All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
13 January, 2012
History of Philosophy|
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)
|Toward the end of the seventeenth century almost every French writer of
note evinced a more or less decided tendency towards Cartesianism.
Bossuet (1627-1704) and Fénelon (1651-1715)
presented the traditional religious philosophy of St. Thomas and St.
Augustine, in a form which bears unmistakable marks of the influence of
Descartes' teachings. Among the Port-Royalists Cartesianism found
ardent defenders in Arnauld (1612-1694) and Nicole (1625-
1695). Pascal, too, while he, no doubt, included Cartesianism in his
condemnation of all purely rational philosophy, represents in his own
doctrines a development of ideas which were germinally contained in the
philosophy of Descartes. Finally Geulincx and Malebranche
gave to Descartes' philosophy a more complete and definite form, and
brought to light the elements of occasionalism and ontologism latent in
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was born at Clermont, in Auvergne, and
was educated at Paris. He became one of the most conspicuous figures in
the Jansenist movement, and contributed to the literature of the
Jansenist controversy the famous Provincial Letters (Lettres
provinciales). He made several important discoveries in mathematics
and physics, and it was a treatise of his that formed the basis of
The Port-Royal Logic (L'art de penser), which appeared in 1662.
The work entitled Pensées, published in 1669, consists of
fragmentary reflections intended to form part of a system of Christian
philosophy. Some of these fragments are utterly sceptical in tone,
while others breathe the spirit of dogmatic Stoicism. And, in point of
fact, the fundamental thought in Pascal's mind reconciled both these
extremes; for while he depreciates reason and condemns all purely
rational philosophy, at the same time he exalts faith and insists that
"the heart has reasons of which reason itself knows
nothing." From the point of view of reason and philosophy, man is an
eternal enigma, truly great, yet no less truly miserable. "Man knows
that he is miserable: he is therefore miserable, since he is so; but
he is very great, since he knows it . . . If he exalts himself, I abase
him: if he abases himself, I exalt him, and perpetually contradict him
till he comprehends that he is an incomprehensible monster." Reason,
therefore, cannot solve the mystery of man's state, nor can it discover
the cause of his present condition, which is that of a king deposed.
Faith alone, by means of the doctrine of original sin, answers the
questions which reason can merely ask, and solves the riddle of human
destiny. On regeneration by the redemption of Jesus Christ is the whole
fabric of morality to be based. Consequently, faith, or as Pascal
commonly expresses it, feeling, sentiment, the heart, is the supreme
criterion of the highest truths in the speculative order, and of all
Life. Arnold Geulincx was born at Antwerp in the year 1625.
After having studied and taught philosophy at Louvain, he went to
Leyden, where he joined the Calvinists. At the University of Leyden he
was appointed successively lector (1662) and professor extraordinary
(1665) in the department of philosophy. He died at Leyden in the year
Geulincx  developed the ontologism and occasionalism which were latent
in the Cartesian separation of mind and matter, and in the Cartesian
principle that matter is essentially inert.
 On Geulincx and Malebranche, cf. Damiron, Essai sur
l'histoire de la philosophie en France au
17me siècle (Paris, 1846). Recent
edition of Geulincx' works by J. P. N. Land (The Hague, 1891-1893).
Ontologism. Unless I know how an event happens I am not its
cause: quod nescis quomodo fiat, id non facis. Now, I am
ignorant of the manner in which a sense-stimulus passes into, or
becomes a sensation in, the mind. Therefore I do not cause the
sensation. Neither does the body cause it; for the body is essentially
inert, unconscious, non-rational. Consequently, the sensation -- and
what is true of sensation is true of all knowledge -- is caused by
God Himself, the body and the bodily stimulus being merely the
occasions of the conscious act.
Occasionalism. Similarly, I have no consciousness of the manner
in which my volitions effect movements of my own body or of external
things. It is not I, therefore, who produce these movements, but God,
Who by divine decree (instituto quodam decretoque divino)
ordained that material things should be the occasions of effects which
He alone produces.
Ethical Doctrines. From these speculative principles Geulinex
deduces certain ethical doctrines. He assumes that where I can do
nothing I ought not to will anything (ubi nihil vales, ibi nihil
velis). It is my duty, therefore, to renounce the world and all
worldly motives of action, to retire within myself and cultivate, in
humility and patience, the supreme virtue which is love of God and of
reason (amor Dei ac rationis). In this system of conduct the
hierarchical idea is not happiness, but duty.
Life. Nicolas Malebranche was born at Paris in 1638. In 1660 he
entered the Paris house of the Oratory founded by St. Philip Neri. Four
years later, the reading of Descartes' Traité de
l'homme  decided his philosophical vocation, and during the rest
of his life he devoted himself as strenuously as his feeble health
would permit to the elucidation and development of the Cartesian
philosophy. He died in 1725. His most important work is Recherche de la
vérité, which appeared in 1675. 
 La traité de l'homme ou de la formation du foetus
 Cf. Henri Joly, Malebranche (Grands
philosophes series, Paris, 1901). Recent edition of Malebranche's
works by Jules Simon (Paris, 1871).
Malebranche begins his search for truth by an inquiry into the
causes of error. The principal source of error he finds to be
belief in the trustworthiness of the senses; for the senses were given
us to serve practical needs, and not for the purpose of revealing the
natures of things. The external senses err in representing bodies as
colored, etc., extension being the only quality which bodies possess.
Similarly, the imagination deceives us; for its impressions come
through the body. There is nothing left, then, but to trust in our
ideas as representations of reality. But whence come our ideas? Not
from external things; because no finite thing can produce anything,
causal efficacy being the prerogative of the Deity
(occasionalism). Indeed, all true philosophy, Malebranche
observes, must teach that there is but one cause, just as all true
religion must teach that there is but one God. Now, if finite being can
produce nothing, and if God is the only cause, the conclusion is
obvious that it is God Himself Who produces our ideas. In Him we see
all things (ontologism): "nous voyons toutes choses en Dieu." He
is the locus of our ideas; He is, therefore, in immediate relation with
every thinking soul. What, then, one asks, has become of the soul
itself? It is reduced to a mere thought; the soul always
thinks, and thought is its being and its life.
Historical Position. Pascal, Geulincx, and Malebranche brought
to the surface the elements of mysticism which lay hidden in Descartes'
system of thought. The latter two developed also the latent ontologism
and occasionalism of the Cartesian philosophy, and revealed the logical
nexus between Cartesianism and pantheism. For, although Malebranche
protested against the pantheism of "le misérable Spinoza,"
posterity has rightly pronounced his occasionalism to be Spinozism in
the stage of arrested development -- pantheism held in check by faith
in Christian revelation.