Reflection and Rationality in Leibniz

  • Sebastian BenderEmail author
Part of the Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind book series (SHPM, volume 16)


Leibniz repeatedly states that there is a very close connection between reflection and rationality. On his view, reflective acts somehow lead to self-consciousness, reason, the knowledge of necessary truths, and even to the moral liability of the respective substances. Whereas it might be relatively easy to see how reflective acts lead to self-consciousness, it is much harder to understand how they are connected to rationality. Why should a substance which is able to produce reflective acts therefore be rational? How can having reflective acts be responsible for the substance’s ability to reason correctly and to acquire knowledge of necessary and eternal truths? My aim in this paper is to understand better the required mechanisms and to thus make conceivable Leibniz’s bold claim that reflective acts lead to rationality. In order to accomplish this, I will proceed in three steps. First, I will specify what kind of self-consciousness, according to Leibniz, is produced by reflective acts. A substance must recognize itself as a unitary substance bearing perceptions. Second, I will argue that this type of self-consciousness can be seen as the basis for the ability to form judgments. This is possible because the subject-predicate structure of judgments is mirrored by the ontology of substances and their modifications. Third, I will point out that, together with the idea of identity (which we also acquire by reflection), the combination of judgments allows us to make inferences. This ability, in turn, is sufficient for rationality. Thus, I can explain how reflective acts and rationality are connected with each other.


Innate Idea Universal Truth Reflective Knowledge Eternal Truth Inherence Relation 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rice UniversityHoustonUSA

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