Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz

1646-1716. German philosopher. Born at Leipzig, he studied jurisprudence, mathematics, and philosophy at Leipzig and Jena universities, entered the service of the elector of Mainz in 1666, and in 1676 at the invitation of the duke of Brunswick became the ducal librarian and historiographer at Hanover. There he spent the rest of his life, working on his massive history of the House of Brunswick. As a philosopher Leibnitz was dissatisfied with Descartes's dualism and the mechanistic views of man and society propounded by Newton and Locke. In his Monadology (1714) and other works he asserted the dynamic and spiritual nature of the world which he saw in terms of motion, but whether, as he believed, his idea of God is essential as the first link in his great schematic chain of causation must be a moot point. His outlook is buoyant and hopeful, and leads on to the optimism of the Enlightenment.

As a Protestant theologian Leibnitz's optimism in conspicuous, and his Théodicée (1710), written in reply to Bayle's* Dictionary, demonstrates the harmony of faith and reason. But his intellectualist view of Christianity as the summation of all religions, and even more his idea of evil as merely the unfortunate consequence of the necessary limitation of all things created mark a serious departure from Lutheran orthodoxy. Repelled by his knowledge of the excesses of the Thirty Years' War, Leibnitz arranged during the years 1686-91 a number of fruitless negotiations between Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians, and strove to promote union between the Protestant churches, helping to establish the Collegium Irenicum in Berlin in 1703. A profound if sometimes abstruse metaphysician, he is rightly regarded as the real founder of the German philosophic tradition.

R.W. Meyer, Leibnitz and the Seventeenth century Revolution (1952); N. Rescher, The Philosophy of Leibnitz (1966); K. Muller and W. Totok, Studia Leibnitiana (1969f.).