Saturday, December 13, 2014

Dr. Pangloss Redeemed


Marc E. Bobro on "one of the most impressive figures in the history of modern science, mathematics, and philosophy," who is sadly "chiefly remembered today, when he is remembered at all, for [having] invented the calculus" and "author[ing] the provocative statement that this world is 'the best of all possible worlds,' [a] claim... famously lampooned in Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide" — The Optimistic Science of Leibniz.

This was a man "who, while never rejecting Lutheranism, preferred a much more ecumenical approach to religion, even trying to unify Calvinist and Lutheran denominations as well as Catholics, Protestants, and Greek Orthodox," and was even "offered the position of custodian of the Vatican library." The Western Confucian, this blogger's former incarnation, would have certainly taken note of this:
    He wanted to merge the academies of France, Italy, and England with the newly formed German academy in order to promote “the universal harmonious relationship of the learned” by supporting education and the sciences, including medicine and the experimental sciences such as physics and astronomy. Leibniz even wanted to include China in this scheme. He had a long-lasting interest in China, although not much was known about it in Leibniz’s Europe. But he befriended or read the writings of a number of Catholic missionaries, whose knowledge of China was the best available. In 1716, the last year of his life, Leibniz wrote a lengthy letter to a French correspondent on the subject of Chinese natural theology and on the relation between the binary number system (which he invented) and its use in deciphering one of China’s oldest sacred books, the I Ching.

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