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Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm

1. Dates
Born: Leipzig, 1 Jul 1646
Died: Hannover, 14 Nov 1716
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 70
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer, Academic
His father was Friedrich Leibnuetz (1597-1652), notary, jurist, and professor of moral philosophy at the University of Leipzig.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Leipzig, Germany
Career: France; Hannover, Germany
Death: Hannover, Germany
4. Education
Schooling: Leipzig, M.A.; Jena; Altdorf, L.D.
1653-1661, Nicolai school, Leipzig. After the death of his father in 1652, he had had free access to his father's library where he read voraciously and taught himself Latin.
1661-1666, University of Leipzig. Recieved a B.A. (1663), M.A. (1664), and J.B. (1665).
Summer 1663, University of Jena.
1666/7, University of Altdorf. Received his J.D. (1667)
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Mechanics
Subordinate: Alchemy, Geology
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Government
Secondary: Law
1667, he was offered a chair at Aldorf, but declined it.
1667, he became secretary to the Rosicrucian society in Nuremberg, receiving a modest salary.
1667-1673, he entered the service of elector Johann Philipp von Schoenborn, working on general legal problems, developing a program for legal reform in the Holy Roman Empire, and writing (anonymously) a number of position papers. He was sucessively secretary, librarian, legal counselor in the College of Appeals at Mainz, and diplomat at large.
1672, he accompanied J.C. von Boyneburg on a diplomatic mission to France, where he stayed, except for a short diplomatic trip to England, until 1676. Von Schoenborn died in 1673, ending Leibniz's salary except for a small pension. Leibniz stayed in Paris, hoping to establish a sufficient reputation to obtain a paid position at the Académie, supporting himself by tutoring Boyneburg's son for a short time and then establishing a Parisian law practice which prospered.
1676, he entered the service of Johann Friedrich, Duke of Brunswick-Lueneburg, in Hannover. He was initially a member of the Duke's personal staff, acting as adviser and librarian, as well as consulting on various engineering projects. He was soon formally appointed councillor (1677), judge (1678), and he superintended the mint (1679).
When Johann Friedrich died in 1679, his brother Ernst August kept him on, and in 1685 comissioned him to write a genealogy of the house of Brunswick, Annales imperii occidentes Brunsvicenses, to support the imperial and dynastic claims of the family. In the same year he was appointed councillor for life. He labored on this project for the rest of his life. Initially, his research took him to Munich (1687), Vienna (1688), Rome, Florence, Bologna, and Modena (1690-1). (While there he arranged a marriage between Rinaldo d'Este of Modena and Princess Charlotte Felicitas of Brunswick-Lueneburg. Leibniz's efforts were influential in the elevation of Hannover to electoral status (1692). In recognition of this achievement, Ernst August appointed him Privy Councillor (1692), and the Wolffenbuettel branch of the Hannoverians appointed him Director of the Augusta Library (1691). When Ernst August died in 1698, his successor Georg Ludwig, while urging Leibniz to complete the family history, declined his other services.
He was now supported by the patronage of Sophia Charlotte, daughter of Ernst August and Sophia (who had been Leibniz's philosophical confidante), Electress of Brandenburg. Elector Frederick of Brandenburg appointed him privy councillor (1700). In the same year, he travelled to Berlin to oversee the founding of the Brandenburg Society of Science (later the Berlin Academy), which had been established on his recommendation. He frequently visited Berlin between 1700 and 1711.
1713-1714, he served as the imperial privy councillor in Vienna (he was appointed 1713 effective retroactively to 1712).
When Sophie Charlotte died (1714), Georg Ludwig suspended his salary until he returned to court. Leibniz returned to Hannover only days after Georg had left for England as King George I. Leibniz petitioned for a position in London as court historian, but was refused until he had completed the history of the house of Brunswick. He died, still working on the project, in 1716.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official
It was through the former chancellor J.C. von Boyneburg, who dabbled in alchemy, that Leibniz met Johann Philipp von Schoenberg. Leibniz accompanied Boyneburg on his trip to France and collaborated on the diplomatic plans there.
Elector Johann Philipp of Schoenberg was Leibniz's first major patron. Leibniz came to his attention by dedicating his Nova methodus discenda docendaeque iurisprudentiae (1668) to him.
Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lueneburg was Leibniz's most enthusiastic patron in the Hannoverian house. As early as 1673 he had offered Leibniz a position as a councillor at the small salary of 400 taler. In 1676, he offered him the position of librarian at a salary of 1200 taler, which Leibniz accepted. This patronage was passed on to his brother Ernst August of Hesse-Rheinfels. Ernst's successor, Georg Ludwig, supported Leibniz after a fashion, but was clearly his least enthusiastic patron.
Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg, whom Leibniz tutored, was an important patron.
Leibniz fished for a position with the Emperor from as early as 1680, when he applied for the post of imperial librarian and historian. His public call for support for the Emperor when Vienna was under seige by the Turks in 1683 strengthened his position, and he was warmly received by Leopold I, but was not offered a position.
Charles VI became Emperor in 1711. On the recommendation of Anton Ulrich, Duke of Wolffenbeuttel, he raised Leibniz to the rank of Baron of the Empire and named him imperial court councillor (the highest honor accorded to a Protestant).
Principles of Nature and Grace (1714) was written for Prince Eugene of Saxony, a supporter of Leibniz's plans for a scientific society in Vienna.
Peter the Great of Russia, met Leibniz in 1697. He summoned Leibniz to Torgau, Saxony, in 1711 and again to Carlsbad, Bohemia, in 1712. There, Peter appointed him Privy Councilor of Justice with a small pension.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Applied Mathematics, Hydraulics
He designed a calculating machine, a model of which was built in 1672.
1679-1685, among the engineering projects he undertook for Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lueneburg was a scheme to increase the yield of the Harz silver mines by employing windmill-powered pumps and pipes filled with compressed air to drain it. He considered this a great demonstration of the practical utility of science, though the project was ultimately a failure. Leibniz also planned the water displays of the great Herrenhausen gardens in the 1680s.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, Berlin Academy, Royal Society
1667, secretary to the Rosicrucian Society, Nuremberg.
1673, member of the Royal Society.
1674, he declined membership in the Académie when it required religious conversion. He became a corresponding member of the Académie in 1699.
Around 1688, member of the Accademia Fisicomatematica.
1700, founded the Brandenburg Society of Sciences (later the Berlin Academy), and became its president for life before any other members were chosen. He similarly founded the academies at Dresden (1704) and Vienna (1713).
  1. Heinrich Schepers, Neue deutsche Biographie, ?, 121b-31a.
  2. Ronald Calinger, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Troy, New York: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1976). [B2597.C27]
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. E.J. Aiton, Leibniz: A Biography (Bristol: Hilger, 1985).
  2. [B2597.A67]
  3. Hans Poser and Albert Heinekamp, eds. Leibniz in Berlin: Symposion der Leibniz-Gesellschaft und des Instituts für Philosophie, Wissenschaftstheorie, Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte der Technischen Universität Berlin (Studia Leibnitiana, Sonderheft 16), Stuttgart, 1990).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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