A well-known and specific example is that Leibniz is less well regarded than Newton for his calculus, the reason being notation,

Leibniz notation lets you incorrectly work with derivatives as though they were a mathematical fraction

although this is debatable. There are numerous, more philosophical critiques of Leibniz's shortcomings though, with respect to Spinoza and otherwise:

In 1700 the academy of Berlin was created on his advice, and he drew up the first body of statutes for it. On the accession in 1714 of his master, George I., to the throne of England, Leibnitz was thrown aside as a useless tool; he was forbidden to come to England; and the last two years of his life were spent in neglect and dishonour.



2 Answers 2


You say: "A well-known and specific example is that Leibniz is less well regarded than Newton for his calculus".

Well known?? I think this is just incorrect. Leibniz version of calculus lead to an explosive development of calculus in continental Europe. Think of l'Hopitale, Bernoulli's, Euler and many others. While calculus in England experienced stagnation in the period after Newton. Exactly for the reason that English mathematicians ignored Leibniz's version.

Name me ONE English mathematician of 18 century in the class of Bernoullis, Euler, Clairaut, d'Alembert etc. Only in 19-s century English mathematicians overcome Newton's dominance and accepted Leibniz notation. Which we are all using now.

EDIT. Of course I agree that Newton was one of the greatest mathematicians of all times. But nevertheless he certainly had some negative influence on development of mathematics, mainly in England, but not only in England. On my opinion, this happened for three reasons:

  1. One is that he was so much superior to everyone else. Not surprisingly his cult was formed. No one could contradict him. (Think of the history of Optics, where his wrong opinion was dominating for almost 100 years).

  2. His domineering personality. He suppressed and ruined great people around him (Flamsteed, Hooke and others). He staged this shameful "priority dispute with Leibniz". He did everything to put Leibniz down, to destroy his reputation (like he did to Hook). And he partially succeeded. And this discussion is another evidence of this.

  3. Finally he was reluctant to publish his results, while Leibniz did really a lot to promote calculus. He created a journal. He had students, etc.

In his life time Newton was surrounded by really great people. And look how it changed after his death. Read the history of the Royal society in Wikipedia, to begin with.

EDIT. Newton wrote once: "If I saw farther than others, this is because I stood on the shoulders of giants". Recently I read a paraphrase of this: "If I did not see as far as some others, this is because giants stood on my shoulders" :-) I think Flamsteed or Hooke would be justified if they said this. They were the giants on whose shoulders Newton stood. And what did he do to them?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding the last paragraph: See this list. Not many are household names, but then again, neither is Leibniz. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 4, 2014 at 0:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They still teach Newton's Notation to u/g physicists at Cambridge :-) Okay only for mechanics: Leibnitz gets his way for everything else. $\endgroup$
    – winwaed
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE 226868: On my opinion, your list only confirms what I wrote in the last paragraph. The fact that "cult of Newton" had a negative influence on English mathematics is also "well-known". $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2014 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ Edmund Halley really doesn't count? And Newton was still active in the 1700s. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Check the sixth paragraph here. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 4, 2014 at 3:20

I think I can answer the last bit. From Wikipedia:

On the death of Queen Anne in 1714, Elector George Louis became King George I of Great Britain, under the terms of the 1701 Act of Settlement. Even though Leibniz had done much to bring about this happy event, it was not to be his hour of glory. Despite the intercession of the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Ansbach, George I forbade Leibniz to join him in London until he completed at least one volume of the history of the Brunswick family his father had commissioned nearly 30 years earlier. Moreover, for George I to include Leibniz in his London court would have been deemed insulting to Newton, who was seen as having won the calculus priority dispute and whose standing in British official circles could not have been higher. Finally, his dear friend and defender, the Dowager Electress Sophia, died in 1714.

What "history of the Brunswick family"? Go up a little to find this:

The Elector Ernest Augustus commissioned Leibniz to write a history of the House of Brunswick, going back to the time of Charlemagne or earlier, hoping that the resulting book would advance his dynastic ambitions. From 1687 to 1690, Leibniz traveled extensively in Germany, Austria, and Italy, seeking and finding archival materials bearing on this project. Decades went by but no history appeared; the next Elector became quite annoyed at Leibniz's apparent dilatoriness. Leibniz never finished the project, in part because of his huge output on many other fronts, but also because he insisted on writing a meticulously researched and erudite book based on archival sources, when his patrons would have been quite happy with a short popular book, one perhaps little more than a genealogy with commentary, to be completed in three years or less.

Wow, that's a large chunk of text. Here's a quick summary and/or interpretation:

  1. A while back, Leibniz is asked to write a big book on the history of the Brunswick family (including George I).
  2. Leibniz holds himself to high standards; combined with his attention to detail and the many other project on his plate, he never finishes the book.
  3. Years later, George I becomes king. He realizes that Leibniz never finished the book he was asked to write three decades prior.
  4. George I refuses to ask Leibniz to join his court in London. A second reason is that it would insult Isaac Newton, who had been recognized as the inventor of calculus.

Interestingly enough, Leibniz had written a large portion of the book:

They never knew that he had in fact carried out a fair part of his assigned task: when the material Leibniz had written and collected for his history of the House of Brunswick was finally published in the 19th century, it filled three volumes.


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