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INTRODUCTION

Life and works

Nicolas Malebranche was born and died in the same year as Louis XIV (1638-1715), and thus belongs firmly to the siècle des lumières celebrated in Voltaire’s history. 1 Born in Paris, he was the youngest of the many children of Nicolas Malebranche senior, a counsellor of the king and a senior official in the department of taxation. 2 Nicolas junior was a feeble child, and was not expected to live long; as a man, he remained frail and sickly, as if made for the secluded life of an ascetic and an intellectual. The obvious profession for a bright but feeble-bodied child was the Church. From 1654 to 1656 Malebranche studied philosophy at the Collège de la Marché in Paris, then in 1656 he started his theology at the Sorbonne (OCM XVIII 13). According to his first biographer, André, the theology he was taught failed to impress him on two counts. In philosophy, where reason alone should be sovereign, he was fobbed off with the mere authority of Aristotle; in theology, where authority alone should rule, he was offered human (and usually bad) reasoning (OCM XVIII 16).

Although originally destined for the secular priesthood, the young Malebranche withdrew into the congregation of the Oratory in 1660, giving up his share of the family property. The Oratorian Order had been founded by Pierre Bérulle in 1611. Its members had no official duties, but were expected to devote their lives to prayer, fasting and works of charity. Dogmatic and mystical theology was permitted, but independent philosophical thinking was associated with the sin of pride, and was officially discouraged: Malebranche’s writings would earn him the bitter hostility of his superiors. As a student, he plodded diligently through vast tomes of Church history, and even began the study of Hebrew, before he found his true vocation. In 1664, the year of his ordination, he encountered Descartes’ Traité de l’Homme (OCM XVIII

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Malebranche
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations and Editions x
  • Preface xii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Tensions in Cartesian Metaphysics 18
  • 3 - The Vision in God 47
  • 4 - The Dispute with Arnauld Over the Nature of Ideas 74
  • 5 - Occasionalism and Continuous Creation 96
  • 6 - Malebranche's Modifications of Cartesian Physics 131
  • 7 - Malebranche's Biology 158
  • 8 - Malebranche on the Soul and Self-Knowledge 186
  • 9 - Malebranche on Freedom, Grace and the Will 209
  • 10 - The Downfall of Malebranchism 234
  • Notes 262
  • Bibliography 279
  • Indexes 286
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