Ideas and Illumination
We cannot really understand Leibniz's polemic against Locke unless we grasp Leibniz's concept of ‘idea’. Moreover, the exclusive focus on the New Essays is historically misleading because it tends to obscure the fact that much of Leibniz's discussion of ideas is a response to issues raised by Malebranche and Arnauld. We shall see that much of Leibniz's discussion of ideas has wider philosophical significance, for his views are shaped by his nominalism; unlike Malebranche, Leibniz cannot tolerate irreducibly abstract entities. Like Malebranche, Leibniz attempts to do justice to the Augustinian doctrine of divine illumination, but in adapting the doctrine to his own philosophical commitments, he tends to change its content, thereby depriving the doctrine of much of its real point. But it would be quite wrong to suppose that Leibniz's theory of mind has no significant theological dimensions, for we shall see that Leibniz's distinctive philosophical claims put him in a strong position to defend the Christian doctrine that the human mind is made in the image of God.
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