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Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Full name Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Born 1 July 1646
Leipzig, Electorate of Saxony
Died 14 November 1716(1716-11-14) (aged 70)
Hanover, Electorate of Hanover
Era 17th-century philosophy
18th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
Main interests Metaphysics, Mathematics, Theodicy
Notable ideas Infinitesimal calculus, Monadology, Optimism
Leibniz formula for pi
Leibniz harmonic triangle
Leibniz formula for determinants
Leibniz integral rule
Principle of sufficient reason
Diagrammatic reasoning
Notation for differentiation
Proof of Fermat's little theorem
Kinetic energy
Entscheidungsproblem
AST
Signature

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (sometimes von Leibniz) (German pronunciation: [ˈɡɔtfʁiːt ˈvɪlhɛlm fɔn ˈlaɪbnɪts][1] (July 1, 1646 - November 14, 1716) was a German mathematician and philosopher. He wrote primarily in Latin and French.

Leibniz occupies a prominent place in the history of mathematics and the history of philosophy. Leibniz developed the infinitesimal calculus independently of Isaac Newton, and Leibniz's mathematical notation has been widely used ever since it was published. Leibniz also developed the binary number system, which is at the foundation of virtually all digital computers.

In philosophy, Leibniz is mostly noted for his optimism, e.g. his conclusion that our Universe is, in a restricted sense, the best possible one that God could have created. Leibniz, along with René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, was one of the three great 17th century advocates of rationalism. The work of Leibniz anticipated modern logic and analytic philosophy, but his philosophy also looks back to the scholastic tradition, in which conclusions are produced by applying reason to first principles or a priori definitions rather than to empirical evidence. Leibniz made major contributions to physics and technology, and anticipated notions that surfaced much later in biology, medicine, geology, probability theory, psychology, linguistics, and information science. He wrote works on politics, law, ethics, theology, history, philosophy, and philology. Leibniz's contributions to this vast array of subjects were scattered in various learned journals, in tens of thousands of letters, and in unpublished manuscripts. As of 2010, there is no complete gathering of the writings of Leibniz.[2]

The collection of manuscript papers of Leibniz at the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek - Niedersächische Landesbibliothek were inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007.[3]

Contents

[edit] Biography

[edit] Early life

Gottfried Leibniz was born on July 1, 1646 in Leipzig, Saxony, to Friedrich Leibniz and Catherina Schmuck. Leibniz's father, who was of Sorbian ancestry,[4][5] died when he was six years old, and from that point on, he was raised by his mother. Her teachings influenced Leibniz's philosophical thoughts in his later life.

Leibniz's father, Friedrich Leibniz, had been a Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Leipzig, so Leibniz inherited his father's personal library. He was given free access to this from the age of seven and thereafter. While Leibniz's schoolwork focused on a small canon of authorities, his father's library enabled him to study a wide variety of advanced philosophical and theological works - ones that he would not have otherwise been able to read until his college years.[citation needed] Access to his father's library, largely written in Latin, also led to his proficiency in the Latin language. Leibniz was proficient in Latin by the age of 12, and he composed three hundred hexameters of Latin verse in a single morning for a special event at school at the age of 13.[citation needed]

Leibniz enrolled in his father's former university at age 14, and he completed his bachelor's degree in philosophy in December of 1662. He defended his Disputatio Metaphysica de Principio Individui, which addressed the Principle of individuation, on June 9, 1663. Leibniz earned his master's degree in philosophy on February 7, 1664. He published and defended a dissertation Specimen Quaestionum Philosophicarum ex Jure collectarum, arguing for both a theoretical and a pedagogical relationship between philosophy and law, in December 1664. After one year of legal studies, he was awarded his bachelor's degree in Law on 28 September 1665.[citation needed]

In 1666, (at age 20), Leibniz published his first book, On the Art of Combinations, the first part of which was also his habilitation thesis in philosophy. His next goal was to earn his license and doctorate in Law, which normally required three years of study then. Older students in the law school blocked his early graduation plans, prompting Leibniz to leave Leipzig in disgust in September of 1666.[citation needed]

