HFIK03901U FILO, Module 4: Research Subject - History of Philosophy: Leibniz’s philosophy of mind and his correspondence with Lady Damaris Masham

Volume 2017/2018

Kandidatuddannelsen i Filosofi 2017-ordning 


What is the nature of the mind? What are its distinctive features and how can we understand its relation to the surrounding world? These and similar questions have been raised by philosophers of all times, but it were philosophers of the early modern period who set the terms for modern conceptions of the mind and who still continue to be a point of reference in various contemporary philosophical debates. The German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) developed a highly original theory of mind: Critical of both the materialistic and the dualistic framework to account for the mind, Leibniz offers a non-reductionist understanding of the mind in the context of an ontology that could be labeled as panpsychistic in the broad sense of the term.

By carefully studying core passages from Leibniz’s works (esp. his New System of Nature (1695), selections from the New Essays (1704) and his correspondence with Damaris Masham (1704/05)) and critically assessing contemporary scholarly debates on the topic, we aim at a profound and informed understanding of Leibniz’s conception of the mind. We will discuss among others the following notions: monad, simple substance, soul, active force, pre-established harmony, perception, appetition. The focus lies on the metaphysical assumptions for Leibniz’s conception of the mind, the mind-body problem and the understanding of the passions. The correspondence with Damaris Masham (1659-1708), an English philosopher of her own right, will give us the opportunity to discuss the ways open to women during the early modern period to participate in philosophical debates.

This course offers an introduction to Leibniz’s philosophy of mind in the context of contemporary debates.


  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm,New System of Nature [Système Nouveau de la Nature, 1695]. In: Philosophical Essays. Edited and translated by Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989. 138-147.


  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm,New Essays on Human Understanding[Nouveaux Essais sur l’Entendemnet Humain, 1704]. Translated and edited by Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.



  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm,Sämtliche Schriften und Briefe. Edited by the German Academy of Science. Darmstadt and Berlin: Berlin Academy, 1923-. 


  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm,Die Philosophischen Schriften. Edited by C.I. Gerhardt. Berlin: Weidman, 1875–1890. 




Suggested background reading:


  • Kulstad, Mark and Carlin, Laurence, “Leibniz’s Philosophy of Mind”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =


  • Simmons, Alison. "Changing the Cartesian Mind: Leibniz on Sensation, Representation and Consciousness." The Philosophical Review 110.1 (2001): 31-75.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 148,75
  • Total
  • 204,75
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assesment