New Paradigm Show: Leibniz the Wild Genius
Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716), a wild, optimistic genius, spent his life improving mankind—in economics, science, philosophy, and politics. The inventor of the calculus and a creator of physical economics, his work and life serve as a model for today, and were an inspiration to the young Lyndon LaRouche. Jason Ross presents the first in a series of discussions.
Add your thoughtful comments and questions, to be responded to in future shows.
MEGAN BEETS: Hi, welcome everyone. The personality, the genius and the role in fundamentally altering the course of human history of Gottfried Leibniz has played a crucial role in the thinking of Lyndon LaRouche, going back to his youth, growing up in New England. But he's placed a renewed and very strong emphasis on it in the recent period. Unfortunately, Leibniz is someone about whom very few people, especially in the United States, know very much of anything, if anything at all. But he's somebody whose role is critical for us today to know, and to gain insight from, with the task at hand that we face – the need to fundamentally alter the course of human events today. So without any further ado, first of all, I'd like to welcome our live audiences here in the studio, also in New Jersey, and in Detroit. And I'd like to welcome Jason.
JASON ROSS: Thanks. There's so much to say about Leibniz, who is someone of importance. It's hard to actually believe how much this man did. This is going to take several presentations. The way these are going to work is, there are going to be, at least in the future ones, some experiments that will be done, opportunities to see these things done via video. There's definitely going to be discussion. So both, if you're watching this live, if you're seeing this recorded, please ask questions, put in comments. Part of the future presentations will be responding to those comments that come in.
I think we look at this from the standpoint of what's needed today, the immense crisis that we find ourselves in today, the idiocy of economic, what passes for economic thinking among most people, both politicians, but also in academia, economics professors who don't know the first thing about economics, who teach about money, instead of the productive powers of labor, the scientific ability for human beings to transform our relationship to nature. Where is economics? It's not there. So these are big questions that need answers: What is economics? What is mankind? What is science? What is justice?
These are the kinds of questions that Leibniz played a key role in defining answers to ideas for, that helped move society forward in a dramatic way. He was a fighter for what ended up becoming the American Republic. He was a scientist in his own right. He worked to unify the different churches in Europe. He was a statesman. He was a political organizer. He was an economist. He developed a powerful and beautiful view of the world, that we can benefit from today, and indeed, really must.
The trouble is, that we are handicapped by an amazing lack of historical understanding right now, about the United States, and about the universal history in which the U.S. plays a part. The idea of what's required for intelligent citizenship really should be a very high level, when we consider all the changes that have occurred over the past half millennium, with the development of modern science, of modern society, this incredible wealth of developments and advancements. This is a birthright: knowledge about this is something that every person should expect to be able to have an understanding of. This should be the goal of education. This should be the point of the universities. Where did we come from? How are we going to move forward? But we don't have that.
Now, as a way of conceptualizing some of the greatest thinkers, especially in the field of science, Lyndon LaRouche, has developed, over the past few years, a concept of two triads of scientific thinkers. And I'll put Leibniz in this context. The first triad that LaRouche presents consists of Nicholas of Cusa, of Filippo Brunelleschi, and of Johannes Kepler. Cusa is one of the few people that Leibniz can be compared to. This man created modern science, as a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He also fought for church reconciliation and reunification. He was a statesman. He organized politically.
Brunelleschi: how many people today know his name, let alone how he constructed the magnificent dome on the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, about his development of perspective, or of building the Pazzi Chapel?
And take Kepler. LaRouche had said some years ago, I think in a 2008 paper, that if a real understanding of how Kepler had achieved his discoveries was commonly known, empire would simply have to vanish from the Earth. Here's what LaRouche said:
Powerful institutions, such as the British Empire in particular, would disintegrate for loss of self-confidence, if the truth concerning the facts of Kepler's discovery were generally acknowledged among academics and related professionals. Or, put the same point another way: religious faith in that Olympian Zeus who is the putative father of all European imperialism, would evaporate; the high priests of Babylon would fall, and the entire system of belief associated with the British system and its antecedents would crumble, forever, as if before one's eyes. — "The Fraud of Free Trade"
That's a pretty powerful statement from LaRouche about what the impact could be of successful knowledge of this thought, of this history of thought.
Kepler discovered the motions of the planets and overthrew, what in his day was very much like the Bertrand Russell influence of today. Kepler overthrew Aristotelianism. He overthrew Euclidianism. He overthrew that approach to knowledge, and said that we can know causes, physical causes.
After that first triad of thinkers, LaRouche identifies Gottfried Leibniz, Carl Gauss, and Bernhard Riemann, as key figures leading into a second triad of discovery of Planck, Einstein, and Vernadsky. Without getting into great detail on what all of these other figures had done, I think it's enough to say that Leibniz plays an essential and necessary role. He lived a necessary life. Looking back at the development of history since his time, what he did was necessary for the path that history took.
What I'm going to do today is an overview, some basics of his life, some of the basic concepts that he fought for and believed in, some of the discoveries that he had made, and give a general outline for what the following presentations will be, and how that will unfold.
