Gottfried Leibniz: contributions to the science of the “last universal genius”

Gottfried Leibniz was one of the great scholars of the Modern Age. His contributions in various areas of knowledge are still valid today. Here is a brief review of his life, works and most important contributions.

Last update: November 16, 2021

Gottfried Leibniz was one of the great thinkers of the seventeenth century and is known as the last genius universal. He made important contributions in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of religion, physics, geology, jurisprudence, and history.

He even made contributions to technology and anticipated notions that appeared much later in biology, medicine, probability theory, psychology, engineering, and information science. If you want to know more about this scholarly thinker and his great contributions, we invite you to continue reading.

Gottfried Leibniz’s early life

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in Leipzig, Germany, on July 1, 1646. He was the son of Friedrich Leibniz, professor of moral philosophy, and Catharina Schmuck, whose father was a law professor.

Although Leibniz attended elementary school, He was self-taught from the books in his father’s library (who had died in 1652 when Leibniz was 6 years old). As a young man, Leibniz immersed himself in history, poetry, mathematics, and other subjects, gaining knowledge in many different fields.


In 1661, at the age of 14, he began studying law at the University of Leipzig and knew the works of thinkers such as René Descartes, Galileo and Francis Bacon. While there, he also attended summer school at the University of Jena, where he studied mathematics.

In 1666 he finished his law studies and applied to become a law doctoral student at Leipzig. However, due to his young age, he was denied the title.

This caused Leibniz to leave the University of Leipzig and obtain the degree the following year at the University of Altdorf, whose mentors invited him to become a teacher despite his youth. Leibniz, however, refused and chose to pursue a career in public service.

In 1667 he entered the service of the Elector Archbishop of Mainz as a diplomat. In the following years he displayed an intense activity in court and ecclesiastical circles.

This thinker started his career at an early age. He was able to complete his doctorate before others his own age began studying at the university level.


Leibniz wrote mainly in 3 languages: Scholastic Latin (ca. 40%), French (ca. 35%) and German (less than 25%). His works are vast, since in life he published many pamphlets, academic articles and two philosophical books: Dissertation on combinatorial art and Theodicy.

After his death another substantial text was released, entitled New essays on human understanding, which he had avoided publishing after the death of the English philosopher John Locke.

For its part, in 1895 the enormous extension of his manuscripts was clarified, which are about 15,000 letters, many with the length of an essay. However, much of his vast correspondence, particularly letters dating after 1685, remain unpublished.

Gottfried Leibniz contributions

Gottfried Leibniz is known for his wide range of contributions in various disciplines. Next, we will present the most outstanding contributions.

In mathematics

Leibniz’s contributions in mathematics were various. The best known and most controversial is the infinitesimal calculus, which studies limits, derivatives, integrals, and infinite series.

Both Newton and Leibniz presented their respective theories of calculus in such a short period of time that there was talk of plagiarism. This led to a conflict between the two thinkers, which ended with the death of Newton in 1727. At that time, the question of who was the creator of the calculus was not fully clarified.

Nevertheless, it is known that Newton and Leibniz discovered the calculus independently. Although Leibniz’s notation ended up being used for its versatility. In addition, it was he who gave the name to this study and provided it with the symbols.

On the other hand, in 1679 Leibniz devised the modern binary system and presented it in his work Explication de l’arithmétique binaire in 1703. This system uses the numbers 0 and 1 to represent all combinations, unlike the decimal system.

Finally, Gottfried Leibniz also was an enthusiast in creating mechanical calculating machines, a project that was inspired by Pascal’s calculator. The stepped reckonerAs he called it, it was ready in 1672 and it was the first to allow operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

In philosophy

Together with René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, He was one of the 3 great rationalists of the seventeenth century. His work anticipated modern logic and analytical philosophy.

Among the most important philosophical principles proposed by Leibniz is the continuity of nature and sufficient reason. On the one hand, the continuity of nature is related to the infinitesimal calculus. While reason enough is that nothing happens without a reason.

For its part, Leibniz’s best known contribution to metaphysics is his theory of monads, as explained in the Monadology. In this case, monads are to the metaphysical realm what atoms are to the physical / phenomenal realm.

Finally, another important contribution of Leibniz to philosophy can be optimism, since he defended that the world in which we live, which encompasses everything that exists and has existed, is the best of all possible worlds. This idea is based on the assumption that God is a good and rational being and has considered other possible worlds before choosing this one.

In religion

His reference to God is evidenced in the writings. He conceived it as an idea and as a real being; as the only necessary being that creates the best of all worlds.

For Leibniz, since everything has a cause or reason, at the end of the investigation there is a single cause from which everything derives. The origin, the point where everything begins, the uncaused cause, is for Leibniz the same God.

The idea of ​​God is present in the work of this scholar, since he considers it the origin of everything.

In psychology

This thinker wrote on topics that today are considered fields of psychology, such as attention, consciousness, memory, learning, association, motivation, the act of fighting, emerging individuality, the general dynamics of development and evolution.

In topology

Gottfried Leibniz was the first to use the term analysis situs, that is, analysis of the position, which would be used later in the 19th century to refer to what is known today as topology.

Gottfried Leibniz: a scholar of the Modern Age

Leibniz he acquired a great culture after reading the books in his father’s library. He had an interest in the word and was aware of the importance of language in the advances of knowledge and the intellectual development of man.

He wrote a lot during his life, but he left countless unpublished writings. So much so that his legacy is still being edited today. Leibniz’s complete work already exceeds 25 volumes, with an average of 870 pages for each volume.

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