Leibniz then enrolled in the University of Altdorf, and almost immediately he submitted a thesis, which he had probably been working on earlier in Leipzig. The title of his thesis was Disputatio de Casibus perplexis in Jure. Leibniz earned his license to practice law and his Doctorate in Law in November of 1666. He next declined the offer of an academic appointment at Altdorf, and he spent the rest of his life in the paid service of two main German families of nobleman.[citation needed]

As an adult, Leibniz often introduced himself as "Gottfried von Leibniz". Also many posthumously-published editions of his writings presented his name on the title page as "Freiherr G. W. von Leibniz." However, no document has ever been found from any contemporary government that stated his appointment to any form of nobility.[6]

[edit] 1666–74

Leibniz's first position was as a salaried alchemist in Nuremberg, even though he knew nothing about the subject. He soon met Johann Christian von Boineburg (1622–1672), the dismissed chief minister of the Elector of Mainz, Johann Philipp von Schönborn. Von Boineburg hired Leibniz as an assistant, and shortly thereafter reconciled with the Elector and introduced Leibniz to him. Leibniz then dedicated an essay on law to the Elector in the hope of obtaining employment. The stratagem worked; the Elector asked Leibniz to assist with the redrafting of the legal code for his Electorate. In 1669, Leibniz was appointed Assessor in the Court of Appeal. Although von Boineburg died late in 1672, Leibniz remained under the employment of his widow until she dismissed him in 1674.

Von Boineburg did much to promote Leibniz's reputation, and the latter's memoranda and letters began to attract favorable notice. Leibniz's service to the Elector soon followed a diplomatic role. He published an essay, under the pseudonym of a fictitious Polish nobleman, arguing (unsuccessfully) for the German candidate for the Polish crown. The main European geopolitical reality during Leibniz's adult life was the ambition of Louis XIV of France, backed by French military and economic might. Meanwhile, the Thirty Years' War had left German-speaking Europe exhausted, fragmented, and economically backward. Leibniz proposed to protect German-speaking Europe by distracting Louis as follows. France would be invited to take Egypt as a stepping stone towards an eventual conquest of the Dutch East Indies. In return, France would agree to leave Germany and the Netherlands undisturbed. This plan obtained the Elector's cautious support. In 1672, the French government invited Leibniz to Paris for discussion, but the plan was soon overtaken by the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and became irrelevant. Napoleon's failed invasion of Egypt in 1798 can be seen as an unwitting implementation of Leibniz's plan.

Thus Leibniz began several years in Paris. Soon after arriving, he met Dutch physicist and mathematician Christiaan Huygens and realised that his own knowledge of mathematics and physics was patchy. With Huygens as mentor, he began a program of self-study that soon pushed him to making major contributions to both subjects, including inventing his version of the differential and integral calculus. He met Nicolas Malebranche and Antoine Arnauld, the leading French philosophers of the day, and studied the writings of Descartes and Pascal, unpublished as well as published. He befriended a German mathematician, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus; they corresponded for the rest of their lives.

Stepped Reckoner.

When it became clear that France would not implement its part of Leibniz's Egyptian plan, the Elector sent his nephew, escorted by Leibniz, on a related mission to the English government in London, early in 1673. There Leibniz came into acquaintance of Henry Oldenburg and John Collins. After demonstrating a calculating machine he had been designing and building since 1670 to the Royal Society, the first such machine that could execute all four basic arithmetical operations, the Society made him an external member. The mission ended abruptly when news reached it of the Elector's death, whereupon Leibniz promptly returned to Paris and not, as had been planned, to Mainz.

The sudden deaths of Leibniz's two patrons in the same winter meant that Leibniz had to find a new basis for his career. In this regard, a 1669 invitation from the Duke of Brunswick to visit Hanover proved fateful. Leibniz declined the invitation, but began corresponding with the Duke in 1671. In 1673, the Duke offered him the post of Counsellor which Leibniz very reluctantly accepted two years later, only after it became clear that no employment in Paris, whose intellectual stimulation he relished, or with the Habsburg imperial court was forthcoming.

[edit] House of Hanover, 1676–1716

Leibniz managed to delay his arrival in Hanover until the end of 1676, after making one more short journey to London, where he possibly was shown some of Newton's unpublished work on the calculus.[7] This fact was deemed evidence supporting the accusation, made decades later, that he had stolen the calculus from Newton. On the journey from London to Hanover, Leibniz stopped in The Hague where he met Leeuwenhoek, the discoverer of microorganisms. He also spent several days in intense discussion with Spinoza, who had just completed his masterwork, the Ethics. Leibniz respected Spinoza's powerful intellect, but was dismayed by his conclusions that contradicted both Christian and Jewish orthodoxy.

