Gottfried Leibniz

At the age of seven, Leibniz entered the Nicolai School in Leipzig.

Although he was taught Latin at school, Leibniz had taught himself far more advanced Latin and some Greek by the age of 12.

He seems to have been motivated by wanting to read his father’s books.

As he progressed through school he was taught Aristotle’s logic and theory of categorizing knowledge.

Leibniz was clearly not satisfied with Aristotle’s system and began to develop his own ideas on how to improve on it.

In later life Leibniz recalled that at this time he was trying to find orderings on logical truths which, although he did not know it at the time, were the ideas behind rigorous mathematical proofs.

As well as his school work, Leibniz studied his father’s books.

In particular he read metaphysics books and theology books from both Catholic and Protestant writers.

In 1661, at the age of fourteen, Leibniz entered the University of Leipzig.

It may sound today as if this were a truly exceptionally early age for anyone to enter university, but it is fair to say that by the standards of the time he was quite young but there would be others of a similar age.

He studied philosophy, which was well taught at the University of Leipzig, and mathematics which was very poorly taught.

Among the other topics which were included in this two year general degree course were rhetoric, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

At Jena the professor of mathematics was Erhard Weigel but Weigel was also a philosopher and through him Leibniz began to understand the importance of the method of mathematical proof for subjects such as logic and philosophy.

Weigel believed that number was the fundamental concept of the universe and his ideas were to have considerable influence of Leibniz.

By October 1663 Leibniz was back in Leipzig starting his studies towards a doctorate in law.

He was awarded his Master’s Degree in philosophy for a dissertation which combined aspects of philosophy and law studying relations in these subjects with mathematical ideas that he had learnt from Weigel.

A few days after Leibniz presented his dissertation, his mother died.

Leibniz put much energy into promoting scientific societies. He was involved in moves to set up academies in Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, and St Petersburg.

He began a campaign for an academy in Berlin in 1695, he visited Berlin in 1698 as part of his efforts and on another visit in 1700 he finally persuaded Friedrich to found the Brandenburg Society of Sciences on the 11th of July.

Leibniz was appointed its first president, this being an appointment for life.

However, the Academy was not particularly successful and only one volume of the proceedings was ever published. It did lead to the creation of the Berlin Academy some years later.

The War of the Spanish Succession began in March 1701 and did not come to a close until September 1714, with the Treaty of Baden.

Leibniz followed its episodes as a patriot hostile to Louis XIV.

His fame as a philosopher and scientist had by this time spread all over Europe; he was named a foreign member by the Academy of Sciences of Paris in 1700 and was in correspondence with most of the important European scholars of the day.

If he was publishing little at this point, it was because he was writing Théodicée (Theodicy), which was published in 1710.

In this work he set down his ideas on divine justice, particularly on the problem of evil, arguing that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created—a view famously mocked in Voltaire’s satirical novel Candide (1759).