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Leibniz and the ‘petites réflexions

  • Sebastian Bender EMAIL logo


In this article, I defend the thesis that Leibniz’s rational substances always have higher-order perceptions, even when they are, say, in a dreamless sleep. I argue that without this assumption, Leibniz’s conception of reflection would introduce discontinuities into his philosophy of mind which (given his Principle of Continuity) he cannot allow. This interpretation does not imply, however, that rational beings must be aware of these higher-order states at all times. In fact, these states are often unconscious or ‘small’ (analogous to Leibniz’s famous petites perceptions) and only count as reflections when they become distinct or heightened enough. Reflections thus arise out of ‘petites réflexions’ just as conscious perceptions arise out of petites perceptions. I argue, furthermore, that an analysis of some aspects of Leibniz’s theory of memory shows that he is not only committed to the thesis that rational beings always have higher-order states but that he also accepts it. I conclude by considering whether my interpretation is at odds with Leibniz’s doctrine of transcreation and also whether it has any consequences for which theory of consciousness we should ascribe to Leibniz. 

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Published Online: 2020-09-26
Published in Print: 2020-11-25

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