Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) argues that when someone throws a ball, their hand does not cause the ball to move. Instead, the ball moves itself. In this chapter, I reconstruct Cavendish’s argument that material things—like the ball—are self-moving. Cavendish argues that body-body interaction is unintelligible. We cannot make sense of interaction in terms of the transfer of motion nor the more basic idea that one body acts in another body. Assuming something moves bodies around, Cavendish concludes that bodies move themselves. Still, (...) Cavendish needs to explain why bodies appear to causally interact even if they do not really. Balls do not usually throw themselves without a helping hand. I offer a new reading of the way bodies respond to their external circumstances in terms of prerequisites or enabling conditions. (shrink)
In discussing the obligation to love everyone, Mary Astell (1666–1731) recognizes and responds to what I call the theocentric challenge: if humans are required to love God entirely, then they cannot fulfill the second requirement to love their neighbor. In exploring how Astell responds to this challenge, I argue that Astell is an astute metaphysician who does not endorse the metaphysical views she praises. This viewpoint helps us to understand the complicated relationship between her views and those of Descartes, Malebranche, (...) Henry More, and John Norris, as well as her sophisticated approach to biblical interpretation and theology. Attending to theocentrism opens up new avenues of research in the study of early modern philosophy. It also helps us to see connections between Astell and other theocentric philosophers such as Spinoza and Anne Conway. (shrink)
Do the senses represent causation? Many commentators read Nicolas Malebranche as anticipating David Hume’s negative answer to this question. I disagree with this assessment. When a yellow billiard ball strikes a red billiard ball, Malebranche holds that we see the yellow ball as causing the red ball to move. Given Malebranche’s occasionalism, he insists that the visual experience of causal interaction is illusory. Nevertheless, Malebranche holds that the senses represent finite things as causally efficacious. This experience of creaturely causality explains (...) why Aristotelian philosophers and others struggle to recognize occasionalism’s truth. (shrink)
This paper analyzes the metaphysical system developed in Cheyne’s Philosophical Principles of Religion. Cheyne was an early proponent of Newtonianism and tackled several philosophical questions raised by Newton’s work. The most pressing of these concerned the causal origin of gravitational attraction. Cheyne rejected the occasionalist explanations offered by several of his contemporaries in favor of a model on which God delegated special causal powers to bodies. Additionally, he developed an innovative approach to divine conservation. This allowed him to argue that (...) Newton’s findings provided evidence for God’s existence and providence without the need for continuous divine intervention in the universe. (shrink)
It has long been thought that Augustine holds that corporeal objects cannot act upon incorporeal souls. However, precisely how and why Augustine imposes limitations upon the causal powers of corporeal objects remains obscure. In this paper, the author clarifies Augustine’s views about the causal and dependence relations between body and soul. He argues that, contrary to what is often thought, Augustine allows that corporeal objects do act upon souls and merely rules out that corporeal objects exercise a particular kind of (...) causal power (that of efficient or sustaining causes). He clarifies how Augustine conceives of the kind of causal influence exercised by souls and bodies. (shrink)
This essay provides an interpretation of Hume’s “two definitions” of causation. It argues that the two definitions of causation must be interpreted in terms of Hume’s fundamental ontological distinction between perceptions and (material) objects. Central to Hume’s position on this subject is the claim that, while there is a natural tendency to suppose that there exist (metaphysical) causal powers in objects themselves, this is a product of our failure to distinguish perceptions and objects. Properly understood, our idea of causation involves (...) no suggestion that there is anything more to causation among objects themselves than constant conjunction. A new appendix is added, discussing the relevance of this interpretation to the recent debate concerning Hume’s “causal realism.” -/- [The original of this article was published in HUME STUDIES 10 (1984), 1 - 25, with corrections added separately in the following issue.]. (shrink)
Hume’s criticisms of divine causation are insufficient because he does not respond to important philosophical positions that are defended by those whom he closely read. Hume’s arguments might work against the background of a Cartesian definition of body, or a Malebranchian conception of causation, or some defenses of occasionalism. At least, I will not here argue that they succeed or fail against those targets. Instead, I will lay out two major deficiencies in his arguments against divine causation. I call these (...) “deficiencies” because Hume does not adequately address live positions. This does not mean, of course, that there are not problems with these views or that Hume could not have given strong arguments against them. Rather, Hume’s arguments, which can seem comprehensive to the twenty-first century reader, are in fact not so. For the deficiencies discussed in this essay, I point to writers from Hume’s near context (many of whom we know he read carefully) who held the views not discussed, and I provide reasons why Hume seems not to have entertained these possibilities. I won’t distinguish between accidentally overlooking and actively ignoring. By drawing attention to these three deficiencies, I have two goals. The first is to demonstrate the diversity of seventeenth and early eighteenth century views on divine causation, especially among philosophers in England, Scotland, and Ireland, who are often ignored by philosophers today who, like Hume, focus on continental Cartesians while ignoring British dualists and vitalists. The second goal is to make today’s readers aware of shortcomings in Hume’s arguments to encourage productively contextual readings of Hume and his contemporaries. (shrink)
Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology has employed a variant of occasionalist causation since 2002, with sensual objects acting as the mediators of causation between real objects. While the mechanism for living beings creating sensual objects is clear, how nonliving objects generate sensual objects is not. This essay sets out an interpretation of occasionalism where the mediating agency of nonliving contact is the virtual particles of nominally empty space. Since living, conscious, real objects need to hold sensual objects as sub-components, but nonliving (...) objects do not, this leads to an explanation of why consciousness, in Object-Oriented Ontology, might be described as doubly withdrawn: a sensual sub-component of a withdrawn real object. (shrink)
