The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World

The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World

by Matthew Stewart

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"Exhilarating…Stewart has achieved a near impossibility, creating a page-turner about jousting metaphysical ideas, casting thinkers as warriors." —Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review

Once upon a time, philosophy was a dangerous business—and for no one more so than for Baruch Spinoza, the seventeenth-century philosopher vilified by theologians and political authorities everywhere as “the atheist Jew.” As his inflammatory manuscripts circulated underground, Spinoza lived a humble existence in The Hague, grinding optical lenses to make ends meet. Meanwhile, in the glittering salons of Paris, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was climbing the ladder of courtly success. In between trips to the opera and groundbreaking work in mathematics, philosophy, and jurisprudence, he took every opportunity to denounce Spinoza, relishing his self-appointed role as “God’s attorney.”

In this exquisitely written philosophical romance of attraction and repulsion, greed and virtue, religion and heresy, Matthew Stewart gives narrative form to an epic contest of ideas that shook the seventeenth century—and continues today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393071047
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 01/17/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 32,109
File size: 536 KB

About the Author

Matthew Stewart is the author of Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World and The Management Myth: Debunking the Modern Philosophy of Business. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

1The Hague, November 167611
4A Life of the Mind54
5God's Attorney75
6The Hero of the People95
7The Many Faces of Leibniz109
8Friends of Friends121
9Leibniz in Love132
10A Secret Philosophy of the Whole of Things156
11Approaching Spinoza183
12Point of Contact196
13Surviving Spinoza203
14The Antidote to Spinozism232
15The Haunting256
16The Return of the Repressed280
17Leibniz's End294
A Note on Sources327

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Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
foto46 More than 1 year ago
Great account of the friendship and distancing between Leibnitz and Spinoza. Matthew Stewart makes the philosophical differences and similarities of the courtier and the heretic easy to digest and pleasant to study.
AramisSciant on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this very smart look at one of the most famous rivalries in philosophy's history --Spinoza vs. Leibniz-- at the dawn of modern thought in the days of the scientific Enlightenment.
RamiFaour on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is about the lives and philosophy of Leibniz and Spinoza, it's history is rather accurate and the author brings a vivid picture of their lives, however, that may be the problem, it's excessive biography of the authors leaves one in want of a more comprehensive context both historically and philosophically. The author seems to want to establish certain premises throughout, making his claims presumptuous to a high degree. An OK pastime read
Devil_llama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good biographical account of the reliationship between Spinoza and Leibniz, and the ways in which the crossing paths of two men with different philosophies shaped the destiny of one, and maybe both. One of the weaknesses was that the book focused mostly on Leibniz at the expense of Spinoza, and slightly more Spinoza would have been very desirable.
CumLibello on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a bit superfluous. It is written with a romantic bias: Spinoza as the great romantic, almost Nietzschean hero, and Leibniz as a coward conformer to the ideas and opinions of his masters. I do in fact agree with the description of Spinoza, but not with Leibniz': he is a much more original thinker than Matthew Stewart describes.
o_nate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book covered some interesting material and did manage to revivify a dusty segment of European philosophical history, but I would have preferred something that tried a bit less hard to be a "page-turner" - ie., the "gotcha" rhetorical style, the belabored "colorful" metaphors - and that dug a bit more into the cultural context rather than trying to present Liebniz and Spinoza as moderns "avant la lettre".
robertg69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting review of their thought, modus operandi and characters.
iammbb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book in the vein of Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter and Longitude and The Measure of all Things by Ken Alder, but where those books deal with the discoveries of physical science, this book deals more with philosophy and religion's response to those discoveries.The approach of the modern world was very threatening to religion and the concept of God. Things which had previously been accepted on faith or because the Bible or the Church told us it was so were increasingly coming into question.It is in this environment which Leibniz, Voltaire's model for Dr. Pangloss in Candide and Spinoza, the moral atheist, formulated their differing, yet intertwined, philosophies.Stewart's argument is that Leibniz and Spinoza were both ahead of their time in understanding the portent of modernity but that they reacted to it very differently. Spinoza welcomed and embraced the shifting definition of God while Leibniz did all that he could to forestall the impending storm.As a philosophical dilettante, I found this book hard and yet fascinating. Many a paragraph I had to read and reread, only to still not quite grasp its point. For all that, Stewart presents the conflict between the two men in an engrossing way which kept me reading through the depth.I came away finding references to these two philosophers recurring around me and am inspired to read more. I've already started to reread Candide which is, in part, Voltaire's critique of Leibniz' theories. I'm also intrigued by Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion which draws on Spinoza and which was featured with an interview of Dawkins on Fresh Air the same night I finished this tome.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding indruction to both Leibniz and Spinoza, the writer respects both of the philosphers and makes them alive
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stewart elegantly depicts the contrast between Spinoza and Leibniz, in both their lifestyles and their philosophies. He does so in an entertaining way and, while presenting a certain amount of speculation about the interaction between them, provides a lucid presentation of the portion of their lives and philosophies relevant to his project. I'm not sure I was convinced by all the speculation, but the book was a great read.
Allen_Bass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A little too polemical on the side of Spinoza. I would have preferred some scholarly detachment. It's something that Frederick Beiser does in his writings on German Idealism without at all sounding like an academic discourse.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The contrast between the egotistical and striving Leibniz and the humble and content Baruch Spinoza was great when they met, near the Hague in about 1676. Leibniz created monads, free substances that do not interact with each other, each containing a universe, and undying. This was a way of preserving choice for God, while Spinoza¿s god is the essence within the thing, and in no way free to act. The two philosophies are described clearly, although the prose is sometimes too inventive and has unfamiliar metaphors. I did not side much with one or the other philosophy; concerns about the place of God are strangely alien to my world.
ExVivre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Courier and the Heretic is an incredibly interesting history of two of philosophy's most misunderstood practitioners. Similar in style to Wittgenstein's Poker (Edmunds & Eidenow), the book uses a visit Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz paid to Baruch (Benedictus) de Spinoza as a jumping point, then proceeds to weave a tapestry of the historical and philosophical connections between them. It is both a parallel biography of Spinoza and Leibniz, and a shrewd look at the views that earned them fame and infamy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drags a bit toward the end, but does a nice job of comparing and contrasting Leibniz and Spinoza in lanfuage modern readers can grasp. And reminds me why I've always preferred Spinoza by far.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a brilliant idea to compare and contrast Spinoza and Leibniz - not only in respect of their ideas, but also in respect of their personalities, life-styles and the historical settings in which they operated. They are both very difficult philosophers, and it is one of the many virtues of this sparkling book that they are made as accessible to the general public as they can be. Even so, the relevant passages will still be rather hard going for readers new to the ideas. Particularly close reading is required for chapter 16 near the end of the book, in which Stewart shows that Leibniz was entangled with Spinozism even when the differences between the two men¿s philosophies appear at their starkest. Matthew Stewart brilliantly illustrates how philosophy only makes sense when construed as the systems created by brilliant individuals to make sense of the great issues of their day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an engrossing snapshot of the 17th century mindset about religion and philosophy and how the lines of thought created by these two great thinkers and their interaction affected developments in their own countries and later throughout the western world. It is unfortunate that the 'From the Publisher' notes are totally unrelated to the book being reviewed!