In 1677, he was promoted, at his request, to Privy Counselor of Justice, a post he held for the rest of his life. Leibniz served three consecutive rulers of the House of Brunswick as historian, political adviser, and most consequentially, as librarian of the ducal library. He thenceforth employed his pen on all the various political, historical, and theological matters involving the House of Brunswick; the resulting documents form a valuable part of the historical record for the period.

Among the few people in north Germany to accept Leibniz were the Electress Sophia of Hanover (1630–1714), her daughter Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668–1705), the Queen of Prussia and his avowed disciple, and Caroline of Ansbach, the consort of her grandson, the future George II. To each of these women he was correspondent, adviser, and friend. In turn, they all approved of Leibniz more than did their spouses and the future king George I of Great Britain.[8]

The population of Hanover was only about 10,000, and its provinciality eventually grated on Leibniz. Nevertheless, to be a major courtier to the House of Brunswick was quite an honor, especially in light of the meteoric rise in the prestige of that House during Leibniz's association with it. In 1692, the Duke of Brunswick became a hereditary Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. The British Act of Settlement 1701 designated the Electress Sophia and her descent as the royal family of the United Kingdom, once both King William III and his sister-in-law and successor, Queen Anne, were dead. Leibniz played a role in the initiatives and negotiations leading up to that Act, but not always an effective one. For example, something he published anonymously in England, thinking to promote the Brunswick cause, was formally censured by the British Parliament.

The Brunswicks tolerated the enormous effort Leibniz devoted to intellectual pursuits unrelated to his duties as a courtier, pursuits such as perfecting the calculus, writing about other mathematics, logic, physics, and philosophy, and keeping up a vast correspondence. He began working on the calculus in 1674; the earliest evidence of its use in his surviving notebooks is 1675. By 1677 he had a coherent system in hand, but did not publish it until 1684. Leibniz's most important mathematical papers were published between 1682 and 1692, usually in a journal which he and Otto Mencke founded in 1682, the Acta Eruditorum. That journal played a key role in advancing his mathematical and scientific reputation, which in turn enhanced his eminence in diplomacy, history, theology, and philosophy.

The Elector Ernst August commissioned Leibniz to write a history of the House of Brunswick, going back to the time of Charlemagne or earlier, hoping that the resulting book would advance his dynastic ambitions. From 1687 to 1690, Leibniz traveled extensively in Germany, Austria, and Italy, seeking and finding archival materials bearing on this project. Decades went by but no history appeared; the next Elector became quite annoyed at Leibniz's apparent dilatoriness. Leibniz never finished the project, in part because of his huge output on many other fronts, but also because he insisted on writing a meticulously researched and erudite book based on archival sources, when his patrons would have been quite happy with a short popular book, one perhaps little more than a genealogy with commentary, to be completed in three years or less. They never knew that he had in fact carried out a fair part of his assigned task: when the material Leibniz had written and collected for his history of the House of Brunswick was finally published in the 19th century, it filled three volumes.

In 1711, John Keill, writing in the journal of the Royal Society and with Newton's presumed blessing, accused Leibniz of having plagiarized Newton's calculus. Thus began the calculus priority dispute which darkened the remainder of Leibniz's life. A formal investigation by the Royal Society (in which Newton was an unacknowledged participant), undertaken in response to Leibniz's demand for a retraction, upheld Keill's charge. Historians of mathematics writing since 1900 or so have tended to acquit Leibniz, pointing to important differences between Leibniz's and Newton's versions of the calculus.

In 1711, while traveling in northern Europe, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great stopped in Hanover and met Leibniz, who then took some interest in Russian matters for the rest of his life. In 1712, Leibniz began a two year residence in Vienna, where he was appointed Imperial Court Councillor to the Habsburgs. On the death of Queen Anne in 1714, Elector Georg Ludwig became King George I of Great Britain, under the terms of the 1701 Act of Settlement. Even though Leibniz had done much to bring about this happy event, it was not to be his hour of glory. Despite the intercession of the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Ansbach, George I forbade Leibniz to join him in London until he completed at least one volume of the history of the Brunswick family his father had commissioned nearly 30 years earlier. Moreover, for George I to include Leibniz in his London court would have been deemed insulting to Newton, who was seen as having won the calculus priority dispute and whose standing in British official circles could not have been higher. Finally, his dear friend and defender, the dowager Electress Sophia, died in 1714.

