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Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was born in Leipzig, Germany on
June 21, 1646. His father died when he was just five years
old. He was raised by his mother, whose religious and moral
beliefs fostered his interest in philosophy. He taught himself
to read Latin by age twelve and started studying Greek. In
grade school he learned about Aristotle's logic and theory
of categorizing knowledge. But he was dissatisfied with what
he was learning and began working on his own ideas for ordering
logical truths ‚ this would later develop into his ability
to perform difficult mathematical proofs.
In 1661, Leibniz entered the University of Leipzig. He studied
philosophy and mathematics, graduating with a bachelor's degree
in 1663. The following fall he started working toward a doctorate
in law. Soon after he was awarded his master's degree in philosophy,
his mother died, and Leibniz continued with his studies, eventually
earning a bachelor's degree in law. He was denied the doctorate
in law at Leipzig, but he went immediately to the University
of Altdorf, where he received a doctorate in law in February,
1667.
Leibniz was interested in a variety of subjects, including
the sciences, law and literature. After completing his education
he worked for the Nuremberg alchemical society, followed by
the courts in Mainz. He also dabbled in politics, organizing
campaigns, for example, to persuade the French not to attack
German areas, and talking with philosophers about such topics
as church reunification. In 1672, he began seriously studying
geometry, mathematics and physics in Paris. He also worked
on determinants, and on methods for solving systems of linear
equations.
In 1676, Leibniz accepted an offer to fill the wellpaid
post of librarian in the ducal library in Hannover, Germany,
a post he retained for the rest of his life. This position
afforded him ample leisure time with which to continue his
mathematical research. He began organizing his system of differential
calculus in 1674, putting it into a consistent and usable
form in 1677. He published it in 1684. In 1686 he published
a paper on integral calculus. He is credited with inventing
these two mathematical subjects ‚ though it should be noted
that many historical accounts of his work include discussion
of a longdisputed theory that he may have come up with some
of his ideas after Isaac Newton did. Newton published his
work on differential calculus at approximately the same time
Leibniz did, but it is said that Leibniz's notation was far
superior to Newton's.
Leibniz also pursued mechanical studies, working on forces
and weights, and designing new types of hydraulic presses,
windmills, lamps, submarines, clocks, carriages, water pumps,
and a calculating machine. He is also credited with inventing
the binary number system, and for developing the theory that
the earth was first molten.
During his career, Leibniz corresponded frequently with scholars
around the world and was very active in setting up academic
societies, contributing to the founding of the St. Petersburg
and Vienna Academies, as well as the Brandenburg Society of
Sciences, among others. He was a member of The Royal Society
of London and the Paris Academy. Leibniz died on November
14, 1716, in Hannover.
[June 2003]
