Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz Term Paper

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Benedict Spinoza's work, The Ethics; Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, essentially argues that an understanding of knowledge ultimately arises from a metaphysics in which God in nature are deeply intertwined. Spinoza does not see God as simply the all powerful creator of the universe, but also as nature itself. Thus Spinoza argued that God and nature are essentially the same reality that underlies all of the universe. Nature contains an almost infinite number of attributes, including the physical and mental worlds, which were thought not to interact. Nature, in turn is a complete system that also encompasses the acts in thoughts of humans. Humans can only be happy if they understand this system, and their place within nature.

While this discussion clearly illustrates some of the differences between philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, these three philosophers are commonly and accurately grouped together as representing the school of thought of Continental rationalism. Each of these philosophers shares the common idea, first espoused by Descartes, that human reason is the ultimate source of knowledge.

Leibniz' principle of sufficient reason can be considered to be one of the most important guiding principles for the Continental rationalists, including Descartes and Spinoza (Solomon). Like Leibniz, Descartes and Spinoza (as well as all other Continental rationalists) argued that "there is a complete, and completely rational, explanation for everything which occurs" (Hauptli), or in other words, "every event in the phenomenal world ... has a causal explanation (Solomon, p. 78).

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Further, all three philosophers argued that way to the truth must begin with self-evident, a priori truths. The philosophers felt that knowledge or truth can be accessed through a deductive process. Notes Hauptli, Continental rationalists like Spinoza, Leibniz, and Descartes "held that it is only via a priori intellectual perceptions that we grasp the fundamental nature of the universe (the notions of substance, essence, etc.)."

Innate Ideas and Rationalism

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A belief in innate principles or ideas is one of the key features out of continental rationalism. These ideas are seen as " certain, self-evident, and necessarily true" (Hauptli), and can include ideas such as "What is, is" and "It is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be" (Hauptli).

Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, despite differences in some of their ideas, all shared a common belief in "innate ideas." Perhaps one of the best examples of this is their shared belief in the idea of a deity.

This innate idea of a deity can be seen with the arguments of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. Descartes concludes that he could not exist, if God himself did not exist. For Descartes, God is a necessary being, making it essentially impossible for God not to exist. Similarly, Spinoza's philosophical thought was also closely based upon the innate principle of deity. For Spinoza, as noted earlier, this deity was an entity that encompass to both the idea of God and nature. For Spinoza, God and nature were one entity. Spinoza, like Descartes, essentially argued that all human knowledge came from God. Similarly, Leibniz saw a deity as an "innate idea." Leibniz' God was perfect and wise, and all of humankind's knowledge came from God.


In conclusion, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz shared a commonality of philosophical thought that accurately paints them as three of the main figures of Continental rationalism. Although the three philosophers differed in many of their ideas, they all held true to the main beliefs that characterized the philosophy of Continental rationalism. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz all argued that reason was the ultimate source of knowledge, that all events could be understood in the context of the principle of sufficient reason, and that knowledge must come from self-evident, a priori truths. Taken together, these three philosophers helped to formulate a philosophy of metaphysics that had a long-lasting and profound impact upon Western civilization.

Works Cited

Descartes, Rene. Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy. Prentice Hall, 1960.

Hauptli, Bruce W. Continental Rationalism Characterized. Florida International University,

2003. 08 November 2004.

Liebniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Discourse on Metaphysics and the Monadology. Prometheus Books, 1992.

Solomon, Robert C. Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self (History

of Western Philosophy, No 7). Oxford University Press, 1988.

Spinoza, Benedictus De. The Ethics; Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect; Selected

Letters. Hackett Publishing Company, 1991.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Rationalism vs. Empiricism. 08 November 2004.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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