This text has a few references to a very small
part of the immense literature on Leibniz
with some brief comments, preceded by
one general comment on Leibniz.
Leibniz was a universal
genius, in the sense that he worked on very
much - law, history, mathematics, logic,
physics, diplomacy, philosophy, theology,
mining and technology to name some - in all of
which he did first class work, which hardly anyone
(if anyone) is capable of understanding and
surveying most. Also, he published little of the
great amount of work he did, and much of the work
he did was incidental and written hastily. There
are several editions of his mathematical and
philosophical texts, but to this day many of
his writings have not been published and are in a
library in Hannover, Germany.
Also, such editions of
selections of his works as I've seen tend to
involve a considerable part
of the pre-conceptions of the selectors
and editors. Besides, there is the problem
that Leibniz wrote in several languages - French,
Latin and German - and while he is usually clear,
often his reasoning is subtle and not fully
stated. Part of the reason for this last fact is
that Leibniz did not have a high opinion of most
men's intellects, and another part of the reason
that often he did not give his opinions fully in
public is that he lived in a time where, as his
correspondent the mathematician Bernouilli wrote,
"some theologians here would get me burned if they
read my speculations".
Finally, to conclude these
brief remarks: My personal assessment of Leibniz
is that he was one of he clearest minds I have
read in philosophy, together with Plato,
Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ockham - and that it
doesn't matter much whether I agree with his (or
their) conclusions, since what matters most
is his (and their) clarity, scope, and subtlety,
and their honesty and courage in really facing and
trying to solve fundamental problems. And the reader who is "interested in
philosophy" should realize that the people I just
mentioned had a rather different orientation
towards philosophy than one finds nowadays in
universities, one important difference being that
they were not making a career with their
philosophies but were staking their lives for
Here are some useful
texts from and about Leibniz:
Latta : The Monadology Etc.
Ernst Cassirer Ed.: G.W.
Leibniz - Hauptschriften zur Grundlegung
der Philosophie (2 Bände).
C.D. Broad :
Paul Edwards Ed. :
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, article Leibniz
Otto Saame Ed. : G.W.
Leibniz - Confessio philosophi
Leibniz - Philosophical Writings
Robert Merrihew Adams:
Leibniz - Determinist, Theist, Idealist
There is a
brief reference on this site to
a collection of Latta's 1898 (2nd ed 1925)
selections from, translations of and
comments on Leibniz.
This is one of Russell's first books, and also
contains an appendix with translated selections.
These are two German volumes with translations
from texts of Leibniz that were available in the
beginning of the 20th Century. It's a selection
that gives a fair survey of Leibniz, including
some of this writings on mathematics. Cassirer
also provides introductions, which are useful but
Lectures on Leibniz by Broad, published after
Broad's death by Casimir Lewy.
Ed.: This is the best Encyclopedia of
Philosophy I know, and the Leibniz article in it
is well done, and has the additional merit of
being part of a large context of philosophy (so
you can check out many other things).
Ed.: This is an edition of an early work
of Leibniz with the original Latin + a
German translation and many useful notes
(also in German).
Rescher discusses Leibniz and also
Russell and Broad on Leibniz. This is
the briefest of the books on the list I give.
Another set of translated selections from Leibniz.
This is a fairly thick and recent scholarly volume
that subtly discusses quite a few interpretations
of Leibniz. It has the merit of doing this mosty
in historical order, and on the basis of recent
better editions of Leibniz's writings than others
on the list had available.
There are two
points well worth making about Leibniz and logic
(1) His ideas on logic
inspired many, and some of the relevant texts are
in Parkinson and Cassirer. Notably, Leibniz much
impressed Kurt Gödel, who spend the second
part of his life thinking about Leibniz and
writing notes about him. Whether these are
published I don't know - they happen to be
written in a kind of German shorthand
(Gabelsberger) few people these days can
read. The best reference here I have read is:
Hao Wang: "Reflections on
(2) Leibniz's ideas on
the infinitesimal calculus (which he invented, as
did Newton, but independently) were
criticized by Bishop Berkeley, but were taken up
and given a beautiful logical foundation by Abraham Robinson in
the 1960-ies and later. This is now known as "non-standard analysis"
and has the merit of being often considerably
clearer than the epsilon-delta approach to limits
worked out by Cauchy and Weierstrass.
last update: Mar 11 2004