Leibniz and the Sciences


Philip Beeley
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Leibniz and the Royal Society revisited
Leibniz’s relationship with the Royal Society is one of tremendous contrast. His early approaches to Henry Oldenburg followed by his first visit to London in 1673 reflect the efforts of a young scholar seeking to make his mark on the leading scientific institution of his day. These efforts were crowned with his admission to the fellowship in April of that year. The contrast with some forty years later, when a committee of the Royal Society was established under Newton’s presidency to adjudicate on the dispute over the discovery of the calculus, leading to the publication of the Commercium epistolicum in 1712, could scarcely be greater.
Leibniz’s relations with the Royal Society have been scrutinized before, notably through A. Rupert Hall, Marie Boas Hall, and Joseph Ehrenfried Hofmann. Since their pioneering studies further material has come to light, justifying that a fresh look be taken at this topic. This material, partly a result of ongoing work on critical editions of the letters of John Wallis and John Collins, Oldenburg’s most important advisers on mathematical affairs, will form the basis of my talk.

François Duchesneau
Université de Montréal, Canada
Leibniz’s dynamics and the role of architectonic principles in its development
One of Leibniz's main achievements in natural science has been his invention of the 'dynamics.' Thanks to contemporary scholarship, we are presently in a better position than previously for tracing out the sequence of steps that resulted in the canonical formulations of this new 'science of power and action' in the 1690s, somewhat in parallel with the advent of Leibniz’s late metaphysics. Starting with the 1671 twofold Theoria motus, this story displays the close connection Leibniz’s early mechanics bore with the model, inspired by Hobbes, of a physics to be alternatively built a priori and a posteriori. The revised mechanics of the 1678 De corporum concursu as well as the demonstration of the vis viva principle in the 1686 Brevis demonstratio essentially followed the a posteriori way, but the twofold structure of arguments came back on stage in the 1689-1690 Dynamica as well as in later presentations. My enquiry concerns the successive versions of this twofold structure and the way architectonic principles were progressively called upon to formalize the theory of 'power and action' through the various phases of its complex methodological evolution.

Justin E. H. Smith
Université Paris Diderot - Paris VII, France
Leibniz on organic bodies and living beings
In this talk I will show why it is, strictly speaking, incorrect to speak of 'living bodies' in Leibniz's philosophy. For Leibniz, in the period of the controversy with G. E. Stahl, organic structure is precisely the feature of natural bodies that makes it possible to given an exhaustive account of them without any recourse to the concept of 'life'. Life, in turn, is invoked only to describe the activity of immaterial monads. Life is, thus, a feature of beings, not bodies. In this respect, the emerging science of biology, as Leibniz understands it, does not take a special interest in life as something that characterises a special subdomain of nature deserving of its own special science. Rather, for Leibniz, the study of the organic structure of bodies is at the heart of his conception of the science of nature in general.

Andre Wakefield
Pitzer College, USA
Machines and machinations: Leibniz in the Harz
Between 1678 and 1686, Leibniz devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to the invention and development of a wind machine in the mines of the Harz Mountains. The general story is well known. Less well known is the bitter dispute he had with Pieter Hartsinck, a Dutch-Japanese mathematician and inventor, during that same period. In this talk, I present new archival information about the nature of that dispute, which sheds light on Leibniz’s activities as an inventor and projector. I also discuss the tortured historiography around this episode, and consider its meaning for Leibniz scholarship.


Date and Location

November 14 - 16, 2016
Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences
Inselstraße 22
04103 Leipzig
see travel instructions

Scientific Organizers

  • Jürgen Jost, MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences
  • Wenchao Li, University of Hanover
  • Vincenzo De Risi, Leibniz Professor at Leipzig University
  • Matthias Schwarz, Leipzig University
  • Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer, Leipzig University

Administrative Contact

Antje Vandenberg
MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences
Contact by Email

05.04.2017, 12:53