To situate him, Gottfried Leibniz lived from 1646-1716. The year of his birth was two years before the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia ended the religious Thirty Years’ War that had ravished Europe. He was born in Leipzig, which was a very Lutheran area of Germany, but was not a very closed-minded Lutheran by any means, even as a young man. What we find through his life is a consistent seeking for the most universal way of understanding things, and of using that understanding to better mankind – an understanding that he thought was not contrary to a better understanding of God, or of glorifying God. He saw no distinction between that and uplifting mankind.
To get into some of the specifics now, as he was growing up, he attended college, university. He studied law in particular. He had a Masters and a Doctorate in Law, and he's coming into this in the period right after Thomas Hobbes has written The Leviathan. This is Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 book, where he says that the basis for social relations—the basis of law—is a social contract. Hobbes’s view of mankind was that fundamentally we are all at war with each other, and that in order to preserve some sense of peace, to defend yourself from other people taking your goods, the way we're going to solve that is by agreeing to form a society, so that we will act less beastly toward others, simply so that no one acts in a beastly way towards us. In this system, Hobbes’s view of the Leviathan, the supreme ruler, the absolute ruler, the head of government, had no sense of justice that would apply to him. That is, in his view, whoever has the most power, is free from responsibility, except trying to maintain that power, but that justice itself was really an empty concept, that that ruler could do anything. We're going to see that theme attacked and successfully opposed by Leibniz through the course of his life. Keep that in mind though. We'll see it right up to the end of his life.
Leibniz, even as a young man, counter-posed the way that Socrates took on Thrasymachus. In Plato's Republic, Socrates, discussing justice, is interrupted by Thrasymachus, who says that justice is the right of the stronger. Leibniz says, well, if this were so, the same act could be just, or unjust, depending on who was judging it, which is absurd. But also, that there is no sense then of goodness in justice, in fact, the word has lost all of its meaning. In the essays that he wrote, in school becoming a lawyer, Leibniz stressed the need to approach law from the standpoint of natural law. He wasn't interested in having a desk job as a lawyer, and looking at precedents in the formation of legal cases. He said, the important thing that we've got to understand here is that all law ultimately must find its basis on natural law, and he said, this doesn't apply only to human law, but that the same is true for God, that natural law and goodness are the basis of how God makes his decisions. Counter-pose his image then of God, whom he holds to be omnipotent, yet desiring to do good, because it's good, for his own perfection. Contrast that with the Hobbesian view of The Leviathan.
As he's working on reforming the legal codes and he's doing his work, he's always thinking about how to improve peoples' lives. He says that the sole end of philosophizing, which in those days didn't mean what we would think of as philosophizing. It includes the sciences and thought, more generally. Leibniz said, the sole aim of philosophizing is for use in life, to increase the power and happiness of mankind. He sought out universal concepts to understand how the thinking process works, and he said that such an understanding of thought itself would have to include both, what he calls in Latin, the ars judicante and ars inveniendi. We have to understand the art of deciding and the art of discovery; no attempt to understand the mind or thought is complete, if it's only based on determining whether something's true, or not. Where does creativity come in? That has to be part of your study of thought.
And very importantly, he saw the human mind as an essential part of science, in that he saw the induction of… he's shortly after Bacon and Sarpi. These are people who said that science and knowledge comes from induction, from empiricism, that by observing the world around us, we form general concepts that comprehend a number of effects that we have seen, and in that way, we come to knowledge. Leibniz always held that a concept never arises that way. The necessity of something happening the way that it does, doesn't come from seeing it happen many times in the past, but whatever causes these things will correspond to a human idea: our minds are able to create concepts that correspond to the effective powers that actually bring things about in the world. He's setting himself apart. He's definitely a fighter on this, from an early age. He's in the camp of Plato, as against Bacon, Sarpi, later Locke, Descartes, Hobbes, and others.
With this view that he has, that the goal of the state is to provide for happiness for people, and not just security, he talks about where perfection comes from. What would make God make the decisions that God makes? Let me read this to you. This is something from his earlier days. Leibniz says
“What is the ultimate basis of divine will? It's the divine intellect, for God wills those things that he perceives to be the best, and likewise, the most harmonious, and He selects them, so to speak, from the infinite number of all possibles. What, therefore, is the ultimate basis of the divine intellect? The harmony of things. And what is the ultimate basis of the harmony of things? Nothing. For example, no reason can be given for the fact that the ratio of two to four is that of four to eight. Not even divine will is the reason for this proportion. It depends on essence itself, the idea of those things, for essences of things are like numbers, and they contain the very possibility of entities, which God does not bring about, as he does existence, since these very possibilities, or ideas of things, coincide rather with God himself.”
So I'll let you think about that one.
After some time working in Mainz, he's able to go to Paris, which is a fantastic opportunity. Paris at that time is the absolute center of European thought, European culture. This is the Paris that is the Paris of Colbert. Leibniz arrives in 1672. Colbert is the finance minister for Louis XIV. And in the buildup after the Thirty Years’ War, for developing the nation, Colbert has set into place a real sense of national sovereignty and purpose. He's unified the nation financially. He's unified it on trade basis, by eliminating internal tariffs and barriers. Colbert has been stimulating industry. He's been giving grants for factories. He's been building infrastructure, such as a canal from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, which Da Vinci was brought in by an earlier king of France to work on, but it wasn't able to be built at that time. Colbert got it built.
