Biographies

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a universal genius

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a universal genius

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is also known as Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. Philosopher, mathematician and German statesman, he is considered one of the greatest intellectuals of the seventeenth century.

He was born on July 1, 1646 in Leipzig (Saxony, now Germany). Leibniz's father, who was a professor of Philosophy, died when Gottfried was 6 years old.

Leigniz was educated in the universities of this city, Jena and Altdorf. Since 1666 (when he was awarded a doctorate in law) he worked for Johann Philipp von Schönborn, archbishop elector of Mainz, in various legal, political and diplomatic tasks.

In 1673, when the voter's regime fell, Leibniz marched to Paris. He remained there for three years and also visited Amsterdam and London, where he devoted his time to the study of mathematics, science and philosophy.

In 1676 he was appointed librarian and private advisor in the court of Hannover. During the following 40 years, until his death, he served Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, later elector of Hanover, and Jorge Luis, elector of Hanover, then George I, king of Great Britain.

Leibniz was considered a universal genius by his contemporaries. His work addresses not only mathematical problems and philosophy, but also theology, law, diplomacy, politics, history, philology and physics.

Leibniz's contribution to mathematics consisted in enumerating in 1675 the fundamental principles of infinitesimal calculus. This explanation came independently of the discoveries of the English scientist Isaac Newton, whose calculation system was invented in 1666.

Leibniz's system was published in 1684, Newton's in 1687, and the method of notation devised by Leibniz was universally adopted. In 1672 he also invented a calculating machine capable of multiplying, dividing and extracting square roots. He is considered a pioneer in the development of mathematical logic and one of the precursors of computers.

In Leibniz's philosophical exhibition, the Universe is made up of innumerable conscious centers of spiritual strength or energy, known as monads. Each monad represents an individual microcosm, which reflects the Universe in varying degrees of perfection and evolves independently of the rest of the monads.

The Universe constituted by these monads is, according to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the harmonious result of a divine plan. Humans, however, with their limited vision, cannot accept the existence of disease and death as integral parts of universal harmony. This Universe of Leibniz, is satirized as an utopia by the French author Voltaire in his novel Cándido, published in 1759.

The last years of his life, were occupied by the dispute with Newton about who had first discovered the Calculation. The debate about the 'paternity' of infinitesimal calculus was very intense and lasted several years. The mathematicians of the time were divided into two groups, the British supported Newton and those of the continent Leibniz. Leading the defenders of Leibniz was Johann Bernoulli.

The investigations resulted in both independently discovering the infinitesimal calculus, but Newton did it first. This dispute had very negative effects for British mathematicians who preferred to ignore Leibniz's method that was far superior.

He died on November 14, 1716 in Hanover (Germany).

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