The Leibniz-Des Bosses Correspondence

Copyright © 2013
Avello Publishing Journal
ISSN: 2049 - 498X
Issue 1 Volume 3:
Principia Mathematica
Jason Wakefield
University of Cambridge
Review: The Leibniz-Des Bosses Correspondence (2007) ed, tr. B.C. Look & D. Rutherford. New
Haven & London: Yale University Press.
65 pages of notes compliment the smooth, uniform editing and translations of Leibniz / Des Bosses
from Latin in to English, like caviar with oysters or chestnuts with crepes. Yale University has
consistently impressed me recently; with books like The Leibniz-Des Bosses Correspondence
(2007), The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China (2012) and a talk by Rachel
Rothchild she called Scientific Uncertainty as part of Helen Curry's superb Twentieth Century Think
Tank Series at the University of Cambridge.
It was an enormous pleasure to visit the exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in person that the
book The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China is based on. It was imperative for
me see for myself the jade Emperor suits and treasures from the Han Dynasty, as it was the most
important exhibition of ancient, royal, Chinese art that has ever been displayed in Western Europe.
In a letter dated 18th January 1710, De Bosses admitted to Leibniz that Hospital's Analysis of
Infinites and Newton's Principia are both beyond his 'comprehension.' (Look & Rutherford 2007:
163). Despite this incomprehension of Newton's new algebra in natural philosophy, it has not
stopped evolutionary bio-technologists from applying a lot of its mathematica to modifying
neurons in human beings and engineering or manipulating the genes or chromosomes of plants.
Newton was very interested in alchemy and chemistry; thus the formation of the ceramics of the
Han Dynasty treasures would have fascinated him; however, perhaps of greater interest may be how
his ground-breaking mathematical philosophy has helped shape the sociology of science and
medicine today.
It was a pleasure to elegantly debate with Rachel Rothchild during a related seminar1 about the
political aspects of European-wide research on acid rain. She attacked the secrecy of the British
Government, which one defended on military / royal, feminist grounds - that included support for
Thatcher. As Thatcher was the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century,
succesfully helped Britain win the Falklands war, escaped an I.R.A assassination attempt on her
life2and deposited at Churchill College, Cambridge minutes of her Shadow Cabinet committes;
briefing material; speech drafts and press releases, it confirmed my argument that women are better
political leaders than men and that the secret services sometimes have to with hold scientific
information on acid rain and other research from foreign countries in the interest of national
Leibniz wrote to Des Bosses from Hanover on the 8th September 1709:
Although I do not allow myself to think that my views on Chinese affairs can have any
authority, I still hope that my arguments will not be seen as worthless, and that in any case it
will not be thought that anything has to be done too hastily in this insufficiently examined
matter. I thank you for communicating the Chinese decree. It is displeasing to see that the
Chinese are aware of the upheavals in Japan. (Look & Rutherford 2007: 149)
This is juxtaposed with the original Latin version on the facing page, so that we can check the
accuracy of the translation in to English. For this reason, it is superior to many books on Leibniz
lacking the source Latin. A glaring weakness is that almost half of the letters exchanged between
Leibniz and Des Bosses are missing! This edition only presents a mere 71 letters out of the 138 that
have survived from the exchange; thus The Leibniz-Des Bosses Correspondence falls in to the same
problematics of abbreviation in the letters corrected in Descartes' hand that appear in The
Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 3, The Correspondence Cambridge University Press:
1991). This allows for another volume to be produced to supplement this edition, that hopefully will
1 Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.
2 Thatcher's hotel was bombed by the I.R.A but she ignored it and opened the conference as scheduled the next day!
3 Approximately 5, 000 M.I.5 files have now been released publicly in to the national archives, some containing
Thatcher's bluffs and red-herrings of support to infiltrate movements, so that they can be destroyed from within.
include a commentary on the punctation alterations of the Latin text. Despite its brevity, this Latin
text is a significant improvement on those published by Dutens and Gerhadt. Look with Rutherford
have been more careful with their punctation and orthography by using vertical lines to delimit text
that appears differently in drafts of letters. Conjectural readings of texts that are illegible scienta
generalis are enclosed within brackets by the editors.
My recommendation is that anyone studying the Discourse on the Natural Theology of the
Chinese work by Leibniz (that remained unfinished at his death) should buy The Leibniz-Des
Bosses Correspondence. It sheds light on Leibniz's perspective that the ancient Chinese more than
the ancient Greek's where closer to a truth about efficacious grace. A strength of this book is in the
quality of the notes, for example: 'in medieval logic, terms where divided in the categorematic,
which signify in their own right; and the syncategorematic, which signify only when combined with
other terms' (Look & Rutherford 2007: 406). Notes like this are very important to me personally,
especially for any potential, random viva voce meetings on the K staircase of Whewell's Court in
Trinity with John Marenbon. Other philosophers who my Leibnizian Latin has to be razor sharp for
personal, spontaneous viva voce meetings are Tim Crane and Nick Denyer; who are both
acknowledged in The Oxford Handback of Medieval Philosophy (2012) edited by John Marenbon.
Both Leibniz and Des Bosses where very fond of medieval philosophy after the Middle Ages, thus
it is critical to consult its origins in the Greek tradition that depends directly on the Arabic. This
hard-back, head-banded book is an exceptional purchase, that will make an excellent companion to
your copy of Anthony Kenny's Descartes (1968).