Volume 13, December 2003
Justin E. H. Smith
Confused Perception and Corporeal Substance in Leibniz
I argue against the view that Leibniz’s construction of reality out of perceiving substances must be seen as the first of the modern idealist philosophies. I locate this central feature of Leibniz’s thought instead in a decidedly premodern tradition. This tradition sees bodiliness as a consequence of the confused perception of finite substances, and equates God’s uniquely disembodied being with his maximally distinct perceptions. But unlike modern idealism, the premodern view takes confusion as the very feature of any created substance that makes possible its distinctness from the Creator. Modern idealism, in contrast, emerges when the external world becomes a problem, when the epistemological worry arises as to how the mind might access it. In the tradition in which I place Leibniz, there simply is no such worry.