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The polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made significant contributions to many fields of learning, including mathematics, philosophy, politics, and various branches of the sciences. What tied together many of his projects and innovations was the desire to improve humankind; this desire, and the myriad ways it impacted on Leibniz’s thought, is the focus of this project.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was a polymath who made significant contributions to many fields of learning, among them mathematics, law, the study of history and languages, and of course every area of philosophy and the natural sciences. In recent years, many scholars have taken the view that what tied together many of Leibniz’s projects and innovations was the desire to improve humankind. Accepting this invites – indeed requires – one to adopt a more “holistic” view of Leibniz’s life and thought than has heretofore been offered; indeed, in the three hundred years since his death, scholarly attention has by and large focused on a specific parts of his philosophical thought, in particular his metaphysics and epistemology, to the detriment of all else. The neglect of Leibniz’s contributions outside of these narrow fields is unfortunate, as it leads to a poor understanding of someone who was perhaps the last true universal genius and who offered far more to his age (and ours) than just a handful of philosophical doctrines. Similarly, the lack of scholarly understanding of Leibniz’s motivations, and his reasons for directing his talents so widely, has led to a widespread belief that Leibniz was a genius without focus.
This project seeks to correct these misunderstandings by throwing light on areas of his thought that have been neglected. In doing so, it will reflect the emerging vision of Leibniz as someone who aimed to ameliorate the current state of humankind. Applications are invited from those who wish to focus on one or more of the ways in which Leibniz sought to achieve this aim. This may involve detailed study of one or more of his under-studied contributions (possible examples include: his development of binary arithmetic, his attempts to unite the churches, or his plans for European peace), or a broader examination of how his activities in areas such as history, politics, theology, jurisprudence, and linguistics contributed to his overall vision. The aim will be not to produce an apology of Leibniz, but to contribute to a more well-rounded understanding of this universal genius, his thought, and the circumstances in which it was produced. Accordingly, the project will involve locating Leibniz and his various endeavours in their proper context, which will require an understanding of the social, political, theological, and scientific situations of his time. While the principal objective is to deepen our historical understanding of Leibniz, those undertaking the research should also be alert to the possibility that some of Leibniz’s ideas or approaches may have value even now, three hundred years after his death.
Candidates should seek to demonstrate how they intend their work to have impact. As Leibniz’s work spanned a variety of fields, and as its innovative nature makes it potentially of interest beyond the halls of academia, candidates should be committed to communicating their research in a variety of ways and to a variety of audiences. In addition to writing journal articles and presenting papers to academic audiences at conferences, candidates should actively seek ways to tap into – and if necessary, generate – public interest in Leibniz’s thought, whether through public talks, or “popular” pieces written for media outlets, or other activities. Candidates should keep the need for public engagement in mind when crafting their proposal. Candidates able to make high-quality translations of Leibniz’s writings will be invited to submit them for inclusion on www.leibniz-translations.com a free repository of English translations of Leibniz’s texts.
The successful candidate will have:
Leibniz wrote predominantly in Latin and French, and sometimes in German. To date, only a small proportion of his writings have been translated into English. Candidates will therefore need to have – or be able to develop quickly – the requisite language skills to be able to read, in the original language(s), whichever of his writings they need to consult for their project. The language(s) required will depend upon the nature of the project.
Moreover, around a quarter to a third of Leibniz’s writings have still not been published. Candidates will therefore have to be prepared to study Leibniz’s manuscripts, in the event that there are unpublished writings they need to consult. Scans of many of these are available online, so there is unlikely to be a need to visit archives.
The project start date is expected to be September 2017
This scholarship is open to UK, EU, and International students
Informal enquiries can be made to:
Katherine Walthall firstname.lastname@example.org
The supervisory team for this project will be Dr Lloyd Strickland and Dr Keith Crome. Specific queries regarding the research project will be forwarded to the supervisory team for response.