of previously unknown logical papers, and the inception of the on-going critical edition of his works and correspondence, Leibniz has generated constantly increasing interest. Sustained traditions of intensive study of his thought continue to flourish in many countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and England but it is perhaps the North American world that has seen the most impressive surge of interest in recent decades. At the same time, international scholarship on Leibniz has constantly expanded to include not only historians of philosophy but also analytic philosophers, historians of science and mathematics, political theorists and theologians.

Amidst the current profusion of publications on Leibniz, this volume aims to provide a uniquely comprehensive, systematic, and up-to-date appraisal of Leibniz’s thought thematically organized around its diverse but interrelated aspects. More specifically, this volume has a much broader scope, and is addressed to a more advanced readership, than introductory overviews focused only on his philosophical thought. Given Leibniz’s firm place in the philosophical canon, the greater part of the Handbook is of course devoted to chapters on various aspects of his philosophy: his logic, metaphysics, philosophy of nature, ethics, and so on. At the same time, however, the volume’s ambition is to give a more rounded picture of Leibniz’s thought and activity than is normally done in an exclusively philosophical collection of essays. This is necessary not least because Leibniz’s strictly philosophical development and the commitments arising from it often only become fully intelligible when placed within the context of his extra-philosophical commitments, activities and objectives. The volume contains contributions, for instance, on Leibniz as a mathematician (including not only his calculus but also the analysis situs, the dyadic, his work as a statistician, etc.); on Leibniz as a scientist (physics but also geology etc.); on his technical innovations; on his work as an “intelligencer” and cultural operator, as a jurist, and as a historian, editor of sources and librarian; on his views on Europe’s political future and on religious toleration, ecclesiastical reunification, the advancement of (p. xviii) medicine, and so on. In brief, the volume also intends to serve as a cross-disciplinary point of contact for the many domains to which he contributed.

With regard to the handbook’s structure, it has often been noted that in Leibniz’s thought everything is connected to everything or – as he put it himself – that the principles of his system “are such that they can hardly be separated one from another. Whoever knows one well, knows them all.” (Leibniz to Des Bosses, November 7, 1710). Accordingly, there are many legitimate ways of organizing his doctrines for expositive purposes, various starting points from which to reconstruct his system, and different perspectives with which to look at the whole. Leibniz’s thought is more aptly described as a net of mutually supporting doctrines than as a hierarchical, linear system in which doctrines become more and more peripheral as one moves down in the chain of deduction. The order of sections in the volume therefore does not reflect the order of importance of certain aspects over others, but the necessary introduction of an order of discussion which is to some extent unavoidably artificial.

The exposition starts from the Platonic element in Leibniz’s thought, that is, from essences, truths, and possible worlds as eternal thoughts in the mind of God (Chapter 1). This provides the realist grounding in an otherwise conceptualist-nominalist ontology of logic, as well as the ontological setting for what follows: namely, key aspects of Leibniz’s logic, metaphysics, and theory of knowledge and language. Given the exceptionally strong link in Leibniz between logic and mathematics and his attempts at a mathematization of logic, the section on mathematics follows the chapter on the characteristica universalis, logical calculus, and language. From mathematics, the volume moves to its central part: that is, the cluster of chapters on the physical world and its metaphysical grounding, on scientific and technical work, and on scientific organization and cultural networking. The exploration of Leibniz as creator of and a key player in scientific and learned networks is followed by a discussion of his scholarly work as a librarian and historian, both of which involve the organization of scholarly endeavor more generally. The last two sections are devoted to ethics, jurisprudence, politics, and religion—a cluster designed to re-emphasize, in conclusion, the fact that the order of sections of this book does not reflect the order of their importance for Leibniz. In sum, the volume starts with God and ends with God and the moral-religious order which was fundamental to Leibniz’s overall intellectual vision. His exceptionally innovative contributions to the variety of fields explored in the body of the volume were for him all part of a comprehensive plan of development of all the sciences in the context of a stable and peaceful political order. His overarching aim was the improvement of the human condition and the celebration, thereby, of the glory of God in his creation.

Unavoidably in an exposition of Leibniz’s thought, there is a certain amount of overlap between chapters: to name only a few examples, the discussion of freedom and contingency (Chapter 5) is relevant to Leibniz’s theodicy (Chapter 6), and the notion of force (Chapter 17) is inseparable from a discussion of corporeal substances and monads (Chapters 18, 19, and 20). This revisiting of some topics in more than one place will instructively expose the reader to complementary views of the doctrine in question as well as to different interpretations of it (for instance, on the relationship between Leibniz’s philosophy of nature and his monadology).

(p. xix) This leads to the international cast of contributors whose ground-breaking work on different aspects of Leibniz’s thought has been assembled in this volume. Such cosmopolitanism is of paramount importance in creating a cutting-edge handbook for Leibniz. Alongside outstanding Anglo-American students of Leibniz, there are long established traditions of intensive study of Leibniz in many countries. The volume offers a distinctive and authoritative outlook on Leibniz also by tapping into the best scholarship on Leibniz world-wide. The list of authors includes very well-known and highly regarded Leibniz specialists as well as researchers from the new generation who have opened fresh lines of inquiry.

Thanks are due to Michael Misiewicz, Lucy Sheaf, and John Hotson for their help in editing some of the chapters, and to Francesca Hotson, who has helped out in her own inimitable way. Finally, I am especially grateful to leading Leibniz scholars who have commented on the structure of the volume and suggested contributors, in particular Daniel Garber, Massimo Mugnai, and Donald Rutherford.

Maria Rosa Antognazza

King’s College London (p. xx)