And he saw a mission for the nation in advancing science. So in the 1660s, starting in the 1650s, Colbert brought together in Paris, what became the French Royal Academy of Sciences, with people like Huygens (the Dutchman), Cassini, and others. This is the Paris that Leibniz comes to. He meets with these people in the French Royal Society. He spends a lot of time with Huygens. He makes a number of discoveries of his own. He works on a calculating machine to make the labor of calculations disappear, become much easier. He sells several of those to astronomers and others. He develops the calculus during this time period. He's working on light. He's reading up on Pascal. He is finding out what's really up with Descartes. He's able to visit Clerselier, and go through Descartes's notebooks, and look through some of his papers. He takes a trip to England. He visits London. He visits the Royal Academy of Sciences there. He gets in fights with some people there.
This period of his life in Paris is going to be an entire presentation on its own, so to some degree, the amount of detail I go through things here, might almost be inverse to how much we'll be hearing about it later. For this one, we're going to have a whole discussion on this, where we're going to be looking at catenaries, the brachistochrone, some of these physical curves, that Descartes said were impossible to understand. This is also the time period already, in 1676, that a fight with Newton, over the invention of the calculus flairs up. So already, the first tussle on this, in 1676. There will be much more on that as we move forward.
After leaving Paris… he really doesn't want to leave Paris, and he extends his stay by almost a year. His earlier boss has died. He's found a new job in Hanover, where he does not want to go particularly quickly, but eventually, he finally has to leave Paris. He stops by, visits some other thinkers on the way, like Spinoza, who he doesn't really agree with very much, and he makes his way to Hanover, which is really his base of operations for the rest of his life. Although many Americans aren't aware of this, Hanover ended up becoming the royal family of England, still today. And Leibniz played a role in that, as well. So it wasn't just a smallish town that he moved to. It was actually, there came to be a great significance there.
While he was there in Hanover, he was working with the Duke, Johann Friedrich, and he's putting forward all sorts of proposals, in terms of how to improve society – public laboratories, public education. He proposes an art gallery, a museum, printing press. He wants to study the impact of diet on well-being. He says that much of health begins in the kitchen, rather than the pharmacy. These are the kinds of things he's looking at. And he engages in a large industrial program to try to develop new technologies for mining, to use the power of wind and windmills to pump water out of mines, so that the mining could continue even in periods of low rainfall, when the water wheels wouldn't be running to run the pumps. This is partly because he wants to improve mining in general. It's also because he's seeking a way to finance his own scientific society. He's been in Paris. He's been in London. Leibniz is seeking to set up more societies for learning around the world, and we'll see he's able to do this in Berlin, in Vienna, in Russia even. His goal in doing this is to improve mankind, to create a society that's based on understanding the history of thought, and advancing it. So when he's working on improving these mines, he's doing it with the hopes of being able to finance that kind of scientific development, that kind of real progress for mankind.
He's also in touch with a huge number of people. He's trying to unify the Lutheran and the Catholic churches. He's trying to see if that can be possible, to avoid the potential for anything like the Thirty Years’ War breaking out again, to keep peace in Europe, to allow for development, to eliminate the threat of war in that way.
He writes on the calculus while he's in Hanover, stuck there, you might say. He writes about Descartes’s laws of motion. He proves that Descartes is wrong, and he develops a concept, vis viva, which will be the subject of another entire presentation coming up: Leibniz's understanding of physics, and throwing away the idiotic ideas of Descartes, and developing a whole science of dynamics to understand the power of motion. This is something that will play a role in understanding the development of steam power, of machinery, of power transmission in general. These are the kinds of things that Leibniz was working on.
He was working on other concepts too. In his efforts to reunify the churches, he's developing his own thoughts on theology. He's posing questions, and answering them in a way that lays out a guide work for understanding creation. He writes his Discourse on Metaphysics, where he begins by asking some relatively simple, but very profound questions about theology. He says that God is a being, possessed of all perfections that are capable of existing as perfections to an infinite degree. For example, infinite power presents no contradiction, so that is an attribute of God. Infinite wisdom, infinite goodness, does not include a contradiction, so this is an attribute of God. In a way that's very clearly connected with peoples' political outlooks, you can see through his life, and in the debates and fights that he has with other thinkers, the British oligarchical view, which was being put in England at the time, that tyranny, the oligarchism, was the way civilization ought to exist, that this was something fundamental about the Universe. Take it all the way to the top. Their view of God was all-powerful. Leibniz points out that this was an incomplete and stupid view of the Universe. You can't leave out God's goodness. From the top, that's his view of the world.
