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The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern Worldby Matthew Stewart
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Because Spinoza's doctrines have won acceptance from the architects of the modern world even as Leibniz's traditional religious beliefs have persisted among many who inhabit that world, the drama Stewart recounts will rivet readers skeptical and devout alike." Booklist
"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." Library Journal
"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." New York Times
"Witty, fascinating...Stewart deftly intertwines the lives and works of Spinoza and Leibniz and gives an elegant and sometimes hilarious overview of their differences....Stewart's wit and graceful prose make this book a delightful read." San Francisco Chronicle
"A colorful reinterpretation. . . . Stewart's wit and profluent prose make this book a fascinating read."--, starred review
About the Author
Matthew Stewart is a freelance writer. He lives in New York City.
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