Philosophy and Science in Leibniz

In L. Strickland, E. Vynckier & J. Weckend (eds.), Tercentenary Essays on the Philosophy & Science of G.W. Leibniz. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 19-46 (2016)
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This paper explores the question of Leibniz’s contribution to the rise of modern ‘science’. To be sure, it is now generally agreed that the modern category of ‘science’ did not exist in the early modern period. At the same time, this period witnessed a very important stage in the process from which modern science eventually emerged. My discussion will be aimed at uncovering the new enterprise, and the new distinctions which were taking shape in the early modern period under the banner of the old Aristotelian terminology. I will argue that Leibniz begins to theorize a distinction between physics and metaphysics that tracks our distinction between the autonomous enterprise of science in its modern meaning, and the enterprise of philosophy. I will try to show that, for Leibniz, physics proper is the study of natural phenomena in mathematical and mechanical terms without recourse for its explanations to metaphysical notions. This autonomy, however, does not imply for Leibniz that physics can say on its own all that there is to be said about the natural world. Quite the opposite. Leibniz inherits from the Aristotelian tradition the view that physics needs metaphysical roots or a metaphysical grounding. For Leibniz, what is ultimately real is reached by metaphysics, not by physics. This is, in my view, Leibniz’s chief insight: the new mathematical physics is an autonomous enterprise which offers its own kind of explanations but does not exhaust what can (and should) be said about the natural world.
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