Characteristica universalis  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Latin term characteristica universalis, commonly interpreted as universal characteristic, or universal character in English, is a universal and formal language imagined by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz able to express mathematical, scientific, and metaphysical concepts. Leibniz thus hoped to create a language usable within the framework of a universal logical calculation or calculus ratiocinator.

The characteristica universalis is a recurring concept in the writings of Gottfried Leibniz. When writing in French, he sometimes employed the phrase spécieuse générale to the same effect. The concept is sometimes paired with his notion of a calculus ratiocinator and with his plans for an encyclopaedia as a compendium of all human knowledge.

Related 17th century projects

Others in the 17th century, such as George Dalgarno, attempted similar philosophical and linguistic projects, some under the heading of mathesis universalis. A notable example was John Wilkins, the author of An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, who wrote a thesaurus as a first step towards a universal language. He intended to add to his thesaurus an alphabet of human thought (an organisational scheme, similar to a thesaurus or the Dewey decimal system), and an "algebra of thought," allowing rule-based manipulation. The philosophers and linguists who undertook such projects often belonged to pansophical (universal knowledge) and scientific knowledge groups in London and Oxford, collectively known as the "Invisible College" and now seen as forerunners of the Royal Society.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Characteristica universalis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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