Leibniz died in Hanover in 1716: at the time, he was so out of favor that neither George I (who happened to be near Hanover at the time) nor any fellow courtier other than his personal secretary attended the funeral. Even though Leibniz was a life member of the Royal Society and the Berlin Academy of Sciences, neither organization saw fit to honor his passing. His grave went unmarked for more than 50 years. Leibniz was eulogized by Fontenelle, before the Academie des Sciences in Paris, which had admitted him as a foreign member in 1700. The eulogy was composed at the behest of the Duchess of Orleans, a niece of the Electress Sophia.

Leibniz never married. He complained on occasion about money, but the fair sum he left to his sole heir, his sister's stepson, proved that the Brunswicks had, by and large, paid him well. In his diplomatic endeavors, he at times verged on the unscrupulous, as was all too often the case with professional diplomats of his day. On several occasions, Leibniz backdated and altered personal manuscripts, actions which put him in a bad light during the calculus controversy. On the other hand, he was charming, well-mannered, and not without humor and imagination;[9] He had many friends and admirers all over Europe.

[edit] Philosopher

Leibniz's philosophical thinking appears fragmented, because his philosophical writings consist mainly of a multitude of short pieces: journal articles, manuscripts published long after his death, and many letters to many correspondents. He wrote only two philosophical treatises, of which only the Théodicée of 1710 was published in his lifetime.

Leibniz dated his beginning as a philosopher to his Discourse on Metaphysics, which he composed in 1686 as a commentary on a running dispute between Nicolas Malebranche and Antoine Arnauld. This led to an extensive and valuable correspondence with Arnauld;[10] it and the Discourse were not published until the 19th century. In 1695, Leibniz made his public entrée into European philosophy with a journal article titled "New System of the Nature and Communication of Substances".[11] Between 1695 and 1705, he composed his New Essays on Human Understanding, a lengthy commentary on John Locke's 1690 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, but upon learning of Locke's 1704 death, lost the desire to publish it, so that the New Essays were not published until 1765. The Monadologie, composed in 1714 and published posthumously, consists of 90 aphorisms.

Leibniz met Spinoza in 1676, read some of his unpublished writings, and has since been suspected of appropriating some of Spinoza's ideas. While Leibniz admired Spinoza's powerful intellect, he was also forthrightly dismayed by Spinoza's conclusions,[12] especially when these were inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy.

Unlike Descartes and Spinoza, Leibniz had a thorough university education in philosophy. His lifelong scholastic and Aristotelian turn of mind betrayed the strong influence of one of his Leipzig professors, Jakob Thomasius, who also supervised his BA thesis in philosophy. Leibniz also eagerly read Francisco Suárez, a Spanish Jesuit respected even in Lutheran universities. Leibniz was deeply interested in the new methods and conclusions of Descartes, Huygens, Newton, and Boyle, but viewed their work through a lens heavily tinted by scholastic notions. Yet it remains the case that Leibniz's methods and concerns often anticipate the logic, and analytic and linguistic philosophy of the 20th century.

[edit] The Principles

Leibniz variously invoked one or another of seven fundamental philosophical Principles:[13]

  • Identity/contradiction. If a proposition is true, then its negation is false and vice versa.
  • Identity of indiscernibles. Two things are identical if and only if they share the same and only the same properties. Frequently invoked in modern logic and philosophy. The "identity of indiscernibles" is often referred to as Leibniz's Law. It has attracted the most controversy and criticism, especially from corpuscular philosophy and quantum mechanics.
  • Sufficient reason. "There must be a sufficient reason [often known only to God] for anything to exist, for any event to occur, for any truth to obtain."[14]
  • Pre-established harmony.[15] "[T]he appropriate nature of each substance brings it about that what happens to one corresponds to what happens to all the others, without, however, their acting upon one another directly." (Discourse on Metaphysics, XIV) A dropped glass shatters because it "knows" it has hit the ground, and not because the impact with the ground "compels" the glass to split.
  • Continuity. Natura non saltum facit. A mathematical analog to this principle would proceed as follows: if a function describes a transformation of something to which continuity applies, then its domain and range are both dense sets.
  • Optimism. "God assuredly always chooses the best."[16]
  • Plenitude. "Leibniz believed that the best of all possible worlds would actualize every genuine possibility, and argued in Théodicée that this best of all possible worlds will contain all possibilities, with our finite experience of eternity giving no reason to dispute nature's perfection."

