Malebranche on Mind

In Rebecca Copenhaver & C. Shields (eds.), The History of the Philosophy of Mind, 6 Volumes. pp. Chapter 5, Volume 4 (2018)

Julie Walsh
Wellesley College
This chapter analyses Malebranche’s theory that the human, finite mind participates in two separate and, at least prima facie, incompatible unions: one with the body to which it is joined and one with God. By looking at the way that Malebranche borrows from both the mechanical philosophy as articulated by Descartes and Augustine’s dictum that we are not “lights unto” ourselves, the unique, difficult, and at times problematic Malebranchean philosophy of mind is revealed. This discussion is divided into two main parts. First, it situates Malebranche’s view of the nature of mind in relation to Descartes’ and Augustine’s views by way of discussion of the roles of intellect and will, the intelligibility of mind, and the manner in which the mind is involved in sensation, imagining, and passionate responses. These are the operations that depend on the mind’s relationship to its body. Second, the chapter moves to explore Malebranche’s view of the operations of the mind as united to God: ideation, which involves a discussion of Malebranche’s famous doctrine of the Vision of All Things in God, and pure understanding. In this second part, attention is paid to Malebranche’s disputes with Antoine Arnauld, Pierre-Sylvain Régis, and Dortous de Mairan over the central philosophical principle that underwrites the Malebranchean view of ideas: intelligible extension. While intelligible extension is the legitimate object of critique, it is suggested here that Malebranche, by relying on faith, can answer his critics. The chapter concludes by articulating the manner in which that Malebranche sees the relationship between the two unions of the mind, with body and with God, in his science of man.
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