9

MALEBRANCHE ON FREEDOM, GRACE AND THE WILL

Philosophical background: continuous creation and the Vision in God

This chapter deals with what is perhaps the most intractable problem in Malebranche’s philosophy, the problem of free will. 1 Why does the issue of freedom raise particular difficulties for Malebranche, difficulties that do not arise - or at least, do not arise in the same form - for other philosophers and theologians? The answer stems, I suggest, from the combination of two of his most fundamental metaphysical theses: continuous creation and the Vision in God. Both doctrines lie at the heart of Malebranche’s philosophy: it is unthinkable that he could abandon either of them. But their combination raises a formidable difficulty for Malebranche’s philosophical theology.

According to the theory of continuous creation, which we discussed at some length in Chapter Five, the continued existence of any creature is simply its continuous (re)creation by God. No body, and no finite spirit, continues to exist by its own power; without divine sustenance, all things would simply cease-to-be. If this thesis of continuous creation is extended from all created substances to include all their modes, we have Malebranche’s principal argument for occasionalism. If it is logically impossible for a finite substance to exist without a determinate set of modes (a body can’t exist unless it exists in some particular place, a mind can’t exist unless it thinks some particular thoughts), then even God cannot create or sustain indeterminate creatures. Malebranche’s departure from scholastic and Cartesian tradition, we suggested, lay in his willingness to accept the continuous creation of all modes CC(AM) and of determinate modes CC(DM), and then to try to come to terms with the startling implications of such a doctrine.

If Malebranche does indeed accept CC(AM) and CC(DM), and applies those theses to the continuous creation of human souls, an obvious

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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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