Between Learned Science and Technical Knowledge

Becchi, A.
Cham Springer International Publishing Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan

Full title

Between Learned Science and Technical Knowledge: Leibniz, Leeuwenhoek and the School for Microscopists

Chapter in

Tercentenary Essays on the Philosophy and Science of Leibniz

Editors: Lloyd Strickland, Erik Vynckier, Julia Weckend

ISBN: 978-3-319-38829-8 (Print) 978-3-319-38830-4 (Online)


The relationship between G. W. Leibniz and the Dutch draper and microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) has many facets. For one thing, Leibniz was highly interested in the revolutionary discoveries made by Leeuwenhoek in the field of microbiology, and used—to a certain extent—these results as empirical evidence for some metaphysical principles which he was defending.

Second, the relationship between Leibniz and Leeuwenhoek is illustrative of an important sociological aspect of the birth of modern science, namely the close cooperation between scientists, natural philosophers and craftsmen. Leibniz insisted on the need for integration between learned science and technical knowledge in all of his projects for scientific societies; this is a typically Baconian aspect of Leibniz’s ideas about the goals and organization of knowledge which is still waiting to be analysed in full depth.

Third, the keen interest Leibniz showed in Leeuwenhoek’s work is part of his broader interest in the emerging microscopy, which was triggering in the last quarter of the seventeenth century a second scientific revolution after the astronomical revolution, assisted by the telescope.

Finally, it is noteworthy that in 1715–16, around forty years after their meeting in Delft, Leibniz and Leeuwenhoek began a short correspondence, amounting to ten letters. This exchange was interrupted by Leibniz’s death, and even now has not been published in its entirety.

available both in print and as e-book