Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (1):pp. 108-110 (2010)
This book is a significant accomplishment, and for now the most comprehensive intervention in a debate that has been more than three hundred years in the making. At least since Pierre Bayle, commentators have imagined a sort of paradox in the pairing of Spinoza’s irreproachable way of life with his scandalous philosophy, in contrast with the perfect fit between Leibniz’s optimism for the status quo with his supposedly opportunistic relation to his courtly benefactors. Together with these biographical coordinates, to which Lærke’s work is attentive and sensitive, there is a philosophical opposition that is supposed to be absolute: each philosopher is the other’s perfect opposite. Matthew Stewart’s bestseller The Courtier and the Heretic is the latest iteration of this myth, and Lærke’s study might best be summed up as the perfect antidote to Stewart’s: it is a rigorous, dense, and, most importantly, a just treatment of the authors themselves, whose own words often belie the roles in which they would posthumously be cast. While Lærke acknowledges that there is indeed an easy opposition one can construct between the major metaphysical commitments of the two thinkers, he nonetheless wants to know how their systematic differences might have grown out of an intense engagement on Leibniz’s part with a philosophy he indeed ended up opposing, yet against which he felt compelled to articulate his own views, and back to which he often seemed in danger of returning
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