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Who Is Gottfried Leibniz?

By Venus D.
Updated May 23, 2024
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Gottfried Wilhem Von Leibniz, born on 1 July 1646, was a German mathematician and philosopher credited with having invented calculus independently of Isaac Newton. He also invented a number of philosophical ideas and a calculating machine. As was the custom at the time, Gottfried Leibniz was taught Latin and philosophy at a young age, especially that of Aristotle. He was exceptional because he pursued such subjects on his own, and in a short time, he was very advanced in Latin and began to question Aristotle’s theories. This attitude was indicative of the way in which he pursued knowledge throughout his life.

Armed with degrees in philosophy and law, Gottfried Leibniz soon began to focus his attention on philosophy. One of his goals was to reduce all philosophical theories to basic elements consisting of numbers, facts, sounds and colors. Gottfried Leibniz, along with Rene Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, is considered a 17th century rational thinker, espousing the philosophy that "any view applying to reason is a source of knowledge or justification."

In his work entitled Theodicee, Gottfried Leibniz outlines his idea of optimism, explaining that the universe is the best it can be. Natural disasters and other calamities that befall human existence serve a useful purpose. Their elimination could worsen the human condition.

Gottfried Leibniz invented the binary system, which today forms the basis for many computer programs. His mathematical work also involved determinants: he developed several ways for solving linear equations. The majority of his mathematical activity revolved around defending his creation of calculus.

In 1675, as Leibniz was creating differential calculus notations, he received two letters from Newton informing him of the work Newton had done in relation to calculus. Leibniz did not receive those letters immediately, and this would be the point of contention when others, including Newton, began to accuse him of plagiarism. Leibniz published an anonymous newsletter, known as Charta Volans, to explain the methods by which he discovered calculus. The matter still remains unresolved, although in the midst of the dispute, Newton and Leibniz corresponded directly about the details of the latter’s work.

The calculating machine that Gottfried Leibniz invented received mixed reviews. It received criticism from peers, but it garnered support from the Royal Society of London. In the end, however, Leibniz’s inability to finish the project affected his relationship with the institution.

Gottfried Leibniz's other ambitions included compiling all human knowledge and becoming a famous writer. His writings are so numerous that some of them still remain unaccounted for in collections of his work. He is perhaps most outstanding for his ability to cross the boundaries separating different academic disciplines.

Leibniz combined ideas from several disciplines to form the basis of his work within a particular discipline. His antipathy towards academic institutions of his time was mostly due to the fact that they prevented cross-disciplinary studies. With the current popularity of cross-disciplinary studies and majors in colleges and universities, Gottfried Leibniz can be seen as ahead of his time.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Jan 28, 2015

@ddljohn-- I'm not sure if they were on a friendly basis, there was a lot of controversy about it. But I think that they did develop calculus independently because they used different methods to get there. And if one of them did founded it first, it was probably Leibniz since he published about it before Newton. This topic has been overdone really. It has turned into an argument of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" I would like to hear about Leibniz' philosophical studies sometime. It would be a nice change from the discussion of "who first founded calculus?"

By ddljohn — On Jan 27, 2015

@SarahGen-- As far as I know, calculus isn't mandatory in high school. In my school, only a few people take it. So there is no need for students to be upset with Gottfried Leibniz. And it's still not certain who discovered calculus first.

I'm of the opinion that Leibniz and Newton must have came up with it simultaneously. I don't think that anyone copied anyone else. And the fact that the two communicated with one another during the whole process shows that they were on a friendly basis. They might have even helped one another with their ideas. I think that calculus needs to be credited to both equally.

By SarahGen — On Jan 27, 2015

I'm sure everyone appreciates the efforts and discoveries of Gottfried Leibniz, except maybe for students who have to take calculus in school. I personally did not like calculus and I basically never used it again after school.

I do like how Gottfried Leibniz was a proponent of cross-disciplinary studies though. I dislike the way schools separate curriculum into separate sections like social sciences versus engineering. Why can't students be interested in both?

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