Malebranche, Freedom, and the Divided Mind

In P. Easton & K. Smith (eds.), Gods and Giants in Early Modern Philosophy. Brill. pp. 194-216 (2015)

Julie Walsh
Wellesley College
In this paper I argue that according to Malebranche mental attention is the corrective to epistemic error and moral lapse and constitutes the essence of human freedom. Moreover, I show how this conception of human freedom is both morally significant and compatible with occasionalism. By attending to four distinctions made by Malebranche throughout his writings we can begin to understand first, what it means for human beings to exercise their freedom in a way that has some meaningful consequence, and second, how this meaningful consequence does not conflict with occasionalism. The distinctions are: mind/matter, nothing/real, moral/physical, union of the human mind with God/union of the human mind with the human body. By getting clear about how Malebranche sees the overlap between and interconnection among these distinctions we can get a better handle on the metaphysical nature of human freedom, what kind of power it confers on us, and what it entails. I will discuss each distinction is turn starting in 1) with the mind/matter distinction. This first pair will be analyzed by way of a comparison between extended things and thinking things introduced by Malebranche early in *The Search After Truth.* Taking note of where the comparison breaks down, and why, leads directly into 2) where I discuss the nothing/real distinction. This pair is discussed at length in the first Elucidation to *The Search*, the stated objective of which is to clarify what was written in the course of the comparison between mind and matter at the outset of *The Search.* In 3) I analyze the moral/physical distinction, developed in Malebranche’s final work *Réflexions sur la prémotion physique*, and suggest that this pair exactly parallels the nothing/real distinction. In 4) I suggest that the only way to fully understand what is a stake with these distinctions and what Malebranche is trying to do with them is by looking at them in relation to the most important distinction of them all –between the union of the mind and God/union of the mind and body. I conclude in 5) by suggesting a way to understand our power to unite our minds to God. This power does not conflict with occasionalism because it is neither an efficient cause nor does it produce any real effects. It does, nevertheless, have a meaningful role in our moral lives.
Keywords Malebranche  Freedom  Original Sin
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 54,466
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Nicolas Malebranche.Tad Schmaltz - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Causality and Human Freedom in Malebranche.Fred Ablondi - 1996 - Philosophy and Theology 9 (3-4):321-331.
Malebranche's Doctrine of Freedom / Consent and the Incompleteness of God's Volitions.Andrew Pessin - 2000 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 8 (1):21 – 53.
Malebranche.Andrew Pyle - 2003 - Routledge.
Descartes and Malebranche on Thought, Sensation and the Nature of the Mind.Antonia Lolordo - 2005 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 43 (4):387-402.
The Cambridge Companion to Malebranche.Steven Nadler (ed.) - 2000 - Cambridge University Press.
Occasionalism and General Will in Malebranche.Steven M. Nadler - 1993 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 31 (1):31-47.
Malebranche’s Occasionalism.Alan Baker - 2005 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 79 (2):251-272.
Malebranche over de onrust en de eerste mens.Roland Breeur - 2005 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 67 (1):3 - 35.
8 Malebranche on Human Freedom.Elmar J. Kremer - 2000 - In Steven M. Nadler (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Malebranche. Cambridge University Press. pp. 190.


Added to PP index

Total views

Recent downloads (6 months)

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes