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  • Print publication year: 1994
  • Online publication date: May 2006

1 - Introduction

Summary

Many people first came across the name “Leibniz ” when reading Voltaire's Candide, and the encounter is not likely to inspire confidence in Leibniz as a great philosopher. In Voltaire's biting satire, the optimism of Doctor Pangloss - whose character is based either on Leibniz himself or on his disciples - appears as a foolish and almost wickedly complacent response to the evils of our world. The reader cannot help but sympathize with Candide's rhetorical question: “If this is the best of all possible worlds, . . . what can the rest be like?” Even initial exposure to Leibniz's own texts is not always encouraging. Perhaps the most widely read of Leibniz's works is the Monadology, and although, in many respects, a brilliant summary of his final metaphysical views, it is not the best introduction to his philosophy. It is natural to feel, as Bertrand Russell once did, that we are presented with “a kind of metaphysical fairy tale, coherent perhaps, but wholly arbitrary”; ”art of the problem is that the fairy tale metaphysics is presented to us in a “take it or leave it” manner with little in the way of sustained argument. Initially, then, Leibniz's reputation as a philosophical genius of the first rank may strike us as puzzling.

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The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz
  • Online ISBN: 9781139000277
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521365880
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