Leibniz is famous for saying later in life, that this is the best of all possible worlds, that among anything you might imagine, any way that God could have composed a Universe, it couldn't be better than the one that we live in. That's a whole subject to take up in the future too. I'm sure many people might be asking, well, if this is the best of all possible worlds, why did I run out of gas today? Why is it snowing? Why did I stub my toe? Why is Obama the President? Is that the best of all possible worlds? Obama is the President? Donald Trump is winning primaries? That's the best of all possible worlds? Well, it goes a little bit deeper than the immediate occurrences. When this thought of Leibniz was attacked by Voltaire, in his stupid play, Candide, Voltaire presents it as though everything that occurs must be wonderful, and couldn't have been any different. That is not Leibniz’s view. But on a higher level, the fact that stupidity has bad effects, that's a good thing. The fact that we're going to be able to have peace and development and only with a culture that's commensurate with it, that's a good thing. That's actually a beautiful thing. There will be more on that concept, more discussion on that later.
Moving on with this overview of Leibniz's life and what he did, there's a whole discussion to be had about his work on physical economy. His work on the mining project was part of that. His work with Denis Papin, on the steam engine, was part of that. His setting up of the academies, as I had mentioned, in Berlin, and what he did in Vienna, and what became the academy in St. Petersburg, was part of this. Leibniz had a view, in setting up these societies, that they shouldn't be full of abstract thought. These scientific academies should have as a goal, improving mankind, doing things that are useful. He wasn't against studying things to learn things, but he said, you must have as a mission: the purpose for such a society has to be the improvement of mankind. Otherwise, you could study anything. Ben Franklin wrote an essay about that. Sometimes its title is given as Fart Proudly, about Ben Franklin making fun of societies in Europe studying idiotic questions, and Ben Franklin says, well, you might as well study about how to make farts smell good—that would be more worth your while.
So Leibniz, one of his mottos was “theory with practice”. Don't just have theories, put them into practice. Improve mankind. Again, remember he says, and here's a quote
“To contribute to the public good, and to the glory of God, is the same thing. It seems that the aim of all mankind should chiefly be, nothing other than the knowledge and development of the wonders of God, and that it is for this reason, that God has given to humankind dominion over the globe.”
He's got a very universal outlook on these things. That was some of his work on physical economics. Another major aspect of that is his thoughts on China… actually, more on that in a minute…
One of the concepts that comes up with this study of motion, is something that we actually saw reconfirmed very recently with these gravity waves and the approach of Einstein, which is that, when showing why Descartes's laws of motion were wrong, Leibniz took the opportunity make a very general and very powerful point, that there cannot fundamentally be a difference between rest and motion. He says, assume a body being at rest, if you tapped it with a hair, it would be in motion a little bit. Treating something at rest as fundamentally different from something in motion, violates a law of continuity. Rest is just a kind of motion, where it's as slow as it could possibly be. He also develops the relativity of space and time. In this work on the laws of motion, the relativity of space was something that Leibniz absolutely maintained. More on that in a little bit.
His efforts took him through several nations in Europe; he visited with many people, and worked on projects for music, to some degree, and a lot of work on church reunification, a lot of work on setting up these learned societies, and a lot of work on economic development. As some examples, he went to Florence, he went to Rome. He was offered to be the curator of the Vatican Library, which was a very high position, and which he turned down. And he said, it's not that he was against… remember, he was a Lutheran. You're not going to be the curator of the Vatican Library unless you're a Catholic. And he said that he couldn't possibly convert, not because he thought Lutheranism was better than Catholicism, but because converting would send a message that one was actually better than the other, which would limit how could he possibly work for reuniting the two churches if you accept that there is a fundamental distinction that one is more right than the other. So he said, if I was born a Catholic, I wouldn't change, but I'm not going to convert. We have to create a reunification of the churches. We can't allow this schism. So he turned down that job.
He met with Francesco Redi. People may be familiar with Redi's Principle, that life only comes from life. This is somebody that Leibniz met and corresponded with.
I know it is very difficult to talk about Leibniz, without mixing to some degree, his biography with his concepts, just because he worked on everything all at once, which makes him a very universal figure. To take up another concept of his, and this is in a similar vein to the power of the creator and the goodness of creation. Leibniz took that into understanding the basic things in the physical world as well. He made fun of, he insulted people who would say, of some phenomenon’s cause that “God made it happen that way”, instead of actually trying to understand how something worked. He said if you study things enough, you will be able to find the causes that make things occur from moment to moment, but that doesn't invalidate the concept of purpose.
The terms for these two types of cause are efficient cause, meaning moment to moment and final cause: purpose, objective, outcome, direction. His Discourse on Metaphysics has a very beautiful treatment of this. Here's another quote from him on the subject. Leibniz says:
“In corporeal nature itself [in the physical world], there are, so to speak, two domains, two reigns, two domains, which penetrate one another, without confusing themselves, or hindering one another. The reign of power, according to which everything can be explained mechanically by efficient cause, and also the reign of wisdom, according to which everything can be explained, so to speak, architectonically, by final causes.”
He didn't see a contradiction between these. One way you might put it, is you might say that laws of physics explain the way things operate from moment to moment. At the same time, why are those the laws, rather than others? In other words, there's a different kind of why, to answer why does this principle exist? That's a different why than saying, why did that ball move that way when another ball hit it? There's a cause for both of those, but it's a different kind of cause, different kind of why, and both were valid to consider in Leibniz's view.
