Monday, February 27, 2012

Two Philosophers

The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World
The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World 

"In their reports on their travels into the very heart of things, Leibniz and Spinoza seem at first glance to describe radically different universes. . . 
Yet, when we look for observable effects and practical consequences that might serve to distinguish the two worlds in question, the discrepancies seem to evaporate upon inspection." (pp 291-2)

Matthew Stewart has created an entertaining history of ideas with The Courtier and the Heretic. In it the author elegantly depicts the contrast between Baruch de Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, in both their lifestyles and their philosophies. He does so in an entertaining way and, while presenting a certain amount of speculation about the interaction between them, provides a lucid presentation of the portion of their lives and philosophies relevant to his project.
Some of the details were particularly fascinating to me, such as the connection between Leibniz and a young George Frideric Handel who was Kapellmeister for George, the Elector of Hanover, when Liebniz was present at the same court. This brought into focus the Baroque culture that surrounded Leibniz. The philosophical comparisons were also compelling as Stewart discusses major issues including the two philosophers' views of immortality, happiness, mind, necessity, substance, and god. I'm not sure I was convinced by all his speculation, but the book was a good introduction to controversies surrounding the development of modern philosophy in the wake of Descartes and it was a great read as well.

An updated review of 
The Courtier and the Heretic by Matthew Stewart. W. W. Norton & Company, New York. 2006

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