Synopses & Reviews
A drama of ideas as urgent and compelling as Copenhagen--a dance of personalities as colorful as in Wittgenstein's Poker,
Philosophy in the late seventeenth century was a dangerous business. No careerist could afford to know the reclusive philosopher known as an atheist Jew, Baruch de Spinoza. Yet the wildly ambitious young genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz became obsessed with Spinoza's writings, wrote him clandestine letters, and ultimately called on Spinoza in person at his home in The Hague.
Both men were at the center of the intense religious, political, and personal battles that gave birth to the modern age. One was a hermit with many friends; the other, a socialite no one trusted. One believed in a God whom almost nobody thought divine; the other defended a God in whom he probably did not believe. Their characters and ways of life defined their philosophies. In this exquisitely written philosophical romance of attraction and repulsion, greed and virtue, religion and heresy, Matthew Stewart dramatizes a titanic clash of beliefs that still continues today.
"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.)
"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
"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
In this exquisitely written philosophical romance of attraction and repulsion, greed and virtue, religion and heresy, Matthew Stewart dramatizes a titanic clash of beliefs that still continues today.