Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy

By Leon Chai | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Idea and Object

IN 1674 THE FIRST VOLUME of a new philosophical work appeared anonymously in Paris. Its title was De la Recherche de la Verité ( Of the Search after Truth). A subtitle furnished more detailed information: Où l'on traitte de la Nature de l'Esprit de l'homme, & de l'usage qu'il en doit faire pour éviter l'erreur dans les Sciences ( Where one treats of the nature of the mind of man, and of the use he should make of it to avoid error in the sciences). The author was a young priest from the Congregation of the Oratory: Nicolas Malebranche. For decades after, his work would exert a remarkable influence on Enlightenment philosophy.

Essentially, the Recherche tries to address the problems of a new philosophical science: epistemology. Specifically, it analyzes the nature of the mind, the means by which we obtain knowledge, and the proper methods for avoiding error in the various sciences. In accordance with its third objective, the Recherche opens with an extensive discussion of various errors of the senses, followed by a minute physiological description of the imagination. Book III then shifts to a different subject: "De l'entendement ou de l'esprit pur" ( Of the understanding or of pure mind). Here Malebranche focuses on one topic especially: the nature of our ideas of external objects.

Malebranche begins his analysis with a somewhat surprising assertion: "[J]e croi que tout le monde tombe d'accord, que nous n'appercevons point les objets qui sont hors de nous par eux-mêmes" ( I believe everyone will agree that we do not at all perceive the objects that are external to us in themselves) ( Oeuvres complètes 1:413). He then adduces the following example by way of support: "Nous voyons le Soleil, les Etoiles, & une infinité d'objets hors de nous: & il n'est pas vraisemblable que l'ame sorte du corps, & qu'elle aille, pour ainsi dire, se promener dans les cieux, pour y contempler tous ces objets" (we see the Sun, the Stars, and an infinity of objects outside us: and it is not plausible that the soul would leave the body, and that it would, so to speak, wander among the heavens, in order to contemplate there all these objects) (ibid.). 1

Considered closely, this example raises a number of questions. 2 To begin with,

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Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Contents *
  • Introductory 3
  • Part I - The Problem of Sensation 7
  • Chapter I - The Argument for Empiricism 9
  • Chapter 2 - Religious Affections 22
  • Part II - Ideas, Objects, Mind 37
  • Chapter 3 - Idea and Object 39
  • Chapter 4 - Idealism 56
  • Part III - The Ends of Causal Analysis 73
  • Chapter 5 - Causation 75
  • Chapter 6 - Freedom of the Will 94
  • Conclusion 114
  • Epilogue 117
  • Notes 121
  • Primary Sources 159
  • Index 161
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