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Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1646–1716)

Subject Religion

People Leibniz, Gottfried

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631198963.2005.x


German philosopher and mathematician. He studied law at Leipzig before developing his interest in philosophy and mathematics; in the late 1660s he made his famous discovery of the infinitesimal calculus. From a Protestant family, he was active in attempts to reconcile the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, and corresponded with J.B. Bossuet on the subject. He formulated traditional proofs of the existence of God, and maintained that suffering is a necessary evil which shows up the greater divine good; he was the first to use the term ‘theodicy’ in a book of that name of 1710. This belief, that we live in ‘the best of all possible worlds’, was the subject of a famous satire by Voltaire, but its rationalistic optimism was later an influence on Enlightenment religious thought. In Monadology (1720, trans. 1898), he developed the idea that all things are composed of an infinite number of ‘monads’, simple units containing spiritual energy which exist on a scale of ascending complexity, the highest being God. It proved difficult to reconcile this model with the Christian doctrine of the transcendent God, and in later life Leibniz became associated increasingly with ‘natural’ religion. 1984 : Leibniz . Brighton . 1937 : Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz , 2nd edn. London . 1954 : Leibniz . Harmondsworth . ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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