Ideas and Explanation in Early Modern Philosophy

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 103 (2):252-280 (2021)
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Abstract

Malebranche argues that ideas are representative beings existing in God. He defends this thesis by an inference to the best explanation of human perception. It is well known that Malebranche’s theory of vision in God was forcefully rejected by philosophers such as Arnauld, Locke, and Berkeley. However, the notion that ideas exist in God was not the only controversial aspect of Malebranche’s approach. Another controversy centered around Malebranche’s view that ideas are to be understood as posits in an explanatory theory. Opponents of this approach, including Arnauld and Locke, held that our talk about ideas was not explanatory but instead merely descriptive: we use the word ‘idea’ to describe phenomena that we observe by reflecting on our own minds. This controversy has not received much attention from scholars, but in the present paper I will show that it was an explicit and important subject of concern for Malebranche, Arnauld, Locke, and Berkeley and that attention to this controversy can illuminate several aspects of these philosophers’ work.

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Kenneth L. Pearce
James Madison University

Citations of this work

Locke, Arnauld, and Abstract Ideas.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2019 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27 (1):75-94.
Antoine Arnauld.Elmar Kremer - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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References found in this work

Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man.Thomas Reid - 1785 - University Park, Pa.: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Derek R. Brookes & Knud Haakonssen.
Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous.George Berkeley (ed.) - 1713 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous.George Berkeley - 1713 - New York: G. James. Edited by Jonathan Dancy.
A Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge.George Berkeley - 1710 - Aaron Rhames. Edited by G. J. Warnock.

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