Monday, September 10, 2007

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716)

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There are two kinds of truths: those of reasoning and those of facts. The truths of reasoning are necessary and their opposite is impossible; the truths of fact are contingent and their opposites are possible.


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German philosopher, scientist, mathematician, diplomat and lawyer. Leibniz constructed the first mechanical calculator capable of multiplication and division. He also introduced the binary number system that is being used in all computers nowadays. Independently of Isaac Newton he 'invented' the infinitesimal calculus. He introduced several notations used in calculus to this day, for instance the integral sign representing an elongated S from the Latin word summa and the d used for differentials from the Latin word differentia. Leibniz thought symbols to be very important for the understanding of things. He also tried to develop an alphabet of human thought, in which he tried to represent all fundamental concepts using symbols and combined these symbols to represent more complex thoughts. Leibniz never finished this. His philosophical contribution to metaphysics is based on the Monadology, which introduces Monads as "substantial forms of being", which are akin to spiritual atoms, eternal, indecomposable, individual, following their own laws, not interacting ("windowless") but each reflecting the whole universe. In the way sketched above the notion of a monad solves the problem of the interaction of mind and matter that arises in Rene Descartes' system, as well as the individuation that seems problematic in Baruch Spinoza's system, which represents individual creatures as mere accidental modifications of the one and only substance. The Theodicee tries to justify the apparent imperfections of the world by claiming that it is optimal among all possible worlds. It must be the best possible and most balanced world, because it was created by a perfect God. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.]

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