Malebranche, Freedom, and the Divided Mind

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

Authors
Julie Walsh
Wellesley College
Abstract
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
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Nicolas Malebranche.Tad Schmaltz - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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