Arnauld, Antoine (1612–94)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA001-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 16, 2021, from

1. Life and works

Antoine Arnauld was born in Paris on 6 February 1612, one of the many children of an established and well-connected family. He intended to become a lawyer, but the Abbé St Cyran who was spiritual director of Port-Royal (where Arnauld’s sister was abbess) convinced him to follow the ecclesiastical life (see Port-Royal). He was ordained and received his doctorate in theology in 1641, and was admitted to the faculty of the Sorbonne in 1643. Most of Arnauld’s work throughout his life was theological, devoted to, among other things, an explanation and defence of what he took to be the orthodox Augustinian doctrine of grace and a strict contritionism (see Augustine §5, 7). But he was also responsible for a significant and influential philosophical output, mostly polemical. In 1640, Arnauld was asked by Mersenne to comment upon Descartes’ Meditations, and his objections were published, with Descartes’ responses, as the fourth set in the first edition of the work (1641) (see Descartes, R. §1, 7). The most important of Arnauld’s religious works, De la fréquent communion, appeared in 1643. This was a defence of the ethical principles of St Cyran and an indictment of what he saw as the indulgent morals of the Jesuits. In the early 1660s, Arnauld co-authored two important works on language and method: the Grammaire générale et raisonnée (1660, with Claude Lancelot) and La Logique, ou l’art de penser (1662, written with Pierre Nicole, adopting some ideas of Pascal). Better known as the ‘Port-Royal Logic’, the latter was a treatise on method and reasoning that drew heavily on Descartes’ epistemological and methodological doctrines, particularly those found in the Rules for the Direction of the Mind.

Meanwhile, Arnauld, as the most prominent representative of the Jansenist movement centred at Port-Royal, continued to be persecuted for his religious views and, like all Jansenists, was suspected of Protestant persuasions and of harbouring politically subversive opinions. In 1656 he was excluded from the Sorbonne for his refusal to submit to the Church on the issue of whether or not Jansenius’ Augustinus contained heretical propositions. After years of harassment and fearing for his safety, Arnauld left France for the Netherlands in 1679. From there he continued his theological and philosophical polemics. In 1683 he composed Des vraies et des fausses ideés (On True and False Ideas), a philosophical attack upon Nicolas Malebranche’s De la recherche de la vérité (The Search After Truth). This was followed two years later by his Réflexions philosophiques et théologiques sur le nouveau système de la nature et de la grace (Philosophical and theological reflection on the new system of nature and grace), in which he addressed Malebranche’s theodicy and views on providence and grace. The debate with Malebranche, one of the great intellectual events of its day, continued until the end of Arnauld’s life, often in harsh and highly personal terms. He also began a brief but philosophically rich correspondence with Leibniz in 1686 over Leibniz’s metaphysical views. Arnauld died in exile in 1694.

Citing this article:
Nadler, Steven. Life and works. Arnauld, Antoine (1612–94), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA001-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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