Primary and Secondary Qualities in the Phenomenalist Theory of Leibniz

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Leibniz recognizes little difference between the primary and secondary qualities in regard to metaphysical status (both are partly imaginary) or veridicality of our perceptions of them (both are true). The important contrast concerns discursive, rather than perceptual, knowledge. Two strains in Leibniz's theorizing support this atypical stance. One is that, in his view, there is an unbridgeable gap between actual bodies, which are endlessly divided and individually diverse, and any possible physical theory, for theories are intelligible and explanatory only because they abstract from irregularity and heterogeneity. The second is Leibniz's theory that every substance has veridical perceptions of each thing in the physical world. This is managed by balancing the relatively distinct perception of a whole body against relatively confused perceptions of its parts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPrimary and Secondary Qualities
Subtitle of host publicationThe Historical and Ongoing Debate
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191725548
ISBN (Print)9780199556151
StatePublished - May 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • A. D. Smith
  • Descartes
  • Distinct and confused perceptions
  • Distinct ideas
  • Leibniz
  • Locke
  • Perception
  • Phenomenal character
  • Phenomenalism


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