'Leibniz: New Essays 2ed: New Essays on Human Understanding'
By Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von (Author), Peter Remnant (Editor), Jonathan Bennett (Editor)
In the New Essays on Human Understanding, Leibniz argues chapter by chapter with John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, challenging his views about knowledge, personal identity, God, morality, mind and matter, nature versus nurture, logic and language, and a host of other topics. The work is a series of sharp, deep discussions by one great philosopher of the work of another. Leibniz's references to his contemporaries and his discussions of the ideas and institutions of the age make this a fascinating and valuable document in the history of ideas. The work was originally written in French, and the version by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett, based on the only reliable French edition (published in 1962), first appeared in 1981 and has become the standard English translation. It has been thoroughly revised for this series and provided with a new and longer introduction, a chronology on Leibniz's life and career and a guide to further reading.
Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician from Leipzig in whose university he studied. He is one of the foremost metaphysicians of the modem period and in many ways the one who, among the famous Western philosophers, is closest to the traditional philosophy and metaphysics which Islam, Christianity and other traditions share. He was a Protestant in a Catholic environment and therefore decided to leave his homeland, traveling to Paris where he studied for several years. He returned to Berlin in the year 1700 where he became the president of the Academy of Sciences. He was, in fact, both an eminent philosopher and mathematician and is one of the discoverers of the science of calculus.
Leibniz sought to harmonize the traditional views of God, man and nature with new ideas which were emanating from scientific and philosophical circles. For him God's existence and final causes were necessary to provide ultimate explanations of anything. He believed the world to be a harmonious whole serving divine purposes in accordance with laws of efficient causes. He refused to separate mind and body as Descartes had done and believed in monads, that is, units whose spontaneous activity comprised the world. Leibniz had a great deal of interest in logic and sought to create an alphabet of human thought, assembling an encyclopedia of human knowledge. The foundation of his philosophy and what underlies his logic as well as the study of the alphabet of human thought is the idea of the pre-established harmony of all the monads in the universe based on the way that God had created each thing.
Leibniz was also very much interested in what has come to be known as the perennial philosophy and was the first famous Western philosopher to use such a term. This was based on his interest in non- Western philosophies including Islamic as well as Chinese thought. He saw a set of universal truths behind all of these expressions of traditional philosophy, truths which he saw as perennial.
The general principles of his philosophy include the principle of identity, the principle of the best, that is, God being wise chooses the best among possibilities, the principle of sufficient reason, and metaphysically necessary principles such as everything possible demands to exist. There were also the principles of order such as continuity, every action involving a reaction, the equality of cause and effect and other laws of this kind.
Most of the works of Leibniz are expressed in letters, short essays and correspondences such as the famous exchange which he carried out with Clarke concerning his view and those of Newton on physics and nature. His one large work is The Theodicy which must be considered his basic opus. In any case, Leibniz is one of the most significant philosophers of the eleventh/seventeenth century and the only one who tried to preserve at least some link with the world of traditional metaphysics and philosophy.
(Seyyed Hossein Nasr)