Cottingham_Leibniz - (from: Cottingham, pp. 32-36) (G. W....

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(from: Cottingham, pp. 32-36) (G. W. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding [ Nouveaux essais sur I’entendement humain , c.1704; first pub. 1765]. Trans. and ed. Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), paras. 44—53) Innate Knowledge Defended Gottfried Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding Introduction (p. 32) Locke’s attack on the theory of innate knowledge provoked a comprehensive response from the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, in his New Essays on Human Understanding ( Nouveaux Essais sur I’entendement humain ), written in French and completed in 1704 (but not published until 1765, some fifty years after the author’s death). Leibniz agrees with Locke that sensory stimulation is necessary for the acquisition of knowledge. But he argues that it is not, by itself, sufficient . The senses merely elicit or activate what is already in a certain sense present within us — ‘living fires or flashes of light hidden inside us but made visible by the stimulation of the senses, as sparks can be struck from a steel’ . Leibniz goes on to cite the necessary truths of mathematics as support for his version of the theory of innateness: the truth of such propositions ‘does not depend on instances, nor consequently on the testimony of the senses’. Readers may well see a parallel here with the earlier arguments of Plato in the Meno . (p. 33) Although sensory stimulation (the drawing of a visible diagram in the sand) helped the slave boy to see the result concerning the square on the diagonal, the truth of the proposition in question does not in any way depend on such experiments or observations or ‘instances’; it can be demonstrated quite independently of experience. Reflection on the universal and necessary nature of truths of this kind leads Leibniz to the conclusion that ‘proof of [necessary truths such as those of mathematics] can only come from inner principles’ . Locke, as is clear from our previous passage (extract number five), had objected that if such truths were indeed imprinted in the mind from birth, one would surely expect young children to be aware of them — which in many cases they patently are not. To this Leibniz replies that although present in the mind, such principles are not like notices conspicuously posted on a ‘notice board’: it often needs diligent attention for us to achieve the kind of explicit awareness that makes us recognize their truth. Against Locke’s image of the mind as a tabula rasa or blank sheet, Leibniz compares the mind to a block of marble — one that is not homogenous but already veined in a certain pattern: the sculptor’s blows (corresponding to the stimulation of the senses) are certainly necessary, but they serve to uncover a shape that is already present in the structure of the stone. There follows an interesting discussion of the way in which the cognitive activities of the human mind seem to transcend entirely the straightforward stimulus-response’
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This note was uploaded on 11/22/2011 for the course PHILOSOPHY 101 taught by Professor Simonoswitch during the Spring '10 term at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

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Cottingham_Leibniz - (from: Cottingham, pp. 32-36) (G. W....

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