In terms of where we are on the time-scale here, this is the 1690s. His calculus is being widely taught. The first really major textbook on the calculus was written by de l’Hôpital, based on lectures that Bernoulli had given on the calculus. And this included some of these prize questions, or challenge questions, that had been raised to test out peoples' ability to use these techniques. One of them was to determine the shape of a hanging chain. The shape of a hanging chain is called a catenary, but what is that shape? It looks like a parabola. Is it really? That is one of the challenges that Leibniz solved. Another one would be to determine the shape of a track down which a ball would be able to roll to get from one point to another, in the quickest time. This was another challenge that Leibniz was able to use his understanding of the calculus to solve.
Just reflect on what an amazing person this is. He's officially being called by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to work on church reunification. He's developed legitimate and very powerful breakthroughs in science, that are now the basis for the most popular, widely used textbook on calculus. He's a serious theologian, who later in his life, will write a book, the Theodicy, his understanding of God and man, that he's hoping to use as a basis for these different churches to be able to come together. He's developing a new theology that he believes, by the basis of reason, will be able to be sensible enough to pull people together. What an amazing person.
Now it's time for one of his really major coups. Earlier, I had mentioned that Hanover might not seem like a very important place, but there was a question about the succession of the throne in England. This was coming after the so-called “Glorious Revolution”, and… anyway, there's a question about the succession to the throne of England, and Leibniz is able to work for the passing of the Act of Settlement, which would send the order of succession to the English throne from England to the House of Hanover. His patron is now in line, Sophie, to become the Queen of England. This is a big deal, right? This means that Leibniz is set up to potentially be a top personality inside the government in England, and this is in a very important time period.
Let me say more about this time period. In this same time period, 1700, he sets up the Berlin Academy of Sciences. In 1700, he's elected to the French Academy of Sciences. They had wanted to bring him in back when he was visiting Paris, but there were too many foreigners already, and they couldn't give him a job. In 1701, the Act of Settlement is passed. At this point, Anne is Queen of England, one of the lesser-known monarchs, and this is the time period of really tremendous development and improvement in the Colonies, in the New World. This is a time when the moves to bring in more industrialization, iron-working, for example, moves to break through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and really open up the western part of the U.S., in particular through the grant of Virginia, which the borders of Virginia went incredibly far west, out into Ohio, and it went out there. Even though the 1690s were a terrible time for the New World, for the Colonies, which where being increasingly controlled and crushed by the British Crown, under this reign of Queen Anne, there was an opportunity for some serious development in the New World, in fact developments that made it possible later to be strong enough to develop independence. So in this context, here's Leibniz, now a chief adviser to the woman who could be the next Queen of England. What is that going to mean for the New World? What is that going to mean for the Colonies? What is that going to mean about a total shift in world government?
What else happens at this time? Well, there's a major attack again on the calculus. The Royal Academy of Sciences in England attacks Leibniz. They actually write an apology after Leibniz shows they were wrong. In the French Academy of Sciences, there's an attack on Leibniz's calculus. His friend Pierre Varignon defends him. The Jesuits have a journal, which I don't know what you might imagine the Jesuits talk about in their journal, but they decide to have an article about Leibniz and the calculus. So, at the same time that the shift is being made where Leibniz could be a very key player in England, which is the most significant nation in terms of the opportunity of these Colonies, out comes an attack on him, specifically against him versus Newton, which is significant, both from Newton and the British role as becoming as a world empire, but also to prevent him from being able to come to England, by presenting him as anti-English, anti-Newton, etc.
Also at this time we have Thomas Locke in England. Thomas Locke wrote a book that Leibniz thought was incredibly evil, called The Essays on Human Understanding, where Locke lays out his theories of humanity. Part of his idea was that the mind is a blank slate, a tabula rasa is the Latin phrase, and that impressions and experiences shape who we are over time. Our senses give us experiences. These are repeated. This becomes a concept. We can have some Bacon-style induction. This is how the human mind works. I'm going to briefly quote Leibniz attacking this view. Leibniz wrote a whole book, a point-by-point refutation of Locke's Essay on Human Understanding, because he saw this as being incredibly evil, and very significant. Leibniz says:
“I am in favor of innate lights against this tabula rasa. In our mind, there is not only a faculty, but also a disposition to knowledge, from which innate notions can be drawn. For all necessary truths draw their proof from this internal light, and not from the experiences of the senses, which merely give occasional thinking about these necessary truths, and could never prove a universal necessity, since they only give knowledge from induction, from some examples, and the probability of other sense experiences, which have not yet been tested.”
Leibniz says that there is something evil about this. These instances don't make necessity. Induction doesn't make a principle. There is no knowledge without the human mind. This might seem abstract, or like a debate that's unimportant, or maybe one that took place several centuries ago, without relevance today. This concept is incredibly relevant today. This is the same question as artificial intelligence, for example. Can the mind be replaced by an inductive mechanism? Can generalizing sense perceptions, machine learning of some sort, recreate functions of the mind? Is the mind necessary? Does the mind actually exist as something beyond some organ in the head, that's being buffeted by impressions, which then lead to conclusions in it? Or does the mind itself bring something? Do concepts come from the mind in a way that's new, and not determined by experience? This is a crucial fight today. It's the crucial concept. This is one of the major fights between Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle said that it was from sense impressions that we had come to ideas. Plato, as in his Phaedo, and other writings, has Socrates demonstrate that knowledge is of a form of recollection, as he puts it, that the concepts are really in the mind in a way that they're brought to light, or stimulated by questions, thoughts, experiences, but that the concepts come from the mind. Cusa and Leibniz went further beyond recollection to a sense of actual creation, Cusa very explicitly so.
