Essay on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.

Essay by antoinebirchCollege, UndergraduateA, April 2010

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Anthony Baird

Professor Ken Shiskowski

MATH 400

4 February 2010

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz: Mathematician and Philosopher. Or was it Alchemist?

Well, to be honest, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (also commonly spelled Leibnitz) is not normally known for being an alchemist, although he was interested in alchemy (and there is in fact an interesting story about Gottfried and alchemy that I will explain later). However, he is commonly remembered as a philosopher, mathematician, historian and jurist, rival of Newton, with whom he feuded regularly over the invention of calculus. Although Gottfried Leibniz left behind no philosophical magnum opus, he is still considered to be among the great thinkers of his century (17th). Leibniz developed a philosophy of Rationalism by which he attempted to reconcile the existence of matter with the existence of God. Bertrand Russel wrote that Leibniz's intellect "was highly abstract and logical; his greatest claim to fame as an inventor of the infinitesimal calculus."

…if we were able to understand sufficiently well the order of the universe, we should find that it surpasses all the desires of the wisest of us, and that it is impossible to render it better than it is, not only for all in general, but also for each one of us in particular… (Originally from The Monadology, 1714)

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was born in Leipzig, the son of professor of moral philosophy Friedrich Leibniz, and his third wife Catharina Schmuck, the daughter of a famous lawyer. When Leibniz was only six years old, his father died and he grew up in the care his mother. At school Leibniz was a brilliant student who taught himself Latin by reading an illustrated edition of Livy (Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people,