On Concepts and Ideas: Themes from G. W. Leibniz's New Essays

In Christoph Kann David Hommen (ed.), Concepts and Categorization Systematic and Historical Perspectives. Münster, Germania: pp. 141-167 (2016)

Lucia Oliveri
University of Münster
The topic of my paper is the virtual controversy between Leibniz and Lockeover concepts and ideas. At the end of the 17th century John Locke made a crucial contribution to semantics and philosophy: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The work represents a decisive turning point for the discussion about ideas and innatism. Indeed, Locke’s aim was to dismantle the Cartesian theory according to which ideas are innate in our soul. Against this onto-epistemological thesis, Locke maintains that all our knowledge starts off with experience: ideas are mental representations depending on subjects’ sensual experiences and reflection skills. Some years later, in his notes on Locke’s Essay, Leibniz writes that Locke dealt with a fundamental topic: human understanding and the limits of human knowledge (NE p. 4). All we can find out about the world is determined by answering the question about what we can know; nonetheless, Leibniz argues in favor of innate ideas. My thesis is that in his opinion Locke’s empiricism can be conciliated with the assumption that there are innate ideas.
Keywords Leibniz   Locke   innate ideas   rationalism vs. empiricism   limits of knowledge
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