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“There is nothing waste, nothing sterile, nothing dead in the universe; no chaos, no confusions, save in appearance”*…

Still, appearances mattered to Leibnitz. And as Richard Halpern explains in a piece adapted from his new book, Leibnizing: A Philosopher in Motion, they give us another avenue to understanding his philosophy…

Possessed of a monumentally impressive intellect, the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was not blessed with a body to match. Bald, short, and unhandsome of feature, he accordingly availed himself of that universal male cosmetic—and prosthetic—of his era, the peruke (figure 1). Leibniz’s peruke ameliorated several bodily shortcomings: it covered his bald pate, including a bony growth the size of a pigeon’s egg that purportedly sat there; it added several inches to his height; and it did not so much frame his face as distract attention from it.

Leibniz was hardly the only seventeenth-century philosopher to sport a wig: René Descartes and John Locke did so as well. Theirs were not quite so extravagant and luxurious as Leibniz’s, however, nor did they give quite the same impression that a poodle had curled up for a nap on the wearer’s head. In the portrait reproduced here, by the fashionable court painter Christoph Bernhard Francke, Leibniz’s peruke complements the rich velvet folds of his garment to project an aura of prosperity, prestige, and fashion. Leibniz, who was fond of perfume as well as of perukes, made no bones about his wish to be included in polite society. The duke of Orleans was sufficiently impressed with his elegance to declare: “It is unusual for intellectuals to dress well, not to smell bad, and to understand jokes.”

Leibniz’s peruke silently poses questions: Should philosophers concern themselves with reputation, physical appearance, and fashion in the way that Leibniz does? Shouldn’t the philosopher focus rather on the disinterested pursuit of truth? Ever since Diogenes the Cynic, poverty and simplicity have served as emblems of philosophical authenticity. If we no longer demand that our philosophers be poor, we expect at least a certain slovenliness—a sign that their attention is directed elsewhere, upon more fundamental matters, and not on their appearance.

John Locke seems to make a related point in the dedicatory epistle to An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: “The Imposition of Novelty is a terrible Charge among those, who judge of Men’s Heads as they do their Perukes, by the Fashion; and can allow none to be right, but the received Doctrines.” The philosopher is supposed to be defined by what goes on in his or her head, not by what is perched upon it. Philosophers pursue truth, but the wig is an emblem of falsehood. The philosopher investigates eternal verities, but the wig occupies the ephemeral realm of fashion. In The Wig: A Harebrained History (London: Reaktion, 2020), Luigi Amara posits the wig as the supremely antiphilosophical object, more at home with the deceptive rhetorical chicanery of the Sophists (and for that reason also a supreme philosophical provocation).

But if philosophy and wigs are conceptually incompatible, this fact did not seem to bother Leibniz, who was perfectly comfortable with both. I would like to suggest, indeed, that the wig takes on enhanced significance if juxtaposed not only to philosophy in general but also to Leibniz’s philosophy in particular. One of the things Leibnizian metaphysics does is take Cartesian dualism and push it to an extreme: bodies and minds not only are of essentially different natures, as Descartes held, but also because of this they do not interact at all. But if bodies and minds cannot affect one another causally, Lebiniz argued, they nevertheless express each other. Every mental event is accompanied by some change in the bodily state of the entity experiencing it and vice versa. These expressive relations are not the result of direct mutual influence but are created by God as part of what Leibniz called pre-established harmony. In place of causal relations between mind and body, then, Leibniz posits something more like aesthetic ones.

Leibniz’s philosophy would claim, therefore, that his own bodily appearance is not unrelated to what goes on in his head…

On the philosophical Importance of fake hair: “Leibniz’s Peruke,” from @ColumbiaUP.

* Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz


As we ruminate on rugs, we might send insightful birthday greetings to Robert Pirsig; he was born on this date in 1928. A writer and philosopher, he is best known for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, an exploration of the underlying metaphysics of Western culture.

Pirsig had great difficulty finding a publisher for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He pitched the idea for his book to 121 different publishers, sending them a cover letter along with two sample pages; only 22 responding favorably, and then only tentatively.  Ultimately, an editor at William Morrow accepted the finished manuscript; when he did, his publisher’s internal recommendation averred, “This book is brilliant beyond belief, it is probably a work of genius, and will, I’ll wager, attain classic stature.”  Indeed, in his review, George Steiner compared Pirsig’s writing to Dostoevsky, Broch, Proust, and Bergson, arguing that “the assertion itself is valid … the analogies with Moby-Dick are patent.”


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