Leibniz would on occasion give a speech for a specific principle, but more often took them for granted.[17]

[edit] The monads

Leibniz's best known contribution to metaphysics is his theory of monads, as exposited in Monadologie. Monads are to the metaphysical realm what atoms are to the physical/phenomenal.[citation needed] They can also be compared to the corpuscles of the Mechanical Philosophy of René Descartes and others. Monads are the ultimate elements of the universe. The monads are "substantial forms of being" with the following properties: they are eternal, indecomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, un-interacting, and each reflecting the entire universe in a pre-established harmony (a historically important example of panpsychism). Monads are centers of force; substance is force, while space, matter, and motion are merely phenomenal.

The ontological essence of a monad is its irreducible simplicity. Unlike atoms, monads possess no material or spatial character. They also differ from atoms by their complete mutual independence, so that interactions among monads are only apparent. Instead, by virtue of the principle of pre-established harmony, each monad follows a preprogrammed set of "instructions" peculiar to itself, so that a monad "knows" what to do at each moment. (These "instructions" may be seen as analogs of the scientific laws governing subatomic particles.) By virtue of these intrinsic instructions, each monad is like a little mirror of the universe. Monads need not be "small"; e.g., each human being constitutes a monad, in which case free will is problematic. God, too, is a monad, and the existence of God can be inferred from the harmony prevailing among all other monads; God wills the pre-established harmony.

Monads are purported to having gotten rid of the problematic:

  • Interaction between mind and matter arising in the system of Descartes;
  • Lack of individuation inherent to the system of Spinoza, which represents individual creatures as merely accidental.

[edit] Theodicy and optimism

(Note that the word “optimism” here is used in the classic sense of optimal, not in the mood-related sense, as being positively hopeful)

The Théodicée[18] tries to justify the apparent imperfections of the world by claiming that it is optimal among all possible worlds. It must be the best possible and most balanced world, because it was created by an all powerful and all knowing God, who would not choose to create an imperfect world if a better world could be known to him or possible to exist. In effect, apparent flaws that can be identified in this world must exist in every possible world, because otherwise God would have chosen to create the world that excluded those flaws.

Leibniz asserted that the truths of theology (religion) and philosophy cannot contradict each other, since reason and faith are both "gifts of God" so that their conflict would imply God contending against himself. The Theodicy is Leibniz's attempt to reconcile his personal philosophical system with his interpretation of the tenets of Christianity.[19] This project was motivated in part by Leibniz's belief, shared by many conservative philosophers and theologians during the Enlightenment, in the rational and enlightened nature of the Christian religion, at least as this was defined in tendentious comparisons between Christian and non Western or "primitive" religious practices and beliefs. It was also shaped by Leibniz's belief in the perfectibility of human nature (if humanity relied on correct philosophy and religion as a guide), and by his belief that metaphysical necessity must have a rational or logical foundation, even if this metaphysical causality seemed inexplicable in terms of physical necessity (the natural laws identified by science).

Because reason and faith must be entirely reconciled, any tenet of faith which could not be defended by reason must be rejected. Leibniz then approached one of the central criticisms of Christian theism:[20] if God is all good, all wise and all powerful, how did evil come into the world? The answer (according to Leibniz) is that, while God is indeed unlimited in wisdom and power, his human creations, as creations, are limited both in their wisdom and in their will (power to act). This predisposes humans to false beliefs, wrong decisions and ineffective actions in the exercise of their free will. God does not arbitrarily inflict pain and suffering on humans; rather he permits both moral evil (sin) and physical evil (pain and suffering) as the necessary consequences of metaphysical evil (imperfection), as a means by which humans can identify and correct their erroneous decisions, and as a contrast to true good.

