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Leibniz on thinking and knowing

Leibniz's essay "Meditations on Knowledge, Truth, and Ideas" is a definitive statement of rationalism in epistemology. It helpfully codifies an approach to truth-seeking centered not on the question "for what do I have evidence?" but rather on "what do I understand?"

Rationalism is often thought of as a long-retired historical phenomenon - born with Descartes and withering under the scorching sun of empiricist and Kantian critique. It is certainly true that the classical rationalists can strike present-day readers as ambassadors from a far-off, alien intellectual culture. To a large extent, we have grown impatient with philosophical paths that treat understanding something, or thinking about it in a certain way, as sufficient for knowing (facts) about reality. Thinkers like Leibniz look constantly in danger of substituting a subjective world for the objective one.

What happens when we refrain from drawing the distinction between subjective and objective validity, instead deferring to the criterion of intelligibility to oneself? What about when we deny the duality between concepts and sensations, and instead regard them respectively as more and less lucid perceptions?

A link to the essay:

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  • Rick O.

    I hope we do more Leibniz

    1 · August 24, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Had a great time discussing Philosophy with some really great people yesterday! Learned some new things and points of view. Can't wait til next meetup!


    1 · August 23, 2013

    • Brian

      Thanks Jack! :D

      August 23, 2013

  • Adam

    Just finished a quick read of the article, and I'm sure I don't understand it. If I did, then his "understanding" (cogito?) is just what I would call "recognizing"? That isn't right, is it? There is a lot more to know about something than that which it takes to recognize it - even something comparatively clear & distinct. I can recognize my neighbor's face, but I don't necessarily know much about them.

    I guess the most obvious example is when he uses claims "fastest motion" is impossible. He just plain got that wrong! It turns out that there are things to learn about motion that you can't get from just recognizing it (e.g. that the faster you move the more you actually bend time itself (or something)). Maybe that just means that his definition of motion wasn't as adequate as he thought. But that's the rub. "What about when we... regard them respectively as more and less lucid perceptions?". Then we won't know when our perceptions are adequate.

    August 6, 2013

    • Adam

      My point is something like "analysis is good, but synthesis of experience can give you more things to analyze." I guess you need them both, but beware too much of one. I'm trying to stand up for the first part of "Concepts without intuitions are empty, and intuitions without concepts are blind"

      August 14, 2013

    • Tom

      This is so easy, you guys don't have to imagine. If you have two flash lights pointing at opposite directions, the movement you switch them on, the photon from one light is moving away from the photon from the other at double the speed of light!

      August 22, 2013

  • Amy

    Thank for the engaging conversation! I was not disappointed!

    1 · August 22, 2013

  • Rick O.

    I look forward to - finally - making my first foray with Leibniz

    1 · August 3, 2013

    • Thrashionalist

      1) "Leibniz threw out such a profusion of seeds of ideas that in this respect he is virtually in a class of his own." - Frege

      1 · August 6, 2013

    • Rick O.

      Yes! - It's what a thinker leaves behind for others to work with that proves the richness of their thought. - Inner consistency be damned (can't believe I just said that).

      August 6, 2013

  • Brian

    Systematic healthy-mindedness, conceiving good as the essential and universal aspect of being, deliberately excludes evil from its field of vision; and although, when thus nakedly stated, this might seem a difficult feat to perform for one who is intellectually sincere with himself and honest about facts, a little reflection shows that the situation is too complex to lie open to so simple a criticism. ..The hushing of [badness] up may, in a perfectly candid and honest mind, grow into a deliberate religious policy, or parti pris. Much of what we call evil is due entirely to the way men take the phenomenon. It can so often be converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simple change of the sufferer's inner attitude - W. James

    August 6, 2013

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