So this is the question today. What makes the human mind unique? Is it unique? What do we need human minds for? Can we train children to act like little computers? You could build a neural-network. I'm sure that artificial intelligence could make a little child that would learn how to take tests, if they're simple multiple-choice tests, that don't require the application or development of a new thought.
In this period, Leibniz is still working on all these things that I've been describing. He is working for science. He's the President of the Berlin Society of Sciences, so he's proposing projects of what should be worked on—what the developments are that need to be made. He ends up meeting with Tzar Peter the Great three times to discuss with him personally about developing science and industry in Russia. And then I had mentioned this work of his, the Theodicy, towards church reunification. In this book Leibniz says:
“I also tried to show that there is in God as much goodness, as there is greatness, in order to give human beings reason to imitate his beneficent nature, as much as possible, as the best way to please him.”
His concept of the best of all possible worlds is also in this book, again, a concept that we'll really delve into later.
To wrap up this overview, we’re towards the end of his life now, in 1710. This is now ten years past the Act of Settlement. The succession to the throne of England is still an open question. Queen Anne in England has not had any children. The throne will still go to Sophia in Hanover, Leibniz's patroness. In 1710 there's a third attack on the calculus. This time it didn't come from the just a couple of letters from Isaac Newton. It didn't come from the Jesuits' magazine. This is coming right again from the Royal Society, and this is the one where Isaac Newton himself becomes chairman of the committee to review whether Newton had his calculus stolen by Leibniz. Newton himself writes the decision that Leibniz was a terrible thief and stole Newton's wonderful ideas and sends out this report saying Leibniz is a liar, and a plagiarist. Leibniz didn't even know that this investigation was occurring. He hears about it from his friend Bernoulli, who asks him, “do you know that they issued a report saying that you're a plagiarist?” Leibniz says that no, I didn't. He'd never even been given a chance to respond to any of this. So this isn't an academic dispute, someone's worried about someone else getting tenure, or being left off the author list on a paper, or some academic squabble. This is a political fight. Again the significance, both in general, of Leibniz as a thinker, and trying to ruin his reputation to kill his ideas, and also, again, of that very live threat of him becoming a major political player in England, with the implications for that nation and for the Colonies.
Now in 1714, Electress Sophia dies. About two months later, Queen Anne dies. They don't have to keep her alive anymore, for fear that Sophia would become the Queen, because now Duke... or rather Elector Georg Ludwig, Leibniz's current boss, becomes now King George I of England, and he hates Leibniz. The British, the English, have gotten him all worked up into enjoying hunting, and dining, and absolutely disliking Leibniz, having a different approach to life. So, when George I goes to become King of England, first off, Leibniz isn't there in Hanover at the time. He's on a trip. But when he comes back to Hanover, he gets a note that says, “Don't follow us. Don't come to England.” Leibniz is an official in George's administration in Hanover, and he's told, “Don't come to England. Stay out. You need to finish writing that history book on our family, and once you do, then maybe you can come to England.”
Even during this period, when he's stuck in Hanover and kept out of England, he's still in touch with the wife of the future George II, Princess Caroline. The very famous Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, which is a discussion of letters, goes through Caroline: these letters are being exchanged in discussion with Princess Caroline. And this is something that again, we'll discuss more in a future installment more dedicated to it, where a lot of these very basic questions of God's goodness versus his power, come up, or the absolute versus relative space and time, where Leibniz, in a really tremendous demonstration, shows, starting from God's wisdom, why absolute space cannot exist. And he was right. People today might say the reason for his coming to that conclusion is illegitimate. God's goodness? But, he was right. Leibniz said if space existed before God, and God put creation somewhere, if he put everything a little bit to the side, nobody would know. If you, and the Earth, and the Sun, were all shifted five feet in the same direction, you could never know it. And since that would mean God had to put the Universe somewhere for no good reason, it is impossible. That space in which God created the Universe couldn't have preexisted. That's Leibniz's conclusion.
In contrast, Clarke, who was a total Newtonian, says, no, no, no, no. This actually shows God's great power. Because there was no reason to decide where to put all of creation, that shows you that, see, it is good to be the King. You can do things just because you feel like it. “What would be the point of being a ruler if you couldn't be a tyrant?” That's implicitly the outlook that these guys have, and then it shows up in a discussion of space and of God, but it's also right there in their view of human relations.
