Leibniz and Van Helmont: Their Friendship and Collaboration
In order to establish the influence of van Helmont on Leibniz it is important to dispel the general opinion that van Helmont was something of a lovable buffoon, tolerated but hardly taken seriously by Leibniz (or by any other intelligent person). Manuscript evidence proves beyond doubt that Leibniz was a careful reader of van Helmont’s books as well as an attentive listener to his conversation. He wrote extensive analyses and critical commentaries about van Helmont’s opinions, mostly for the benefit of his patron, the Electress Sophie of Brunswick and Hanover. A close look at these letters and memoranda reveals that while analyzing van Helmont’s various theories about God, souls, matter, the divine attributes, pre-existence, the transmigration of souls, and the rationale for sin and suffering, Leibniz modified and adapted his own theories. There are three key areas in which van Helmont’s kabbalistic philosophy had a significant impact on Leibniz: 1) in the development of his concept of monads; 2) in his evolving ideas about free will and determinism; and 3) in the formulation of his theodicy. Van Helmont’s views also helped to shape Leibniz’s theory of causation in terms of volition. But before substantiating this influence, the reader must be persuaded that Leibniz did indeed take van Helmont seriously.
KeywordsJournal Entry Mechanical Philosophy Divine Attribute Property Dispute Subtle Body
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