Hume's solution to the problem of the finite or infinite divisibility of time leads him to attribute to duration as continuance in time only the status of a fiction. This fictional duration generates a series of fictions. These are of two kinds, The one alternating with and giving rise to the other in an inevitable progression and giving to our perceptions the ontological structure which the world has for all vulgar belief.
The author looks to "deep structures" or "submerged" models to give insight into Malebranche's thought. He finds two such models: the traditional model of "substance," according to which things are organized in a hierarchy of genera and species, and the model of "number" which emerged in the seventeenth century, and in accordance with which relations are manipulated to establish further relations. The two archetypal concepts, the one old, the other new, create a tension in many areas of thought. This tension (...) is examined first as it occurs in Descartes. With Malebranche the polarity becomes even more evident. The concept of number is at the base primarily of his epistemology and theory of science, that of substance primarily in his metaphysics and theology. The two spheres are however mutually affecting. Arithmetic and algebra provide Malebranche with "the true logic that serves to discover truth and produce in the mind all the extension of which it is capable." Algebra is "the most fruitful and certain of all sciences... with it the mind is capable of knowing all that can be known with certitude and evidence." Accordingly truths will be of the sort found in the relations typified in algebra as opposed to the subject-predicate relation appropriate to an ontology of substances generically conceived. Malebranche's "ideas," taken ontologically, are viewed by him as substantive entities. Epistemologically, however, they have the nature of relations of magnitude. "The order of truths as relations between ideas was equally," says Hobart, "an order of ideas that were themselves relations--in the same way that the relations between numbers were in effect relations between relations 'compounded to infinity'." The traditional concept of substance to which Hobart refers is primarily Platonic, for he says that in accordance with it, "The world of forms... is the truest and hence the most real, contrasting with the perceptible world in which things are not so perfect. This conception of reality enabled and indeed required the gradations of perfection from the perceptible and imperfect to the real and perfect, those infinite qualitative gradations that comprised the existence and plenitude of the great chain of being." Malebranche's attitude to this is seen by the author to be ambiguous. On the one hand, under the influence of the mathematical and relational way of conceiving truth, a true relation is both real and existent, and a false one neither real nor existent. Hence instead of thinking of reality in terms of gradations of qualities, it is taken simply as the existent, and therefore as merely disjunctive with the non-existent. Nothing can be predicated of the non-existent. At the same time Malebranche wants to retain the gradations of perfection. Thus he says, "But one can distinguish in God two kinds of truths or relations: relations of magnitude and relations of perfection," the latter being assigned to the realm of the practical and moral. The final chapter entitled "The Conflict between 'Substance' and 'Number'" is concerned with how this conflict affected Malebranche's understanding of the relation between science and religion. The conflict is described as occurring within the concepts of infinity, necessity and being in their relation to the divine nature. Finally there is the question of the relation of reason and faith, and here Hobart finds that a dual sense of faith and a dual sense of reason compete with one another in Malebranche's thought. This book is a subtle and novel treatment of the great Oratorian.--Robert McRae, University of Toronto. (shrink)