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The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz,…

The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the… (2006)

by Matthew Stewart

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Matthew Stewart reminds us every few pages that Spinoza and Leibniz met in Holland during 1676. We are also informed that the world of their meeting was one of turmoil. The Reformation left Europe disenchanted, literally removing the catholic magic out of life and leaving everyone scurrying to a camp or church. Spinoza's ancestors had been expelled from Spain and Leibniz grew up in a Germany blackened by the Thirty Year War. Spinoza lived simply, distrusted the hordes and aimed for a life of the mind. Leibniz was a prodigy who required constant confirmation and affection. He also liked money. Leibniz famously grew up to be a foil for both Newton and Voltaire: the best of all possible worlds and a calculus co-write remain on his CV. Spinoza is regarded as the first modern philosopher, Matthew Stewart quips that such a declaration leaves Leibniz as perhaps the first modern human. Oh well, that ignores L's diplomatic scheme to save Germany. The plan was known as the Egypt Plan, which was to persuade France that instead of conquering a devastated Germany, the French would benefit themselves and Europe by instead invading Egypt in some postscript to the hallowed Annals of Crusades (from Marathon to Fallujah).

So what transpired during this 1676 meeting of the era's brightest minds? We don't know exactly. Leibniz wrote about it often, but continually altered specifics and responses to suit his needs. Spinoza died a short time later. I suppose it doesn't matter. This is a fun book despite the lacunae at its center.
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  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Abandoned. It turns out I am more interested in Spinoza's philosophy--which is discussed superficially--than in endless speculation concerning his single encounter with Leibniz. ( )
  middlemarchhare | Nov 25, 2015 |
A well-told account of the meeting of the two great thinkers. Stewart particularly focuses on how Leibniz's philosophy is best understood in the context of what he was refuting rather than what he wished to assert. An interesting example of how one's philosophical arguments may reveal more about the the philosopher than about the world that they attempt to describe. ( )
  Michael_Taylor | Dec 3, 2012 |
Really enjoyed this very smart look at one of the most famous rivalries in philosophy's history --Spinoza vs. Leibniz-- at the dawn of modern thought in the days of the scientific Enlightenment. ( )
  AramisSciant | May 17, 2011 |
A good biographical account of the reliationship between Spinoza and Leibniz, and the ways in which the crossing paths of two men with different philosophies shaped the destiny of one, and maybe both. One of the weaknesses was that the book focused mostly on Leibniz at the expense of Spinoza, and slightly more Spinoza would have been very desirable. ( )
  Devil_llama | Apr 26, 2011 |
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It is our good fortune to live in an age when philosophy is thought to be a harmless affair.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The Library of Congress (US), has a cataloging-in-publication (CIP) record with the title: The courtier and the heretic : the secret encounter between Leibniz and Spinoza that defines the modern world, which may represent a working title.
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Book description

1. The Hague, November 1676

2. Bento

3. Gottfried

4. A Life of the Mind

5. God's Attorney

6. The Hero of the People

7. The Many Faces of Leibniz

8. Friends of Friends

9. Leibniz in Love

10. A Secret Philosophy of the Whole of Things

11. Approaching Spinoza

12. Point of Contact

13. Surviving Spinoza

14. The Antidote to Spinozism

15. The Haunting

16. The Return of the Repressed

17. Leibniz's End

18. Aftermath


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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393329178, Paperback)

“A colorful reinterpretation. . . . Stewart’s wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Philosophy in the late seventeenth century was a dangerous business. No careerist could afford to know the reclusive, controversial philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. Yet the wildly ambitious genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who denounced Spinoza in public, became privately obsessed with Spinoza's ideas, wrote him clandestine letters, and ultimately met him in secret.

"In refreshingly lucid terms" (Booklist) Matthew Stewart "rescues both men from a dusty academic shelf, bringing them to life as enlightened humans" (Library Journal) central to the religious, political, and personal battles that gave birth to the modern age. Both men put their faith in the guidance of reason, but one spent his life defending a God he may not have believed in, while the other believed in a God who did not need his defense. Ultimately, the two thinkers represent radically different approaches to the challenges of the modern era. They stand for a choice that we all must make.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:34 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Philosophy in the late seventeenth century was a dangerous business. No careerist could afford to side with the reclusive philosopher and "atheist Jew" Spinoza. Yet the ambitious young genius Leibniz became obsessed with Spinoza's writings, wrote him clandestine letters, and ultimately called on Spinoza in person at his home in The Hague. Both men were at the center of the intense religious, political, and personal battles that gave birth to the modern age. One was a hermit with many friends; the other, a socialite no one trusted. One believed in a God whom almost nobody thought divine; the other defended a God in whom he probably did not believe. They would come to represent radically different approaches to the challenges of the modern era. In this philosophical romance of attraction and repulsion, greed and virtue, religion and heresy, Matthew Stewart dramatizes a contest of ideas that continues today.--From publisher description.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

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Yale University Press

An edition of this book was published by Yale University Press.

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