The Leibniz Review 10:61-72 (2000)

Christia Mercer
Columbia University
Working on Leibniz’s vast essays and texts can seem overwhelming. As exciting as it is to study the details of the Monadology and Discourse on Metaphysics, the Theodicy and the letters to Arnauld, it can be terrifying to sit back and think that there are thousands of other pages of equally sublime and often more difficult philosophical material. The personal notes are particularly daunting. Because Leibniz wrote these for himself, it is often difficult to grasp his reasoning and decipher his underlying philosophical motivation: he typically neither states his most basic assumptions nor articulates how the piece he is presently writing fits into a general plan or project. Sometimes he just plays with an idea or tries out an argument. As Leibniz himself wrote about his notes: “instead of treasure..., you will only find ashes; instead of elaborate works, a few sheets of paper and some poorly expressed vestiges of hasty reflections, which were only saved for the sake of my memory.” But even Leibniz’s more polished essays can be unnerving in manuscript. These sheets—which contain deletions, additions, an enormous number of reformulations, and reconsiderations—reveal an impatient intellect hurrying to express its ideas. Because Leibniz is so often reluctant to set the stage for a philosophical proposal or to acknowledge its various implications, one often has to go well beyond the text in order to understand how the proposal at hand relates to other parts of his thought. Moreover, Leibniz encourages confusion by using one terminology in one text and an entirely different one in another. The moral to the story is clear: one cannot depend either on a single essay or on a small group of passages taken in isolation from others in the same period. When it comes to Leibniz’s writings, it is necessary to take the widest possible textual perspective.
Keywords History of Philosophy  Major Philosophers
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ISBN(s) 1524-1556
DOI 10.5840/leibniz2000107
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