Leibniz & Law

“Once the characteristic numbers of most notions are determined, the human race will have a new kind of tool, a tool that will increase the power of the mind much more than optical lenses helped our eyes, a tool that will be as far superior to microscopes or telescopes as reason is to vision.” Leibniz, Philosophical Essays

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

A question which comes to mind quite easily when confronted with the name “Leibniz Center for Law”, is what the importance of Leibniz is for law, and how his work relates to the fields of Legal Knowledge Management and Computational Legal Theory.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Leipzig 1 July 1646 – Hanover 14 Nov 1716), was one of the foremost philosophers, of his age. He excelled as both a logicianand mathematician, and is probably most well known for his invention of the differential and integral calculus (independently of Sir Isaac Newton).

In 1661, at the age of fourteen, Leibniz entered the University of Leipzig, where he studied philosophy and mathematics. He graduated with a bachelors degree in 1663, and Leibniz then went to Jena to spend the summer term of that same year.

At Jena the professor of mathematics was Erhard Weigel but Weigel was also a philosopher and through him Leibniz began to understand the importance of the method of mathematical proof for subjects such as logic and philosophy. Weigel believed that number was the fundamental concept of the universe and his ideas were to have considerable influence of Leibniz. By October 1663 Leibniz was back in Leipzig starting his studies towards a doctorate in law. He was awarded his Master’s Degree in philosophy for a dissertation which combined aspects of philosophy and law studying relations in these subjects with mathematical ideas that he had learnt from Weigel.

Despite his growing reputation and acknowledged scholarship, Leibniz was refused the doctorate in law at Leipzig. Leibniz was not prepared to accept any delay and he went immediately to the University of Altdorf where he received a doctorate in law in February 1667 for his dissertation De Casibus Perplexis (On Perplexing Cases). In the same year he was offered a professorship at Altdorf which he declines in order to enter the service of his patron the Baron Johann Christian von Boyneburg and the Elector of Mainz.

In this city, Leibniz wrote Specimen demonstrationum politicarum pro elegendo rege Polonorum novo scribendi genere ad claram certitudinem exactum, a political pamphlet that applies the method of mathematical demonstration to politics and law (Published under the pseudonym Georgius Ulicovius Lithuanus). Leibniz continued his law career taking up residence at the courts of Mainz. One of his tasks there, undertaken for the Elector of Mainz, was to improve the Roman civil law code for Mainz. Another of Leibniz’s lifelong aims was to collate all human knowledge. He saw his work on Roman civil law as part of this scheme: Leibniz tried to bring the work of the learned societies together to coordinate research.

The Leibniz Center for Law continues in the tradition of Leibniz’s early years. Using collated human knowledge (i.e. ontologies) we apply techniques from philosophy and logics (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) to Law.

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