[FOM] The influence of Leibniz on Russell

Alasdair Urquhart urquhart at cs.toronto.edu
Fri May 4 09:51:23 EDT 2007

Russell certainly was well acquainted with Leibniz's
work on logic.  He reviewed Couturat's "La Logique
de Leibniz" in Mind 1903, as well as Couturat's
edited collection of unpublished manuscripts
"Opuscule et fragment inedits de Leibniz"
(Mind 1904).

In his letters to Couturat, Russell sometimes
presents his own projects in logic as carrying
out the schemes that Leibniz had only sketched.
For example, in a letter of 1 October 1900,
Russell writes to Couturat (in French -- my

"I am in agreement with you in throwing both
Aristotle's syllogistic and Mill's theory
of induction on the scrapheap.  What is needed
now is to build in their place a modern
and scientific logic, mathematical and deductive
in form.  This will be our task, or the task
of the 20th century.  Perhaps Leibnitz, that
genius and universal precursor, will provide us
with some suggestions."

Again, Russell boasted to Couturat in a letter
of 23 March 1902 (my translation again):

"Did I tell you that in my lecture course at
Cambridge I deduced all of pure mathematics,
including geometry, from 8 undefined ideas
and 20 unproved propositions?  I give purely
logical definitions of number, numbers and
various types of space.  I believe this work
would have pleased Leibniz; it comes closer
to his ideas than any other work I know."

There are many other references to Leibniz in Russell's
correspondence with Couturat, which is now available
in an edition by Anne-Francoise Schmid, and is very
well worth reading (see my review BSL Volume 11,
pp. 442-444).  The correspondence shows clearly that
Leibniz was an inspirational figure for Russell.

Alasdair Urquhart

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