In This Article Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Overviews
  • Essential Scholarly Aids
  • Biographies
  • Companions and Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Philosophical and Historical Background
  • Classic Studies
  • Recent General Studies
  • The Reception of Leibniz’s Philosophy

Philosophy Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
by
Brandon C. Look
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0226

Introduction

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (b. 1646–d. 1716) was one of the greatest of the early modern “rationalist” philosophers. He is perhaps best known to students of philosophy as an advocate of the principle of sufficient reason, the preestablished harmony of mind and body, philosophical optimism, and the doctrine of monads. While many if not all of these ideas have fallen out of favor, it is nevertheless the case that Leibniz’s arguments are deep and important and worth taking very seriously. Leibniz was an eclectic philosopher; he sought to draw out views that he thought were close to the truth and combine them in new ways to arrive at the most plausible picture of the world. It is for this reason that, while he is sympathetic to parts of the “modern” philosophy of René Descartes (b. 1596–d. 1650), Thomas Hobbes (b. 1588–d. 1679), and Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza (b. 1633–d. 1677), he offers criticisms of it at the same time through the language and ideas of ancient and medieval philosophy. He was not just a philosopher, however, but was also a mathematician, natural philosopher, engineer, historian, lawyer, and diplomat of the first rank. As this bibliography is intended principally for students of philosophy, his other work will largely be ignored, as well as scholarship on it.

Introductory Overviews

The following works should be considered as “first wave” readings—that is, as books and essays that students should consult first in their study of Leibniz’s thought. There is no reason for a student to read all of these works, but students should begin with at least one of the following. Jolley 2005 is the most recent and also the best of these introductions in English. If one can read French, then Fichant 2004 contains a remarkably clear and insightful introduction. The older introductions, Rescher 1967, Broad 1975, and Belaval 2005, are also good. Deleuze 2006 is more broad ranging.

  • Belaval, Yvon. Leibniz: Initiation à sa philosophie. Paris: Vrin, 2005.

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    An excellent introduction to Leibniz’s thought, this book emphasizes the genesis of his philosophy. One long first part (“la formation”) lays out Leibniz’s biography and philosophical development; the second, shorter part treats “le système.” Originally published in 1962.

  • Broad, Charlie Dunbar. Leibniz: An Introduction. Edited by C. Lewy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

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    Broad’s book is a very clear introduction that covers the range of Leibniz’s metaphysical views.

  • Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Rev. ed. Translated by Tom Conley. London: Continuum, 2006.

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    A look at Leibniz’s philosophy and his times. Contains fascinating and insightful observations that one is unlikely to encounter in much of the rest of Leibnizian scholarship. English translation of Le pli: Leibniz et le Baroque (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1988).

  • Fichant, Michel. “L’invention métaphysique.” In Discours de métaphysique Monadologie et autres textes. Edited by Michel Fichant, 1–123. Paris: Gallimard, 2004.

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    Fichant’s introduction to some of Leibniz’s central philosophical writings constitutes a small monograph in itself: it lays out the fundamental issues of Leibniz’s metaphysics in a remarkably clear and insightful manner. For students who read French, this is an excellent supplement to the introduction found in Jolley 2005.

  • Jolley, Nicholas. Leibniz. London: Routledge, 2005.

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    For students new to Leibniz’s thought, this is the first book to consult. Jolley covers the essentials of Leibniz’s philosophy in clear and straightforward prose and presents a compelling interpretation.

  • Rescher, Nicholas. The Philosophy of Leibniz. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1967.

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    Rescher’s book is dated, but it can still be helpful to beginning students.

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