Leibniz Essay

René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz both espouse belief in a God that is infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable and infinitely benevolent. Nonetheless, Descartes and Leibniz differently structure the hierarchy of those three defining traits as they determine God’s actions. Descartes’ God is a Voluntarist, meaning that God has absolute freedom of indifference. Power is supreme for Descartes. Leibniz objects to the arbitrariness of goodness and truth that arises from Descartes’ conception. In response, Leibniz chooses to depict a God whose power is constrained by a dominant intellect and benevolence. However, in Leibniz’s attempt to find absolute truth and goodness outside of God’s power, he limits God’s power to such an extent that the nature of God is fundamentally altered from the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent conception that Leibniz claims to believe in. Ultimately, Descartes’ view of God, though problematic, is more convincing because it does not involve the paradox of a God with limited freedom.

For Descartes, God’s power is primary. God can will anything to exist. Descartes writes that “every single moment of my entire existence depends on him.” God has complete freedom of discretion in choosing what to...

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New Essays on Human Understanding (French: Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain) is a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal by Gottfried Leibniz of John Locke's major work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It is one of only two full-length works by Leibniz (the other being the Theodicy). It was finished in 1704 but Locke's death was the cause alleged by Leibniz to withhold its publication. The book appeared some sixty years later.[1] Like many philosophical works of the time, it is written in dialogue form.


The two speakers in the book are Theophilus ("loving God" in Greek),[2] who represents the views of Leibniz, and Philalethes ("loving truth" in Greek),[3] who represents those of Locke. The famous rebuttal to the empiricist thesis about the provenance of ideas appears at the beginning of Book II: "Nothing is in the mind without being first in the senses, except for the mind itself".[4] All of Locke's major arguments against innate ideas are criticized at length by Leibniz, who defends an extreme view of innate cognition, according to which all thoughts and actions of the soul are innate.[5] In addition to his discussion of innate ideas, Leibniz offers penetrating critiques of Locke's views on personal identity, free will, mind-body dualism, language, necessary truth, and Locke's attempted proof of the existence of God.


  • New Essays on Human Understanding, 2nd ed. Translated and edited by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-521-57660-1.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Oeuvres philosophiques, latines et françoises, de feu Mr. de Leibnitz, tirées de ses manuscrits, qui se conservent dans la bibliothèque royale à Hanovre, et publiees par Rud. Eric Raspe, Amsterdam et Leipzig, 1765.
  2. ^"θεόφιλος". LSJ.
  3. ^"φιλαλήθης". LSJ.
  4. ^Book II, Ch. 1, §2: "Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu excipe: nisi ipse intellectus".
  5. ^G. W. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding. Translated and edited by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 74.


  • Leibniz, Akademie-Ausgabe (1999): Vol. VI, 6

External links[edit]

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