On Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion (1688), dialogues 5-7, featuring Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Seth. Continuing from ep. 285, we’ve gathered more of the pieces of Malebranche’s picture of epistemology, metaphysics, and science to explain his most famous view: Occasionalism, which is a theory of causality that says that God jumps in at every moment of causality.
Is this view as theology-heavy as it sounds? Wes argues that God is just a shorthand for whatever it is that makes scientific law consistent over time: a metaphysical underpinning to save us from a Humean take on causality. For both Malebranche and Hume, it doesn’t make sense for things in nature to exert the sort of necessity that is required by our naïve view of causality. No amount of counting generalities (induction) can lead us to a scientific law. So one can just give up on law as Hume does, saying that it’s just something in our heads, or one can take Malebranche’s route and say that God’s nature is the thing (more a schema than a thing) in which natural law resides and from which it’s imposed on objects in nature (and human souls too). God in Malebranche’s system is a force that supports the existence of everything at every moment in time. God creates things in specific places, and so no other force could move these things from their God-appointed place. Instead, God in his eternal willing of the existence of things, wills them to exist at locations that change over time, and this is what movement is.
We talk about the comparative role of the senses vs. reason: Sensation just gets our attention, so we then turn to reason to actually understand anything about the world. Dialogue 5 starts off with an account of geometry, which is something Malebranche thinks can’t come from experience (he’s a rationalist, not an empiricist), and moreover, he argues that even though it seems like we use imagination to understand why some geometric formula works (we just look at or picture a diagram and read the truth off of this), it’s really only reason that enables us to know any of this.
What is our level of access to the intelligible world of ideas? Some ideas are like Platonic forms, which we can get an idea of but can’t grasp in them in their fullness, while others we can know clearly and distinctly.