Another Leibniz

I’m continuing to read and think on Leibniz, as a parallel interest to other things I’m doing. I’ve just read Glenn A. Hartz, Leibniz’s Final System: Monads, Matter, Animals (Routledge, 2007; paperback 2010). From the book’s publicity

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was one of the central figures of seventeenth-century philosophy, and a huge intellectual figure in his age. This book from Glenn A. Hartz (editor of the influential Leibniz Review) is an advanced study of Leibniz’s metaphysics.

Hartz analyzes a very complicated topic, widely discussed in contemporary commentaries on Leibniz, namely the question of whether Leibniz was a metaphysical idealist, realist, or whether he tried to reconcile both trends in his mature philosophy. Because Leibniz is notoriously unclear about this, much has been written on the subject. In recent years, the debate has centered on whether it is possible to maintain compatibility between the two trends.

In this controversial book, Hartz demonstrates that it is not possible to maintain compatibility of idealist and realist views – they must be understood as completely separate theories. As the first major work on realism in Leibniz’s metaphysics, this key text will interest international Leibniz scholars, as well as students at the graduate level.

It’s not an easy read, partly due to the subject matter, and partly due to the style. I felt most comfortable when it remained close to Leibniz; much less so when it related him to more contemporary debates. There was some stuff on sandwichs and ‘cambridge relations’ that make little sense to me. But the book does open up what seem to be intriguing possibilities. 

Then, via John Protevi at New APPS, I was alerted to this interesting looking book: Justin E H Smith, Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Science of Life (Princeton UP, April 2011). The book blurb says

Though it did not yet exist as a discrete field of scientific inquiry, biology was at the heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of G. W. Leibniz. In Divine Machines, Justin Smith offers the first in-depth examination of Leibniz’s deep and complex engagement with the empirical life sciences of his day, in areas as diverse as medicine, physiology, taxonomy, generation theory, and paleontology. He shows how these wide-ranging pursuits were not only central to Leibniz’s philosophical interests, but often provided the insights that led to some of his best-known philosophical doctrines.

Presenting the clearest picture yet of the scope of Leibniz’s theoretical interest in the life sciences, Divine Machines takes seriously the philosopher’s own repeated claims that the world must be understood in fundamentally biological terms. Here Smith reveals a thinker who was immersed in the sciences of life, and looked to the living world for answers to vexing metaphysical problems. He casts Leibniz’s philosophy in an entirely new light, demonstrating how it radically departed from the prevailing models of mechanical philosophy and had an enduring influence on the history and development of the life sciences. Along the way, Smith provides a fascinating glimpse into early modern debates about the nature and origins of organic life, and into how philosophers such as Leibniz engaged with the scientific dilemmas of their era.



This one looks very interesting too. I’d mentioned my interest in his Protogaea last year when I was finishing up Chapter Nine of my territory book. In Geography, at least, Leibniz tends to get seen either as a proponent of a relative view of space, or through the lens of Deleuze’s strange little book on him. He is rarely read, but I think he should be. But it would be another Leibniz to the way he is often portrayed – a realist, empiricist Leibniz. In terms of bio-geography or physical geography there may not be much to add beyond what’s already out, but perhaps more might be said of him as a thinker of political and historical geography.

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8 Responses to Another Leibniz

  1. Scu says:

    What is the animals part about? I clicked the link, and it was less than useful.

  2. stuartelden says:

    I think you’d find this one very disappointing. They are ‘animals’ only in a really abstract sense – as corporeal substances. Better to look at the forthcoming one, I suspect.

  3. Dean says:

    As you might suspect, I agree with you that geographers could devote more serious attention to Leibniz . However, I was quite struck by your description of a ‘realist, empiricist Leibniz’. Perhaps this struck me because I’m more familiar with his metaphysics.

  4. Scu says:

    Thanks. You never know how ‘animals’ is going to be deployed in any given text. And I agree, the forthcoming book looks particularly interesting.

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Another Leibniz | Progressive Geographies -- Topsy.com

  6. Pingback: Protevi interviews Smith on Leibniz | Progressive Geographies

  7. Pingback: More on the history of philosophy | Progressive Geographies

  8. Pingback: Justin Smith – Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life | Progressive Geographies

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