Leibniz maintains this potential influence over the court in England, and the year that Leibniz passes away, 1716, this is the same year that the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood leads a group through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, to the Shenandoah River, and across it, where he finally breaks through this boundary that had been maintained by England to keep the Colonies coastal, to prevent inland development, to prevent the real industrialization of the continent, and then the potential independence of those Colonies. This is that same year, and I don't think that Spotswood could have done that, if it weren't for the guarantee on Queen Anne's life, by the fact that if they tried to kill her, Sophia would become Queen. She had an insurance policy.
Here's one of Leibniz's mottos to finish up with. In discussing some of his endeavors, Leibniz said,
“All these things are connected, and they have to be directed to the same aim, which is the glory of God, and the advancement of the public good, by means of useful works and beautiful discoveries.”
That was the mission of his life. It wasn't abstract. He got his hands dirty in the actual politics of the day. He wasn't sitting in an ivory tower, by any means. He was in it. He was in the middle of European and New World, and even Chinese politics during his life. And he was in the position of genius to have a very very powerful sense of where that ought to go.
Let me give an idea of what some of the future presentations and workshops will be on:
• A whole discussion about his time in Paris. He did so much there that that's a whole discussion in itself.
• His work on physical economy and scientific institutions, that's a whole topic in itself.
• Leibniz and the New World, that's a whole topic in itself. Benjamin Franklin's trip to Germany to meet with the leading followers / maintainers of Leibniz's legacy, and the origin of the pursuit of happiness, as a specifically Leibnizian idea—that's a whole topic to take up.
• Pulling together some of his philosophical and conceptual outlook, that deserves its own discussion, as well. The best of all possible worlds, sufficient reason, least action, the monads, and then continuing his tradition in the person I would say, I'd said earlier, the only person that you could really compare Leibniz to historically is Cusa, and the only person today is Lyndon LaRouche, in terms of a person with such a broad conspectus of all important fields of human endeavor, who is in it making it happen.
Leibniz is a tremendous role model for us today, and who had a very specific influence in the creation of our nation, and in the progress of science, making the world that we live in today, certainly the good aspects of it, possible.
So that's what's coming up, and I'd like to see if there are any questions or thoughts, here or via the internet, and if you're watching this recording, again, type in your comments for later, responding to earlier comments will be a part of the future presentations as well, because I know many people are not on live, who'll be watching it later. Please add your comments as well.
BENJAMIN DENISTON: This discussion of innate light, where was that from again?
ROSS: That was in his New Essays on Human Understanding. That was where he was specifically attacking the inductive view of Locke, who said that the mind was empty. Again, the same kind of fight as between Aristotle and Plato, as you see in the Phaedo versus the view of Aristotle on where ideas come from.
RACHEL BRINKLEY: You'll probably go into this later, but what was the [inaud].
ROSS: The question was, what's the difference in general between Leibniz's calculus and Newton's calculus? I think we will have to get into that later. The only thing I could say is that Leibniz's notation was certainly the one that everybody used. People talk about differentials and integrals today. They don't talk about fluxions and fluents, which was Newtons terminology. No one talks about that. And Newton's notation is sometimes used in physics with dots, but general, it isn't. I think we'll get back to this. That's a really good question. The only other thing I can think to say about it is there are views on what they had done. I think that Newton saw, to the extent that he did it, he was solving a math problem. And I can't imagine that Leibniz could have failed to think about it in terms of the development of language. In other words, here's a new concept, this infinitesimal, which he had to defend. I mean infinitesimal is a very peculiar thing. It's smaller than any finite thing that you can imagine, but it's not nothing. It participates both in being and in not being. It's like an amphibian. Is it on the land? Is it in the water? It sort of lives both ways. And it represents a different kind of existence. So I think, in terms of Leibniz's outlook on the world, and his search for—Leibniz thought that language was an important part of thought and that by improving language, people’s ability to think would be better. And he considered, at the various points in his life, some synthetic uses of language to make it impossible to write things that are obviously false. He didn't think that would be the key to discovery, of making new ideas, but that it might be a helpful way of testing out concepts. I think to Leibniz, he would see the differential, the integral, the infinitesimal, as a major expansion of language allowing for the creation of new thoughts, not as a math problem. Because Leibniz saw everything that way, that's what he did. Isaac Newton wasn't doing all of that stuff. He was tracing down counterfeiters in the job at the mint, so he could have them executed. “Terror Tuesdays” huh? [laughs]
DENISTON: They didn't even have drones back then.
ROSS: Yeah, if Newton had drones, he would have used them. [laughs]
DENISTON: I just missed the dates a little bit. What did you say was the overlap of Hobbes with the Leviathan that was kind of in the mix when Leibniz came in?
ROSS: I'm not sure how the audio is. The question was what's the overlap in time between Hobbes and Leibniz? The Leviathan was written in 1651, and he also wrote a book on, actually I'm forgetting its name now, another very prominent one on the same theme, which was published in 1647 and 1651. So basically, when Leibniz is a child, these things are coming out from Hobbes, and then Hobbes died when Leibniz was relatively young. Leibniz tried to start up a conversation with Hobbes. Hobbes never wrote him back. Some of Hobbes' thoughts on motion Leibniz thought were interesting. In fact, when you read the Specimen Dynamicum, his use of the word conatus (“endeavor” in English). That's a word from Hobbes. And then Bacon was a little bit earlier. Bacon and Sarpi were roughly contemporaries, and they were I think maybe a decade or two before that. Basically, right before Leibniz. The end of Kepler's life.
