10

THE DOWNFALL OF MALEBRANCHISM

The aim of this concluding chapter is to document some of the unresolved tensions and contradictions in Malebranche’s thought, and thus to shed light on the way in which his work was received in the eighteenth century. Malebranche himself was a conservative thinker, but in seeking to propound rational arguments for opinions that had previously rested on faith and authority, he exposed those opinions to intense critical scrutiny. Arguments tend to take on lives of their own, independent of the intentions of their creators. One philosopher thinks he has good grounds for a proposition p, sees that p entails q, and infers q by modus ponens. Another philosopher finds q incredible (perhaps in the plain literal sense of the word), sees that p implies q, and infers not-p by modus tollens. This, as we shall see, is more or less the relation between Malebranche and Hume.

Malebranche’s role in the early enlightenment would make an interesting case study. Intellectual historians of the period 1 portray him as a conservative figure of the ‘moderate’ enlightenment. This seems broadly correct, at least as regards his intention of constructing a philosophy both truly Christian and compatible with the new science. But the same intellectual historians emphasise the role of Pierre Bayle as one of the founding fathers of the ‘radical’ enlightenment. Yet the debt of Bayle to Malebranche is immense, and would be very easy to document in detail. It was Malebranche who took the bold step of subjecting Christian dogma to close rational scrutiny, insisting that God must act in accordance with an Order that is - at least in principle - accessible to all minds. 2 On Malebranche’s principles, laymen can ask Churchmen why God has acted in the manner described by Christian dogma, and can demand intelligible replies. Sceptical thinkers like Bayle pointed out the weaknesses of traditional Christian apologetics, concluded that faith and reason are incompatible, and recommended a retreat into sceptical fideism. 3 As genuine conservatives like Bossuet

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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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