This introductory chapter begins with a discussion of the place of biology in early modern natural philosophy. “Biology,” though it did not yet exist in name, or even as a discrete domain of scientific inquiry, was at the very heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Yet while in recent decades much important scholarly work has emerged on the early modern life sciences, the perception persists in the broader scholarly community that the seventeenth century was principally a period in which physics was of central importance. The chapter considers the role of the phenomena of life in the systems of Aristotle, Descartes, and Hobbes in the background of Leibniz's philosophy. It then summarizes the main points on which Leibniz distinguishes his theory from those of his predecessors in the history of philosophical reflection on the nature, structure, and generation of living entities.
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