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Malebranche, Nicolas (1638–1715)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA055-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Nicolas Malebranche, a French Catholic theologian, was the most important Cartesian philosopher of the second half of the seventeenth century. His philosophical system was a grand synthesis of the thought of his two intellectual mentors: Augustine and Descartes. His most important work, De la recherche de la vérité (The Search After Truth), is a wide-ranging opus that covers various topics in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, physics, the physiology of cognition, and philosophical theology. It was both admired and criticized by many of the most celebrated thinkers of the period (including Leibniz, Arnauld and Locke), and was the focus of several fierce and time-consuming public debates. Malebranche’s philosophical reputation rests mainly on three doctrines. Occasionalism – of which he is the most systematic and famous exponent – is a theory of causation according to which God is the only genuine causal agent in the universe; all physical and mental events in nature are merely ‘occasions’ for God to exercise his necessarily efficacious power. In the doctrine known as ‘vision in God’, Malebranche argues that the representational ideas that function in human knowledge and perception are, in fact, the ideas in God’s understanding, the eternal archetypes or essences of things. And in his theodicy, Malebranche justifies God’s ways and explains the existence of evil and sin in the world by appealing to the simplicity and universality of the laws of nature and grace that God has established and is compelled to follow. In all three doctrines, Malebranche’s overwhelming concern is to demonstrate the essential and active role of God in every aspect – material, cognitive and moral – of the universe.

Citing this article:
Nadler, Steven. Malebranche, Nicolas (1638–1715), 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA055-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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