Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniz


Friedrich Leibniz, a professor of moral philosophy at Leipzig (now part of Germany) and Catharina Schmuck (his third wife) had a child, Gottfried Wilhem, in July 1646.  Friedrich was by all accounts a loving and dedicated father who died when Gottfried Wilhem was only six.  Leibniz's mother raised him thereafter.  Leibniz entered the Nicolai School in Leipzig when he was seven.  He seemed to be a motivated and gifted pupil.  He entered the University of Leipzig at the age of 14, a tender but not unheard of age at the time.  He graduated from the University of Leipzig in 1663.  His thesis was De Principio Individui (On the Principle of the Individual).  During the following summer in Jena, Leibniz the mathematician and philosopher Erhard Weigel who had a significant influence on Leibniz's thought. October 1663 found Leibniz back in Leipzig working towards a doctorate in law. He was awarded his Master's Degree in philosophy at the age of 18 in 1664 for a dissertation relating philosophy and law to various ideas in mathematics.  Catharina passed on mere days after Leibniz presented his dissertation.  The next step for a European academician is to complete their habilitation.  Leibniz completed Dissertatio de arte combinatoria (Dissertation on the combinatorial art) to complete his habilitation in 1666.  This work is strongly reductionist in that it attempts account for reasoning and discovery in terms of such basic items as numbers, sounds, and colors. 

For reasons that remain somewhat unclear, the University of Leipzig denied Leibniz his doctorate in law.  Some of the possible explanations include political intrigue and his young age combined with the limited number of tutorships.  Leibniz instead moved to the University of Altdorf, receiving a doctorate in law in February 1667 upon completion of  De Casibus Perplexis (On Perplexing Cases).  Altdorf offered Leibniz a chair, but he declined preferring to enter into the service of Nuremburg alchemical society a as its secretary and later entering the employ of his friend Baron Johann Christian von Boineburg as a secretary, assistant, librarian, lawyer and advisori.  By 1670 Leibniz was also involved in improving the civil code for Mainz.  In 1671 he also published Hypothesis Physica Nova (New Physical Hypothesis).

1672 found Leibniz in Paris studying mathematics with Christiaan Huygens and on a mission for Boineburg to influence Louis XIV in ways that would keep the king from attacking German territories.  During this time he made some contributions to summing series while reading Saint-Vincent on that subject. Leibniz went to England with Boineburg's nephew on another peace mission.  While in England he demonstrated his incomplete calculating machine for the Royal society.  He was not well-recieved.  Pell informed him that his results on series turned out to have been in a book by Mouton.  Hook also made some disparaging remarks regarding Leibniz's calculator.  Nevertheless, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1673.

From 1673 to 1675 Leibniz worked on what would become his calculus.  He first adopted the notation we use today [f(x)dx] in 1675.  Newton and Leibniz exchanged letters regarding the calculus, but delays and miscommunications made their interactions less useful to one another as they might have been.  Newton ultimately believed that Leibniz had stolen his methods.  History has shown that Leibniz developed the ideas independently and that Leibniz's formalism, which included the integral sign and the derivative notation proved useful in subsequent work. 

From 1676 until his death in 1716 Leibniz lived in Hannover, at first as the librarian and Court Councilor for Duke Johann Friedrich.  Nevertheless, he traveled widely.  In 1684 Leibniz published On a New Method for Maxima and Minima his first publication outlining his work on the calculus.    Leibniz published Meditationes de Cognitione, Veritate et Ideis (Reflections on Knowledge, Truth, and Ideas) which clarified his theory of knowledge. In 1686-7 Leibniz wrote his Discours de Métaphysique (Discourse on Metaphysics) which was not published until 1846.  Leibniz developed a system of binary mathematics which he published in 1701.  Leibniz wrote Essais de Théodicée (Essays on Theodicy) and dedicated it to his close friend Sophie Charlotte (the cousin of Duke Johann Friedrich) who died in 1705.  It was published in 1710. Leibniz's claim in this work that ours was the best of all possible worlds inspired Voiltiare's Candide.   La Monadologie (The Monadology) was written in 1714-1715 but not published until 1720.

Leibniz died at the age of seventy in 1716.  Arthritis and goat troubled his later years and he was buried properly but with only one mourner, his assistant. 



Leibniz Wheel

Replicas of the Stepped Reckoner

More Elaborate Drawing of the Mechanism



G. W. LEIBNIZ - an Universal Philosopher


Donald Rutherford Site


Mactutor Biography


Leibniz-Arnauld Correspondence Page Gregory Brown's Liebnitiana