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The Leibniz Review

Volume 15, December 2005

Stephen M. Puryear
Pages 95-124

Was Leibniz Confused about Confusion?

Leibniz’s physicalism about colors and other sensible qualities commits him to two theses about our knowledge of those qualities: first, that we can acquire ideas of sensible qualities apart from any direct acquaintance with the qualities themselves; second, that we can acquire distinct (i.e., non-confused) ideas of such qualities through the development of physical-theoretical accounts. According to some commentators, however, Leibniz frequently denies both claims. His views on the subject are muddled and incoherent, they say, both because he is ambivalent about the nature of sensible qualities, and because he gets confused about confusion, losing sight of his own distinction between the confusion proper to perceptions and that proper to ideas. In opposition to this, I argue that the critics have misunderstood Leibniz’s views, which are both consistent over time and coherent. The key to understanding his position is to appreciate what he characterizes as a kind of redundancy in our ideas of sensible qualities, a crucial feature of his view overlooked by the critics.

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