Monday, February 16, 2015


“My ideas are just acts,” says Arnauld,
“They’re not things that the mind wants to know.
When Malebranche objected
It left me dejected:
Metaphysically, progress is slow."

Note: Antoine Arnauld was a philosopher and theologian who defended Jansenism (a version of Catholicism emphasizing predestination and the inability to resist God’s Grace, similar in some ways to Protestant Calvinism) against criticism emanating from the Jesuits.  He engaged in a protracted public debate with Nicolas Malebranche, a Catholic priest famous for his defense of two claims (that we see all things in God, and that God is the only true cause of anything – see later post).  Malebranche published The Search After Truth in 1674-75.  There, he defends the thesis that our ideas are representations that exist in God’s mind.  In On True and False Ideas (1683), Arnauld criticizes this thesis, claiming (following Descartes) that ideas in human minds are just modifications of immaterial substance (and hence not in God’s mind), but also going beyond Descartes in claiming that ideas, which are modifications or modes of a totally active and non-passive mind, are acts or activities.  Malebranche replied to Arnauld’s criticisms, and the exchanges became more and more acrimonious, extending even into their posthumously published works! 

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