New Book: The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil in the Age of Reason (Steven Nadler)

This looks interesting. I’ve never used a secondary source book of this sort in class, partly because of the traditional preference of the primary sources, partly because I felt it’s not “serious” enough, but I’m considering using this book for my summer class (in addition, of course, to some primary sources) as I myself love to read these sorts of historical/philosophical books.

In the spring of 1672, German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz arrived in Paris, home of France’s two greatest philosopher-theologians of the period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas de Malebranche. The meeting of these three men represents a profoundly important moment in the history of philosophical and religious thought.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds, Steven Nadler tells the story of a clash between radically divergent worldviews. At its heart are the dramatic–and often turbulent–relationships between these brilliant and resolute individuals. Despite their wildly different views and personalities, the three philosophers shared a single, passionate concern: resolving the problem of evil. Why is it that, in a world created by an all-powerful, all-wise, and infinitely just God, there is sin and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people?

The Best of All Possible Worlds brings to life a debate that obsessed its participants, captivated European intellectuals, and continues to inform our ways of thinking about God, morality, and the world.

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of Rembrandt’s Jews, a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize, as well as Spinoza: A Life and Spinoza’s Heresy.

CFP: Leibniz’s Theodicy Conference (Notre Dame)

This looks interesting and well-funded (accepted papers get full expenses paid) – I used Theodicy once in my philosophy of religion seminar, mixed reactions as you can imagine.

Leibniz’s Theodicy: Context and Content — Call for Papers

We invite scholars to submit papers for presentation at the Leibniz’s Theodicy: Context and Content. This conference, held on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the publication of Leibniz’s Theodicy, aims to explore this seminal work, the only book length treatise published by Leibniz in his lifetime. The conference will explore the contents, its fit within the Leibnizian corpus, its broader historical context, and its subsequent reception and impact as well as how the views expressed fit into the larger intellectual landscape of the period as described on the main conference page. Papers on any of these philosophical, theological, and historical topics will be considered, though they must not be under publication consideration at the time of the conference.

Expenses (including travel) will be paid in full for the papers selected for presentation. Those wishing to propose entries for consideration should submit a short abstract (350 word limit) of the paper no later than March 1, 2010. Accepted papers must be completed and submitted to the organizers no later than August 15, 2010 for pre-conference web posting. Submissions and inquiries should be sent electronically to

Those wishing to participate in the conference as commentators or session chairs should notify the conference directors at Such requests should be accompanied by an attached C.V.

Metaphysical Novel.

I dug out an old but good book by Gottfried Martin, Kant’s Metaphysics and Theory of Science, and decided to read it again in the light of all the present discussions of Kant and his ontology. I think it’s a shame that this book is so hard to find, it came out in 1955 and I think it certainly deserves a good paperback reissue. Martin opens with a discussion of Leibniz and especially the idea of God: Continue reading

Pulchrum concilium semibestiarum!

Speaking of the relationship between ontology and politics, here’s a great advice from none other than Leibniz himself – concerning a cool army of slaves trained on an island:

A certain island of Africa, such as Madagascar, shall be selected, and all the inhabitants shall be ordered to leave. Visitors from elsewhere shall be turned away, or in any event it will be decreed that they only be permitted to stay in the harbor for the purpose of obtaining water.  To this island slaves captured from all over the barbarian world will be brought, and from all of the wild coastal regions of Africa, Arabia, New Guinea, etc. To this end Ethiopians, Nigritians, Angolans, Caribbeans, Canadians, and Hurons fit the bill, without discrimination. What a lovely bunch of semi-beasts! But so that this mass of men may be shaped in any way desired, it is useful only to take boys up to around the age of twelve, as this is better than [attempting to] transform girls and adults.

Read the rest of the text here.

Philosophical Trivia: Old Hobbes

Apparently (very old ) Thomas Hobbes’ most extensive single undertaking was a translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in 1670s – who would have thought? Instead of answering young Leibniz’ adoring letter of July 1670, the old-timer was working on a translation that is now available in the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes for mere $250. Speaking of Leibniz’ letter to Hobbes, it is found in the second volume of the two volume edition from the same series and you can see it on the preview of the volume on Google Books here. Young Leibniz is polishing apples like there’s no tomorrow – anyone with any ambition in the scholarly world should memorize it. My favorite part is the opening: 

Most distinguished Sir, 
It made me extremely happy to learn (from a letter sent to me be a friend of mine who is touring England) that you are still alive and in good health, at your age; and I could not refrain from writing you.

