Leibniz on consciousness and the self as non-materialistic
"In other writings, Leibniz suggests exactly what characteristic it is of
perception and consciousness
that the mechanical principles of materialism cannot account for. The following
passages, the first
from the New System of Nature (1695), the second from the Reply to Bayle
(1702), are revealing in this regard:
Furthermore, by means of the soul or form, there is a true unity which
corresponds to what is called the
I in us; such a thing could not occur in artificial machines, nor in the simple
mass of matter, however organized it may be.
But in addition to the general principles which establish the monads of which
compound things are
merely the results, internal experience refutes the Epicurean [i.e.
materialist] doctrine. This experience is the
consciousness which is in us of this I which apperceives things which occur in
the body. This perception
cannot be explained by figures and movements [of materials].
Leibniz's point is that whatever is the subject of perception and consciousness
must be truly one,
a single "I" properly regarded as one conscious being. An aggregate of matter
is not truly one and so
cannot be regarded as a single I, capable of being the subject of a unified
This interpretation fits nicely with Lebniz's oft-repeated definition of
perception as the representation in the
simple of the compound, or of that which is outside. (Principles of Nature and
Grace, sec.2 (1714)).
More explicitly, in a letter to Antoine Arnauld of 9 October 1687, Leibniz
wrote that "In natural perception
and sensation, it is enough for what is divisible and material and dispersed
into many entities to be
expressed or represented in a single indivisible entity or in a substance which
is endowed with genuine unity.
If perception (and hence, consciousness) essentially involves a representation
of a variety of content in a simple,
indivisible "I" then we may construct Leibniz's argument against materialism as
Materialism holds that matter can explain (is identical with, can give rise to)
A perception is a state whereby a variety of content is represented in a true
Thus, whatever is not a true unity cannot give rise to perception. Whatever is
divisible is not a true unity. Matter is infinitely divisible. Hence, matter
form a true unity. Hence, matter cannot explain (be identical with, give rise
perception. If matter cannot explain (be identical to, give rise to)
then materialism is false. Hence, materialism is false. "
Roger Clough, rclo...@verizon.net
"Forever is a long time, especially near the end." -Woody Allen
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