Mr Leibniz, Philosopher And Philosopher

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“Forgive me, sir, but I must point out that when you contend that there is nothing in the soul of which it is not aware, you are begging the question … it is impossible that we should always reflect explicitly on all our thoughts; for if we did, the mind would reflect on each reflection, ad infinitum, without ever being able to move on to a new thought. For example, in being aware of some present feeling, I should have always to think that I think about that feeling, and further to think that I think of thinking about it, and so on ad infinitum. It must be that I stop reflecting on all these reflections, and that eventually some thought is allowed to occur without being thought about; otherwise I would dwell for ever on the same thing.”
(NE II.i.19, 118)

To Mr Leibniz, Philosopher in Hanover


You have attempted to show that we can think and not be aware of it by showing that Locke’s conception of consciousness leads to an infinite regress of reflections. If you had been successful in showing it absurd that we explicitly reflect on all of our thoughts, Locke would have had to accept the idea that we can think and yet not be aware of it. Therefore, it may be the case that the soul is indeed in perpetual motion. The first premise of your argument is your interpretations of Locke’s conception of consciousness; the mind’s explicit reflection of thoughts. On this account, whenever there is a thought in my mind, there is a higher-order reflection of that thought. It

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