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Leibniz on Innate Ideas and the Early Reactions to the Publication of the Nouveaux Essais (1765)* GIORGIO TONELLI LIzmNIz' Nouve~ Essais,written in 1703-1705 (citedhereafter as NE), were posthumously published by Raspe x in 1765, at the beginning of a Leibniz revivalwhich was alsomarked by thelargeDutens editionof 1768. As the greatupheaval in Kant's thought took place in 1769, and as thisupheaval had as one of itsmain characteristicsthe rejection of sensibility as the sole source of knowledge,2 it is easy to infer that Kant's reading of the NE may have been one of the elements prompting him to adopt his new solution. It is not the ambition of this paper to answer that difficult question: rather it is an attempt towards clearing the ground for an answer to it, by inquiring into the early reactions of philosophical circles, especially German, to the appearance of the NE. To what extent was the significance of the particular doctrines expounded in the NE noticed? To what extent did contemporary philosophers realize that these were to profoundly modify the picture of Leibniz' psychological tenets? And, therefore, to what extent could Kant have been stimulated by a widespread reaction to pay special attention to the peeu!ia~lies of that work7 In conformity with this purpose, I shall focus my research on the question o/the origin of knowledge. As it is my task to reconstruct a general philosophical atmosphere, I will not confine my research to philosophic reactions prior to 1769, but will also take into consideration some attitudes of the following decade. As frequently happens in the history of ideas, the impact of a certain event may be noticed almost immediately after its occurrence, but the documentation of its effects may be available only after a certain delay. But they are nevertheless indicative of that prior impact. Before starting this enquiry, I shall: (1) point out the difference between the doctrine in question as it is expounded in the NE and as it appeared in the previously published works of Leibniz; (2) examine the interpretations of Leibniz' psychology prior to 1765, especially as represented in the version which was accepted by Wolff and incorporated into his system. * I want to expressmy gratitude to my friend Dr. Heinrieh Schepers,Director of the LeibnizStelle of Miinster University, for severalreferences and suggestions,and for his sympathy with the subjectof this paper. 1 Oeuvres philosophique$ latines et franfaises du feu Mr. de Leibniz tir~es de ses Manuscrits qui #e conservent dans la Biblioth~que royale ~ Hanovre et publi~es par M. Rud. Eric Raspe. Avec une preface de Mr. Kaestner, Professeur en math$matique d GOttingue (Amsterdam et Leipzig, 1765). Cf. (3. Tondli, "Die Umwiilzung yon 1769 bed Kant," Kant-Studien,LIV (1963), 369 ft. [437] 438 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY I. It is an obvious principle in Leibniz' metaphysics that all knowledge stems from the interior of the soul, or monad: from this point of view, it may correctly be stated that for Leibniz all knowledge is innate. It is equally obvious in our day that Leibniz held that there is a basic distinction between the way we know necesstwy and universal truths, emerging from the soul's intellect, and the way we know contingent and particular truths, emerging from the soul's sensibility. Therefore, from a psychological and exoteric point of view (as in the NE) the first kind of truths may be called innate (par excellence), while the second may be called acquired. As it happened, the works of Leibniz published prior to 1765 almost exclusively represented the general metaphysical point of view, and this led to a fatal distortion of his thought by his followers. The interpretations of Leibniz were from the very beginningm and still are in our day---profoundly influenced by the fact that many of Leibniz' works were not published in his lifetime, but appeared (and still shall appear) posthumously during more than two centuries. Consequently the distinction between the origin of necessary and the origin of contingent truths was generally overlooked. This is clearly explained by an examination of Leibniz' worksa which were published before his death (1716) and shortly thereafter. One of the most influential...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 437-454
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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