3

THE VISION IN GOD

The argument for ideas

Malebranche’s most fundamental argument for ideas turns on his oft-repeated maxim, voir rien, ce n’est point voir. To see nothing is not to see at all. 1 This axiom can be found in the Recherche (OCM II 99, LO 320), is repeated in the first of the Entretiens (OCM XII 35, JS 8), and reappears in the late Entretien d’un Philosophe Chrétien et d’un Philosophe Chinois (OCM XV 5). Malebranche assumes that any perception must have an object, i.e. that the proper analysis of perception is relational. 2 But if perception always requires a really existing direct object, what are we to say about non-veridical sensory experiences? We could of course deny them the status of perceptions, but that would fly in the face of introspection. As far as phenomenology is concerned, dreams and hallucinations are indistinguishable from normal cases of sense perception. If we want to defend the voir rien principle and the relational analysis of perception that goes with it, we will find ourselves obliged to introduce ideas as intermediate objects, at least for cases of non-veridical perception.

Everything we see clearly, directly and immediately, says Malebranche in Book Four of the Recherche, necessarily exists:

I say what we immediately see, attest to, or conceive; for to speak strictly, the objects we immediately see are very different from those we see externally, or rather from those we think we see or look at; for in one sense it is true that we do not see these latter, since we can see, or rather believe we see, external objects that are not there, notwithstanding the fact that nothingness is not perceptible. But there is a contradiction in saying that we can immediately see what does not exist, for this is to say that at the same time we see and do not see, since to see nothing is not to see.

(OCM II 99, LO 320)

-47-

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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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