This page contains a list of the seven best books on or by Leibniz. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Leibniz” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Leibniz. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Leibniz. Here are the best books on or by Leibniz in no particular order:
Leibniz – Nicholas Jolley
Publisher description: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was hailed by Bertrand Russell as ‘one of the supreme intellects of all time’. A towering figure in seventeenth-century philosophy, his complex thought has been championed and satirized in equal measure, most famously in Voltaire’s Candide.
In this outstanding introduction to his philosophy, Nicholas Jolley introduces and assesses the whole of Leibniz’s philosophy. Beginning with an introduction to Leibniz’s life and work, he carefully introduces the core elements of Leibniz’s metaphysics: his theories of substance, identity and individuation; monads and space and time; and his important debate over the nature of space and time with Newton’s champion, Samuel Clarke.
He then introduces Leibniz’s theories of mind, knowledge, and innate ideas, showing how Leibniz anticipated the distinction between conscious and unconscious states, before examining his theory of free will and the problem of evil. An important feature of the book is its introduction to Leibniz’s moral and political philosophy, an overlooked aspect of his work.
The final chapter assesses legacy and the impact of his philosophy on philosophy as a whole, particularly on the work of Immanuel Kant. Throughout, Nicholas Jolley places Leibniz in relation to some of the other great philosophers, such as Descartes, Spinoza and Locke, and discusses Leibniz’s key works, such as the Monadology and Discourse on Metaphysics.
Leibniz: A Very Short Introduction – Maria Rosa Antognazza
Publisher description: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was a man of extraordinary intellectual creativity who lived an exceptionally rich and varied intellectual life in troubled times. More than anything else, he was a man who wanted to improve the life of his fellow human beings through the advancement of all the sciences and the establishment of a stable and just political order.
In this Very Short Introduction Maria Rosa Antognazza outlines the central features of Leibniz’s philosophy in the context of his overarching intellectual vision and aspirations. Against the backdrop of Leibniz’s encompassing scientific ambitions, she introduces the fundamental principles of Leibniz’s thought, as well as his theory of truth and theory of knowledge. Exploring Leibniz’s contributions to logic, mathematics, physics, and metaphysics, she considers how his theories sat alongside his concerns with politics, diplomacy, and a broad range of practical reforms: juridical, economic, administrative, technological, medical, and ecclesiastical. Discussing Leinbniz’s theories of possible worlds, she concludes by looking at what is ultimately real in this actual world that we experience, the good and evil there is in it, and Leibniz’s response to the problem of evil through his theodicy.
Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography – Maria Rosa Antognazza
Publisher description: Of all the thinkers of the century of genius that inaugurated modern philosophy, none lived an intellectual life more rich and varied than Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). Trained as a jurist and employed as a counsellor, librarian, and historian, he made famous contributions to logic, mathematics, physics, and metaphysics, yet viewed his own aspirations as ultimately ethical and theological, and married these theoretical concerns with politics, diplomacy, and an equally broad range of practical reforms: juridical, economic, administrative, technological, medical, and ecclesiastical. Maria Rosa Antognazza’s pioneering biography not only surveys the full breadth and depth of these theoretical interests and practical activities, it also weaves them together for the first time into a unified portrait of this unique thinker and the world from which he came. At the centre of the huge range of Leibniz’s apparently miscellaneous endeavours, Antognazza reveals a single master project lending unity to his extraordinarily multifaceted life’s work. Throughout the vicissitudes of his long life, Leibniz tenaciously pursued the dream of a systematic reform and advancement of all the sciences, to be undertaken as a collaborative enterprise supported by an enlightened ruler; these theoretical pursuits were in turn ultimately grounded in a practical goal: the improvement of the human condition and thereby the celebration of the glory of God in His creation. As well as tracing the threads of continuity that bound these theoretical and practical activities to this all-embracing plan, this illuminating study also traces these threads back into the intellectual traditions of the Holy Roman Empire in which Leibniz lived and throughout the broader intellectual networks that linked him to patrons in countries as distant as Russia and to correspondents as far afield as China.
Publisher description: Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays contains complete translations of the two essays that constitute the best introductions to Leibniz’s complex thought: Discourse on Metaphysics of 1686 and Monadology of 1714. These are supplemented with two essays of special interest to the student of modern philosophy, On the Ultimate Origination of Things of 1697 and the Preface to his New Essays of 1703-1705.
The translations are taken from Leibniz, Philosophical Essays, edited and translated by Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Hackett, 1989).
Philosophical Essays – Leibniz
Publisher description: Although Leibniz’s writing forms an enormous corpus, no single work stands as a canonical expression of his whole philosophy. In addition, the wide range of Leibniz’s work–letters, published papers, and fragments on a variety of philosophical, religious, mathematical, and scientific questions over a fifty-year period–heightens the challenge of preparing an edition of his writings in English translation from the French and Latin.
New Essays on Human Understanding – Leibniz
Publisher description: Challenging Locke’s views in Essays on Human Understanding chapter by chapter, Leibniz’s references to his contemporaries and his discussion of the ideas and institutions of the age make this work a fascinating and valuable document in the history of ideas.
The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz – Nicholas Jolley
Publisher description: A remarkable thinker, Gottfried Leibniz made fundamental contributions not only to philosophy, but also to the development of modern mathematics and science. At the center of Leibniz’s philosophy stands his metaphysics, an ambitious attempt to discover the nature of reality through the use of unaided reason. This volume provides a systematic and comprehensive account of the full range of Leibniz’s thought, exploring the metaphysics in detail and showing its subtle and complex relationship to his views on logic, language, physics, and theology.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Leibniz
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Leibniz
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