Q: Can you hear me?
ROSS: Yes, I can hear you.
Q: Is there something you would suggest like to start reading, something that Leibniz wrote for people, because I started reading the Discourse on Metaphysics, but is there something for beginners you would suggest you could start reading?
ROSS: The question was, is there suggested reading for people new to Leibniz? The Discourse on Metaphysics is usually the first thing that I recommend; I think that's a pretty good place to start. I'll pull together a few of what I think are the best, maybe the best things that are publicly available and add them to the video description or in the comments after this is posted. And then for the upcoming shows, we'll actually announce the time a little more in advance, build up more of an audience—YouTube audience as well—and then have specific suggested readings before that. I think overall, in terms of Leibniz, the Discourse on Metaphysics is really a wonderful one. His Specimen Dynamicum is another must-read. That's where he lays out his view of dynamics. Leibniz’s Writings on China is a small book, and the preface is good. And then there's one thing I recently read, I thought was really fantastic, is in the Leibniz Political Writings book. He's got a couple… I'll just post some quotes from these articles. He's got one, “Meditation On the Common Concept of Justice,” which I thought was just absolutely beautiful. He goes after Thrasymachus and Hobbes and he says, “I grant readily, that there is a great difference between the way in which men are just, and the way in which God is just, but the difference is only one of degree.” For example, that's something that Descartes absolutely disagreed with. Descartes said the reason that the angles in the triangle are 180 degrees, is because God made them that way. And Leibniz says, if you look at every square number, one, four, nine, sixteen, twenty-five, the differences between the square numbers are three, five, seven, nine—the odd numbers. He says, would it be different if God looked at the square numbers? No. That's something about numbers. So, it's interesting that Leibniz doesn't see that as in any way weakening God's omnipotence, even though he recognizes that there are truths that don't come from God's will, but come from the nature of things. I think that's a pretty fascinating concept. But the Discourse on Metaphysics and Specimen Dynamicum, I'd say those are the top two. The New Essays is good, but it's really, really long. Oh, and then the Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence, that would be the third one. Top three. I think.
Q: When were those writings about China written?
ROSS: When were his writings about China? I thought I included a quote from that with the date, when I printed out my notes, but it turns out that I didn't, so I'm afraid I can't tell you. I'm not going to make something up. I'll find out and it will definitely be in the discussion of Leibniz in China, which I realize wasn't in this outline of upcoming classes. It'll be there. Good question. I don't think I have it. I'd just say in 1690's if I had to guess, but. Here's a quote from him. At least I have the quote. Here's Leibniz on the missions and the work being done with China. He says, “I judge that this mission is the greatest affair of our time, as much for the glory of God, and the propagation of the Christian religion, as for the general good of man, and the growth of the arts and sciences, among us, as well as the Chinese, for this is a commerce of light, which could give to us at once, their works of thousands of years, and render ours to them, and double, so to speak, our true wealth for one and the other. This is something greater than one imagines.” Imagine if England had that outlook, instead of the opium wars.
Now he weighed in on that, because it was really controversial, and there was a fight among the missionaries of saying, well, is there any Chinese word that really means our God? Or should they just say, whatever language they're speaking, will we just have to bring in a new word for them? Remember, Leibniz thought that religious truths should be arrived at or in conformity with reason, except for things that come from revelation, which he did believe in. But he said in general, those aspects of natural theology, that come from reason, and he goes through the Chinese tradition, specifically Confucius, and he says this outlook is not so dissimilar. These missionaries shouldn't treat the Chinese as awful barbarians, and just try to force them into saying the name “Jesus.” He saying, we've got a message. Leibniz was a Christian, definitely, but he said, start with, let's work with our common understanding about God and about the nature of things. Let's work at it from that basis, which is the right way to do it. That's the right way to talk to somebody.
Q: Why was the calculus what Leibniz was attacked for?
ROSS: The question was, why was the calculus the thing that they grabbed onto to attack Leibniz on? Just thinking out loud, would be that it's a very very general and important discovery, and why not vis viva, or something? Vis viva was also a very powerful concept. Why not that? I don't know. It could be they also, it's something that perhaps had the most truth to it. I mean, not Leibniz stealing it, but something that you could most point to and say, hey look, Newton also had this. Whereas Newton was just never looking at anything like vis viva, they couldn't have made that stick. But, that's a good question. Maybe there's some other ideas on that. (A future presentation will include the more general question of why there was an attack on Leibniz launched from England.)
OK, anything else? [pause] OK, well, in that case, we'll go ahead and there will be, if you're viewing this on YouTube, and it's not Monday, the 15th of February, you'll find some recommended readings in the video description and comments. So, have a look at those, and there will be some advance notice about the next presentation, most likely with some proposed reading, or video watching in advance of that to come in prepared for it. So, I think that will wrap it up for this introduction to Leibniz, and there will be some more, I think about another five or six discussions in this series coming up. So, thanks for joining. Make sure to subscribe.