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The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World: The Secret Encounter Between Leibniz and Spinoza That Defines the Modern World Paperback – 6 Feb 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press UK SR (6 Feb. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300125070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300125078
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 799,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"'... gripping... the best current untechnical introduction to the lives and philosophies of the two men. Stewart does it in very agreeable prose, and what he says rests on a sound bottom of historical and philosophical scholarship, so lightly worn that one is not conscious of the skill that has gone into making the epoch and its seminal ideas accessible. The result is a thoroughly good book, hard to put down for anyone interested in the great story of the Western intellectual tradition.' A C Grayling, Literary Review 'Stewart lays the ground for a new genre: rigorous, readable intellectual history for the reader who would never buy a work of pure philosophy, but wants to know why people think the way they do.' The Economist 'Stewart has written an elegant and erudite book about these two antithetical yet related figures... superbly elegant and intelligent prose' Edward Skidelsky, The Saturday Telegraph 'A sprightly and enlightening biography... this is an exhilaratingly epic canvas. The philosophy of creation and substance might sound like hard going, but Stewart's writing has huge panache... philosophy exuberantly rooted in history, grabbing you by the lapels and making sure that you know why you are being dragged round the backstreets of The Hague and up the front of the Leineschloss in Hanover. You will not regret the visits.' - Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Guardian 'For the most part, all philosophers have to worry about today is boring their audience. This is certainly not a problem for Matthew Stewart's book... a compelling adventure.' Nicholas Fearne, The Independent"

About the Author

Matthew Stewart received his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University.

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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER on 1 Mar. 2007
Format: Paperback
In November, 1676, the German polymath and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646 - 1716) visited the Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza (1632 -1677) at the Hague. Leibniz, age 30, was a rising and ambitious young man who had already, independently of Isaac Newton, invented the calculus. Spinoza, age 44, had been excommunicated from the synagogue in Amsterdam at the age of 24. He had published a notorious work, the Theological-Political Treatise, and his as-yet unpublished masterpiece, the Ethics, had been widely if surreptitiously circulated among learned people. At the time of his meeting with Leibniz, Spinoza had only three months to live.

In "The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World"" (2005), Matthew Stewart takes as his pivot-point the Leibniz-Spinoza meeting. Little is known of what occurred at this meeting because Spinoza left no record of it and Leibniz rarely spoke of it. Nevertheless, Stewart uses this meeting as a fulcrum to illuminate the thought of these two philosophers and to show how their views developed into the two broad and competing responses to modernity and to the secular world that remain with us today. Stewart has the gift of presenting his story articulately and well. He combines elements of storytelling, historical narrative, and philosophy in an appealing and accessible fashion. He also shows a great dealing of learning and reflection. Stewart received a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford and is an independent scholar in California.

Spinoza was a self-contained individual. Stewart portrays him as the first and the prototypical secular thinker in philosophy.
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Feb. 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is a brilliant idea to compare and contrast these two philosophers - 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.
As for the description of their personalities, they come to life in the most vivid way. The different sides of Spinoza are arrestingly described, as is the vanity, the restless and pushy worldliness and the basic insecurity of Leibniz, of whose varied secular career we are also given an entertaining account.
Leibniz was a polymathic and imaginative thinker, but Stewart’s picture of him leaves one with the impression that, especially in his relationship with Spinoza, he was thoroughly duplicitous: flattering in his correspondence with him, but denouncing him in letters written to others. Stewart plays fair and provides what excuses he (and other authors) can find for Leibniz (pp. 114 to 119), but there is no doubt that Spinoza emerges from his pages as much the more admirable, honest, austere and courageous human being.
In 1670 Spinoza had published his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which caused such a European-wide storm of obloquy that he had arranged for his other books and papers to be published only after his death.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Miller on 12 Aug. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I took this book on holiday with me to Amsterdam, and read it overlooking some of the canals that Descartes and Spinoza probably walked along. Although I teach philosophy, I haven't studied either Leibniz or Spinoza since my undergraduate days 25 years ago. This book was a terrific read, bringing both philosophers vividly to life and giving an evocative picture of their time and the characters they mingled with. I'm not qualified to judge Stewart's central thesis about the pre-eminent importance of Spinoza to Leibniz's work, and I found some of the philosophical argumentation a little unconvincing, but overall this was a great read that can be enjoyed by professional philosophers, students, and the general reader alike.
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By Starlight on 2 Nov. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just finished the book for the third time.First I read it about 6or 7 years ago then re-read a year later.
It is so pregnant with ideas and insights I am almost speechless.
Two men and two sets of ideas come to convergence and a spark flashes between them which resonates on even 338 years later.A clash and intense dialogue which caught two strands of destiny and brought them together in both psychological terms and spiritual ones.
The characterisations are so good and so alive both in ideas ,even if one might disagree at certain points ,and in people of flesh ,blood and networks of relationships that I seemed to see down a corridor in time back into other meetings in other times,both posterior to 1676 and anterior.
One man might almost be what we know of Avicenna the other Averroes,who certainly did not meet but whose ideas and even personalkities did at least in the minds of very many .Then again I seemed to see two people of the Rromantic German era;and most powerfully of all what can be read and learnt about the meetings of David Bohm with an influence that he struggled with but which was perhaps the most central of his life.
Lessing is mentioned in the book and his work ,''The Eduaction Of The Human Race''holds the key to what I mean.

The Self.This seems to be the central battle ground and also learning ground.

That this could have been dramatised in so deep a way and so convincingly is a tremendous tribute to an author's skill.I feel this book will live a long time and in future days when a vast quatity of ''literature'' will have become dust ,this text will remain as part of a central educational programme which will be available to all those who aspire to see life ''substantially'' and awake within their eternal monad.
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