Further, although human actions flow from prior causes that ultimately arise in God, and therefore are known as a metaphysical certainty to God, an individual's free will is exercised within natural laws, where choices are merely contingently necessary, to be decided in the event by a "wonderful spontaneity" that provides individuals an escape from rigorous predestination.

The Theodicy has been critiqued as illogical by the philosopher Bertrand Russell.[21] Russell points out that moral and physical evil must result from metaphysical evil (imperfection). But imperfection is merely finitude or limitation; if existence is good, as Leibniz maintains, then the mere existence of evil requires that evil also be good. In addition, Christian theology defines sin as not necessary but contingent, the result of free will. Russell maintains that Leibniz failed logically to show that metaphysical necessity (divine will) and human free will are not incompatible or contradictory.

The mathematician Paul du Bois-Reymond, in his "Leibnizian Thoughts in Modern Science", wrote that Leibniz thought of God as a mathematician:

As is well known, the theory of the maxima and minima of functions was indebted to him for the greatest progress through the discovery of the method of tangents. Well, he conceives God in the creation of the world like a mathematician who is solving a minimum problem, or rather, in our modern phraseology, a problem in the calculus of variations – the question being to determine among an infinite number of possible worlds, that for which the sum of necessary evil is a minimum.

The statement that "we live in the best of all possible worlds" drew scorn, most notably from Voltaire, who lampooned it in his comic novella Candide by having the character Dr. Pangloss (a parody of Leibniz and Maupertuis) repeat it like a mantra. From this, the adjective "Panglossian" describes a person who believes that the world about us is the best possible one.

[edit] Symbolic thought

Leibniz believed that much of human reasoning could be reduced to calculations of a sort, and that such calculations could resolve many differences of opinion:

The only way to rectify our reasonings is to make them as tangible as those of the Mathematicians, so that we can find our error at a glance, and when there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate [calculemus], without further ado, to see who is right.[22]

Leibniz's calculus ratiocinator, which resembles symbolic logic, can be viewed as a way of making such calculations feasible. Leibniz wrote memoranda[23] that can now be read as groping attempts to get symbolic logic—and thus his calculus—off the ground. But Gerhard and Couturat did not publish these writings until modern formal logic had emerged in Frege's Begriffsschrift and in writings by Charles Sanders Peirce and his students in the 1880s, and hence well after Boole and De Morgan began that logic in 1847.

Leibniz thought symbols were important for human understanding. He attached so much importance to the invention of good notations that he attributed all his discoveries in mathematics to this. His notation for the infinitesimal calculus is an example of his skill in this regard. C.S. Peirce, a 19th-century pioneer of semiotics, shared Leibniz's passion for symbols and notation, and his belief that these are essential to a well-running logic and mathematics.

But Leibniz took his speculations much further. Defining a character as any written sign, he then defined a "real" character as one that represents an idea directly and not simply as the word embodying the idea. Some real characters, such as the notation of logic, serve only to facilitate reasoning. Many characters well-known in his day, including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese characters, and the symbols of astronomy and chemistry, he deemed not real.[24] Instead, he proposed the creation of a characteristica universalis or "universal characteristic", built on an alphabet of human thought in which each fundamental concept would be represented by a unique "real" character:

It is obvious that if we could find characters or signs suited for expressing all our thoughts as clearly and as exactly as arithmetic expresses numbers or geometry expresses lines, we could do in all matters insofar as they are subject to reasoning all that we can do in arithmetic and geometry. For all investigations which depend on reasoning would be carried out by transposing these characters and by a species of calculus.[25]

Complex thoughts would be represented by combining characters for simpler thoughts. Leibniz saw that the uniqueness of prime factorization suggests a central role for prime numbers in the universal characteristic, a striking anticipation of Gödel numbering. Granted, there is no intuitive or mnemonic way to number any set of elementary concepts using the prime numbers. Leibniz's idea of reasoning through a universal language of symbols and calculations however remarkably foreshadows great 20th century developments in formal systems, such as Turing completeness, where computation was used to define equivalent universal languages (see Turing degree).

Because Leibniz was a mathematical novice when he first wrote about the characteristic, at first he did not conceive it as an algebra but rather as a universal language or script. Only in 1676 did he conceive of a kind of "algebra of thought", modeled on and including conventional algebra and its notation. The resulting characteristic included a logical calculus, some combinatorics, algebra, his analysi

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