Hobbes was 82 at the time and I imagine without Wikipedia it would be impossible to check if he was still around. I seem to remember reading that the letter never actually reached Hobbes, but also that he did receive it but never responded, possibly due to Leibniz’ strange flattery. This second source might be Riley’s introduction to Political Writings – in any case, a nice piece of philosophical trivia for you!

(December of Kant) …And Then God Created Triangles.

Geometrical examples are abound in Kant, but the most peculiar is that of the triangle – peculiar both in its popularity and its philosophical history. Someone out there must be working on a book about it – A Brief History of the Philosophical Use of Geometry: The Case of Triangles. The issue is more interesting vis-a-vis Kant’s discussion of the moral law, or rather, the role of God in the discussion of moral law. A basic problem is, of course, well-known ever since Socrates decided to annoys the noble Euthyphro with a series of questions about piety: Is something pious because gods love it or do they love it because it is pious? Euthyphro ends with a sort of rude “I really have to get going now” from the young man, but the issue remained and puzzled theologians: Does God command that we do something because it is good, or is it good because God commands that we do it? While reading Kant’s lectures on ethics this afternoon, I came across this passage: Continue reading

Good Idea/Bad Idea?

I’ve taught Monadology a couple of times before in my Intro to Philosophy courses with varying degrees of success. Overall, the students have seemed to like it, especially after reading Descartes’ Meditations. However, in each of my sections this semester many students are having trouble grasping the first 10 or so sections of Monadology. What’s interesting to me is that Leibniz wrote this late text for a general audience, and while it is certainly jargon heavy, I like to use it because it talks about jargon we’ve been studying all semester, whether substance, composite etc. I also like to teach Leibniz because, let’s face it, Monadology seems rather wild and flat out strange to many of our students. However, I think this is certainly a good thing, and in fact, there was a group of students talking about this after class with me and each other. Always a good sign, no? Yet, I have some reservations with teaching Monadology as well, as I fear that it may be too advanced for students that have never been exposed to this stuff. Although, many students seem to embrace a form of Lockean empiricism or a sort of pragmatism. That said, I wonder if I presented empiricism first it would draw out Leibniz’s position more dramatically, instead of pitching Monadology as a response in some ways to Cartesian dualism. Anyway…

Just when you thought this blog couldn’t get any more narcissistic, here’s a question:

Teaching Monadology in my Intro to Philosophy courses. Good idea or Bad Idea?

New Book: Kant and the Early Moderns

Sorry about all these “new book” posts but there’s just so many good ones that came to my attention and I feel affected enough to share – this new collection of essays on Kant and the early moderns looks like a good read: 



Kant and the Early Moderns
Edited by Daniel Garber & Béatrice Longuenesse



Paper | 2008 | $29.95 / £17.95
Cloth | 2008 | $65.00 / £38.95
276 pp. | 6 x 9


Shopping Cart | Endorsements | Table of Contents
Introduction [HTML] or [PDF]

The Song of Sufficient Reason: Deleuze on Leibniz.

I am not sure if this is a resource that is known and used by those who, like me, are not specializing in Deleuze, but there are some of Deleuze’s lectures available in transcription (both in French and English) here. There are several lectures devoted to Leibniz and I think they clearly show Deleuze’s appreciation of Leibniz, a sort of a personal appreciation as opposed to the “official” mention or engagement. This is from the very first lecture on Leibniz (4/15/1980): Continue reading

BBC – Radio 4: Math and Music (Podcast)


[Stream here]

The seventeenth century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz wrote: ‘Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting’. Mathematical structures have always provided the bare bones around which musicians compose music and have been vital to the very practical considerations of performance such as fingering and tempo.

But there is a more complex area in the relationship between maths and music which is to do with the physics of sound: how pitch is determined by force or weight; how the complex arrangement of notes in relation to each other produces a scale; and how frequency determines the harmonics of sound.

How were mathematical formulations used to create early music? Why do we in the West hear twelve notes in the octave when the Chinese hear fifty-three? What is the mathematical sequence that produces the so-called ‘golden section’? And why was there a resurgence of the use of mathematics in composition in the twentieth century?

Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford
Robin Wilson, Professor of Pure Mathematics at the Open University
Ruth Tatlow, Lecturer in Music Theory at the University of Stockholm