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Leibniz on Phenomenal Consciousness

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The main aim of this paper is to show that we can extract an elaborate account of phenomenal consciousness from Leibniz’s (1646-1716) writings. Against a prevalent view, which attributes a higher-order reflection account of phenomenal consciousness to Leibniz, it is argued that we should understand Leibniz as holding a first-order conception of it. In this conception, the consciousness aspect of phenomenal consciousness is explained in terms of a specific type of attention. This type of attention, in turn, is accounted for in terms of cognitive appetites aiming at knowledge about a represented object by means of initiating cognitive operations on representational content. Furthermore, against the view that Leibniz holds a reifying account, it is argued that Leibniz accepts an epistemic account of phenomenal character. According to this view, the phenomenal character of phenomenally conscious states rests on the confusing effect of imperfect acts of attention directed towards representational contents. Holding this view, Leibniz finds fruitful middle ground between contemporary standard positions like higher-order theories, representationalist conceptions, and qualia accounts of phenomenal consciousness. His position possesses resources to meet several objections these standard accounts are confronted with.

Affiliations: 1: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


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