The Year of Leibniz was inaugurated at the conference center “Herrenhausen Palace” in Hanover, Germany, on January 19, 2016. The evening offered to the well over 300 invited guests, among other things, a demanding discourse about language and how it differentiates us from the animals.
In the Europe of the ornamented baroque, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was captivating due to his clarity: his writings and his scientific discoveries were groundbreaking in many areas; Today, they form an integral part of modern developments in the field of technology as well as the social welfare state. His scientific work continues to provide important stimuli for research. In the year of his 370th birthday and the 300th anniversary of his death, the focus of a four-part series of events organized by the Volkswagen Foundation was on the topicality of this thinker, philosopher, mathematician, historian and politician of the 18th century.
The Year of Leibniz 2016 was officially inaugurated with a ceremony with interesting lectures and talks dedicated to Leibniz's views and insights in a historical context, which analyzed the significance of his legacy up to the present day. In a first round of talks, Stephan Weil, the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, as well as Stefan Schostok, Mayor and CEO of the City of Hanover where Leibniz lived and worked for decades, and Dr. Wilhelm Krull, the Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation, discussed Leibniz's influence on current politics and science. Krull emphasized the importance that researchers nowadays think and work beyond the boundaries of their disciplines – just like Leibniz did in those days.
In his keynote address subsequent to the panel discussion, Prof. Dr. Dominik Perler explored the connection between language and thought and the related differences between man and animal. Although animals plan, use tools, and see through the intentions of their peers, they are not thinkers: animals have no language, no syntax, therefore they cannot form judgments - which is a prerequisite for thinking.
In the ensuing philosophical discussion, Prof. Dr. Brigit Recki from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hamburg demanded to investigate more precisely how language developed during the evolutionary development. According to her, this is necessary in order for us to properly assess ourselves and our position in the world.
Leibniz himself regarded language as a mirror of the understanding. This insight of the baroque polymath has proven itself viable to this day. By contrast, Prof. Dr. Rosemarie Beck of the Institute for African Studies at the University of Leipzig raised a provocative question: What would happen if there suddenly was the striking proof that animals actually are able to think?
The festivities as well as the discussion sessions provided a lot of material that had to be discussed in the Year of Leibniz. Also, a look at the tenth International Leibniz Congress in Hannover in July 2016, in which Leibniz researchers from Tokyo to Tel Aviv planned to get together, was given. There many interesting points were to be discussed, thought over, and thought through - for example, the question of whether machines may be the better thinkers.
Panel Discussion: Leibniz today in politics and science
Stephan Weil, Prime Minister of Lower Saxony
Stefan Schostok, Mayor and CEO of the City of Hanover
Dr. Wilhelm Krull, Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation
Prof. Dr. Dominik Perler, Institute of Philosophy, Humboldt-Universität Berlin
Prof. Dr. Brigit Recki, Department of Philosophy, University of Hamburg
Prof. Dr. Rosemarie Beck, Institute for African Studies, University of Leipzig
and the speaker
Moderation: Dr. Ulrich Kühn, NDR Kultur