chapter  11
Leibniz: truth, knowledge and metaphysics
ByNicholas Jolley
Pages 54

Leibniz is in important respects the exception among the great philosophers of the seventeenth century. The major thinkers of the period characteristically proclaim the need to reject the philosophical tradition; in their different ways Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza all insist that new foundations must be laid if philosophy is to achieve any sure and lasting results. Even Malebranche, who seeks to revive the teaching of Augustine, joins in the general chorus of condemnation of Aristotle and his legacy. Leibniz, by contrast, does not share in this revolutionary fervour. Although he is capable of criticizing the Aristotelian tradition, he is also careful to remark that much gold is buried in the dross.1 Leibniz of course is as enthusiastic as any of his contemporaries about the new mechanistic science; indeed, he is one of its most distinguished advocates and exponents. But by temperament Leibniz is not a revolutionary but a synthesizer; in philosophy, as in politics and religion, he deliberately sets out to mediate between opposing camps. As he himself said, ‘the majority of the sects are right in a large part of what they assert but not so much in what they deny’.2