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Leibniz On the Unicorn and Various Other Curiosities

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image of Early Science and Medicine

I discuss some of Leibniz's pronouncements about fringe phenomena__various monsters; talking dogs; genies and prophets; unicorns, glossopetrae, and other games of nature__in order to understand better Leibniz's views on science and the role these curiosities play in his plans for scientific academies and societies. However, given that Leibniz's sincerity has been called into question in twentieth-century secondary literature, I begin with a few historiographical remarks so as to situate these pronouncements within the Leibnizian corpus. What emerges is an image of Leibniz as a sober, cautious interpreter, a skeptic one might say, but one who is prepared to concede the possibility of many strange phenomena. Leibniz expects these fringe phenomena to take their place among the natural curiosities catalogued as part of a hoped for empirical database intended as means toward the perfection of the sciences.

Affiliations: 1: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


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