The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World

The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World

4.3 3
by Matthew Stewart
     
 
"A colorful reinterpretation. . . . Stewart’s wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read." (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Philosophy in the late seventeenth century was a dangerous business. No careerist could afford to know the reclusive, controversial philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. Yet the wildly ambitious genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz,

Overview

"A colorful reinterpretation. . . . Stewart’s wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read." (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Philosophy in the late seventeenth century was a dangerous business. No careerist could afford to know the reclusive, controversial philosopher Baruch de Spinoza. Yet the wildly ambitious genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who denounced Spinoza in public, became privately obsessed with Spinoza’s ideas, wrote him clandestine letters, and ultimately met him in secret.

"In refreshingly lucid terms" (Booklist) Matthew Stewart "rescues both men from a dusty academic shelf, bringing them to life as enlightened humans" (Library Journal) central to the religious, political, and personal battles that gave birth to the modern age. Both men put their faith in the guidance of reason, but one spent his life defending a God he may not have believed in, while the other believed in a God who did not need his defense. Ultimately, the two thinkers represent radically different approaches to the challenges of the modern era. They stand for a choice that we all must make.

Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
With The Courtier and the Heretic, Stewart has achieved a near impossibility, creating a page-turner about jousting metaphysical ideas that casts the hallowed, hoary thinkers as warriors in a heated ideological battle. He reveals early on that he believes the battle was one-sided, and that both men fought for the same cause. Even so, the conflict, as he paints it, is no less compelling for ending in a draw. This is a harder trick to pull off than it may sound because Stewart's rivals are both relatively unknown to modern nonspecialists. In other words, he has to acquaint his readers with both his main characters before he can unspool his take on their story.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
According to Nietzsche, "Every great philosophy is... a personal confession of its creator and a kind of involuntary and unperceived memoir.". Stewart affirms this maxim in his colorful reinterpretation of the lives and works of 17th-century philosophers Spinoza and Leibniz. In November 1676, the foppish courtier Leibniz, "the ultimate insider... an orthodox Lutheran from conservative Germany," journeyed to The Hague to visit the self-sufficient, freethinking Spinoza, "a double exile... an apostate Jew from licentious Holland." A prodigious polymath, Leibniz understood Spinoza's insight that "science was in the process of rendering the God of revelation obsolete; that it had already undermined the special place of the human individual in nature." Spinoza embraced this new world. Seeing the orthodox God as a "prop for theocratic tyranny," he articulated the basic theory for the modern secular state. Leibniz, on the other hand, spent the rest of his life championing God and theocracy like a defense lawyer defending a client he knows is guilty. He elaborated a metaphysics that was, at bottom, a reaction to Spinoza and collapses into Spinozism, as Stewart deftly shows. For Stewart, Leibniz's reaction to Spinoza and modernity set the tone for "the dominant form of modern philosophy" a category that includes Kant, Hegel, Bergson, Heidegger and "the whole `postmodern' project of deconstructing the phallogocentric tradition of western thought." Readers of philosophy may find much to disagree with in these arguments, but Stewart's wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read. (Jan. 2006) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Independent scholar Stewart (The Truth About Everything) presents a page-turning read that examines all its titular concerns through the dynamics of biography, political history, and social relations. Spinoza-of Portuguese extraction-lived and died in the liberal urban Netherlands of the 17th century; Leibniz, half a generation younger, was a social climber in the courts of German principalities. Both were precocious as children, and both were orphaned on the verge of young adulthood. Spinoza's intellectual self-assurance as much as his contentious-and contentiously reported and misreported-ideas about the role of God in nature attracted Leibniz's attention and led to a meeting and an exchange of letters. Leibniz lived many years past Spinoza's death, arguing against the latter's resolution of such apparent conflicts as dualism but also disavowing his intellectual debt to the older man's clarifying conceptualizations of nature. Within the next century, Kant deified both men as rationalists in the modernist pantheon of philosophers. Stewart goes far to rescue both men from a kind of dusty academic shelf, bringing them to life as enlightened humans displaying the kinds of intellectual and personality differences in which postmodern Westerners delight. For public and academic collections.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An exploration of how a pair of great philosophers, "one . . . the ultimate insider, the other a double exile," impacted both their own time period and ours. The author begins with and pivots upon the meeting of Baruch de Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, two of the most notable wunderkinder of 17th-century Europe, at Spinoza's home at The Hague in 1676. From that point of departure, Stewart discusses each man in alternating chapters, beginning with their childhoods and moving forward through their troubles and accomplishments, leading up finally to their brief association with one another. Having covered Spinoza's death, Stewart charts the further development of Leibniz's thinking, with an emphasis on Spinoza's influence. Stewart's thesis is two-fold. First, he wants to demonstrate the importance Spinoza had upon the thought and philosophy of his younger counterpart, Leibniz. Second, he attempts to ground much of philosophical and, indeed, world history since the Enlightenment in these two personages. Spinoza's ideas, though popularly reviled in his day, were the basis of classical liberalism and much of our modern scientific outlook. Leibniz, in contrast, formed the basis for the conservative religious community's response to modernism. The concept of God, and how that concept shaped, and was shaped by, each man's philosophical arguments, is a central theme here. Stewart makes accessible the many philosophical ideas presented, and he brings the men to life with descriptions of everything from their eating habits to their priorities in daily life. A highly readable examination of two influential, but often overlooked, thinkers of the early Enlightenment.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393058987
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
01/09/2006
Edition description:
ANN
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Stewart is the author of Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World and The Management Myth: Debunking the Modern Philosophy of Business. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
B-2 More than 1 year ago
This book is a story of interaction between two great minds of XVII century, Baruch Spinoza and Gotfried Leibnitz : two thinkers of completely opposite backgrounds, lifestyles, goals in life, philosophical views and moral convinctions. (Just imagine you discover the that, lets say, Mother Theresa and Mao Zedong for years were involved in active , respectful, mutually interested, and obviously secret discussion by correspondence. ) It opens an amazing window on the intellectual life of Europe of that time and the human side of both scholars and many other people around them . Sometimes heavy as it goes over their philosophies (it is written by a philosopher after all :) but even these parts are relatively readable . I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one is RLR , I think.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a brilliant idea to compare and contrast Spinoza and Leibniz - not only in respect of their ideas, but also in respect of their personalities, life-styles and the historical settings in which they operated. They are both very difficult philosophers, and it is one of the many virtues of this sparkling book that they are made as accessible to the general public as they can be. Even so, the relevant passages will still be rather hard going for readers new to the ideas. Particularly close reading is required for chapter 16 near the end of the book, in which Stewart shows that Leibniz was entangled with Spinozism even when the differences between the two men¿s philosophies appear at their starkest. Matthew Stewart brilliantly illustrates how philosophy only makes sense when construed as the systems created by brilliant individuals to make sense of the great issues of their day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an engrossing snapshot of the 17th century mindset about religion and philosophy and how the lines of thought created by these two great thinkers and their interaction affected developments in their own countries and later throughout the western world. It is unfortunate that the 'From the Publisher' notes are totally unrelated to the book being reviewed!