Gottfried Leibniz

Mathematician / Philosopher

Born: 1 July 1646
Died: 14 November 1716
Birthplace: Leipzig, Saxony (now Germany)
Best known as: The mathematician who said God created the best of all possible worlds
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician whose broad knowledge made him one of the most influential European thinkers of the 18th century. The son of a philosophy professor in Leipzig, he spent most of his professional career in the service of noblemen -- particularly a string of Dukes of Hanover (one of whom became England's George I, just two years before Leibniz's death). Leibniz, brilliant in matters ranging from engineering and mechanics to political and theological theory, traveled widely, corresponded frequently and, in many instances, worked privately on metaphysical and mathematical problems. He's said to have invented infinitesimal calculus in the 1670s, at the same time as Isaac Newton; it's Leibniz's notations that are used today. Although he was a public figure during his lifetime, Leibniz's philosophical works didn't get much notice until after his death, partly because he worked out his philosophy in notes, letters and short essays rather than in published books. Now he's famous for presaging symbolic logic, for his work with binary systems (he built a calculating machine in 1673) and for his metaphysical argument that God created this best of all possible worlds (later he was famously ridiculed for this by Voltaire in Candide). His achievements are such that he's considered one of the great geniuses of his era -- one whose influence was greater than his individual works.

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