Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1646–1716)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA052-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 23, 2019, from

2. The programme

Leibniz never wrote a single work, book or article, that constitutes a canonical exposition of his thought, preferring the short article or letter where he presents his thought from one or another point of view, often in response to the thought of another (Descartes was a favourite target), or in response to questions from a correspondent. Indeed, Leibniz’s complex thought seems to resist the kind of comprehensive treatment found in works like Descartes’ Meditations or Spinoza’s Ethics. Furthermore, it is only to be expected that Leibniz’s beliefs changed over his long career, and from one presentation of his philosophy to another.

Despite its complexity, there are some themes and characteristics that run throughout Leibniz’s thought, at least in the mature period that starts after his return from Paris in the late 1670s, the period on which this entry concentrates. (While there was not a radical break from the early years to the later, there is certainly a marked development.) Basic to his thought was his philosophical optimism: this is the best of all possible worlds, freely created by a rational God, who always chooses the best for a good reason, without any arbitrariness. It is because of our limited understanding that we cannot determine a priori all the general or particular features of this world. This conception of God and his creation shaped Leibniz’s philosophy: the world is ultimately both rational and in every way perfect. Furthermore, though Leibniz’s philosophical intelligence ranged widely, certain problems were particularly important to him. In an untitled note from the late 1680s he wrote: ‘there are two labyrinths of the human mind, one concerning the composition of the continuum, and the other concerning the nature of freedom, and they arise from the same source, infinity’ (Leibniz 1989: 95). The labyrinth of the composition of the continuum concerns the ultimate make-up of the world; the labyrinth of freedom concerns how freedom and contingency are possible in the world. The solution to both involves understanding the literally infinite complexity found in the world God created. Leibniz had an opinion about virtually every philosophical and scientific issue of his day, but these two issues consistently drew his attention.

Citing this article:
Garber, Daniel. The programme. Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1646–1716), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA052-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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