This paper will survey the most prominent contemporary analyses of causation, and evaluate their compatibility, or otherwise, with the doctrine of Occasionalism, with the ultimate aim of formulating an occasionalist analysis of causation. Though reductive analyses of causation are incompatible with Occasionalism, it seems that the denial of reductionism is as well. I will suggest a solution to the problem, involving an analysis of causation as the relation of extensional identity, between God’s will that an event actually occur, and the (...) intensionally distinct event itself. (shrink)
Occasionalism is the doctrine that relegates all real causal efficacy exclusively to God. This paper will aim to elucidate in some detail the metaphysical considerations that, together with certain common medieval theological axioms, constitute the philosophical steps leading to this doctrine. First, I will explain how the doctrine of divine conservation implies that we should attribute to divine power causal immediacy in every natural event and that it rules out mere conservationism as a model of the causal relation between God (...) and nature. This leaves concurrentism and occasionalism as the only compatible options. Then I will explain the argument that since no coherent conception of divine concurrence is possible, occasionalism emerges as the only model of the causal relation between God and nature compatible with the doctrine of divine conservation. (shrink)
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) is said to be the first scholar to make history and society the direct objects of a systematic science. This paper will examine the role of occasionalism in his thought. This question is interesting because a perennial objection to occasionalism has been that it denies any real natural order, and therefore precludes the possibility of any systematic natural science. If Ibn Khaldun was an occasionalist, then it would mean that one of the earliest pioneers in attempting to (...) apply a systematic scientific method to the study of history and society did so on the basis of an occasionalist understanding of nature and natural order. Then the question of whether and how his scientific methodology is compatible with occasionalism is of interest for both historical and theoretical reasons, in particular for theists who are exploring occasionalism as a potential framework for a coherent understanding of the natural world (including, in this case, its human and social dimensions) as both the manifestation of divine providence and creativity, and as an object of systematic empirical science. (shrink)
In a recent article Fred Ablondi compares the different approaches to occasionalism put forward by two eighteenth-century Newtonians, Colin Maclaurin and Andrew Baxter. The goal of this short essay is to respond to Ablondi by clarifying some key features of Maclaurin's views on occasionalism and the cause of gravitational attraction. In particular, I explore Maclaurin's matter theory, his views on the explanatory limits of mechanism, and his appeals to the authority of Newton. This leads to a clearer picture of the (...) way in which Maclaurin understood gravitational attraction and the workings of nature. (shrink)
This book lies at the intersection of philosophy of religion and philosophy of mind. It combines issues regarding divine action and mental causation. In particular, by using Jaegwon Kim's Causal Exclusion Argument as a foil, it explores possible ways of making sense of divine action in relation to some recent non-reductive physicalist strategies for vindicating mental causation. These insights are then applied to an argument for the existence of God based on the nature of phenomenal consciousness.
Malebranche’s so-called conservation is continuous creation (CCC) argument has been celebrated as a powerful and persuasive argument for Occasionalism—the claim that only God has and exercises causal powers. In this paper I want to examine the CCC argument for Occasionalism by comparing it to Jaegwon Kim’s so-called Supervenience argument against non-reductive physicalism. Because the arguments have deep similarities it is interesting and fruitful to consider them in tandem. First I argue that both the CCC argument and the Supervenience argument turn (...) on the same general principle, what Kim calls Edward’s Dictum. It is doubtful that Malebranche or Kim succeed in grounding Edward’s Dictum, though Malebranche, I think, has more resources at his disposal to make his case. Even if this worry is waived, however, I argue that the completion of Stage 1 of the Supervenience argument can be used to raise a further worry for the CCC argument that cannot easily be resolved. (shrink)
Margaret Cavendish was an English natural philosopher. Influenced by Hobbes and by ancient Stoicism, she held that the created, natural world is purely material; there are no incorporeal substances that causally affect the world in the course of nature. However, she parts company with Hobbes and sides with the Stoics in rejecting a participate theory of matter. Instead, she holds that matter is a continuum. She rejects the mechanical philosophy's account of the essence of matter as simply extension. For Cavendish, (...) matter is also essentially living, sensing, and rational. She also rejects the mechanical philosophy's explanation of change solely in terms of transference of motion. Her own explanation of change relies upon a notion of "occasional cause." This paper argues that Cavendish's occasional causes are not to be confused with those of Malebranche; hers have some efficient causal powers. It traces the concept of an occasional cause from the ancient Stoics, through Galen, to Renaissance natural philosophers such as J. B. van Helmont, and ultimately to Cavendish and to Descartes. Thus, the aim of the paper is to explicate Cavendish's non-mechanical model of natural change and to show how the key concept in this model, that of "occasional cause," has a long philosophical pedigree. L'anglaise Margaret Cavendish pratique la philosophic naturelle. Sous l'influence de Hobbes et du stoïcisme ancien, elle a soutenu que le monde naturel créé est purement matériel ; dans le cours de la nature, il n'y a pas de substances incorporelles qui affectent causalement le monde. Elle se sépare néanmoins de Hobbes et rejoint les Stoïciens dans son rejet d'une théorie de la matière particulaire. Elle considère au contraire que la matière est un continuum. Elle rejette l'explication de l'essence de la matière comme simple extension, fournie par la philosophic mécaniste. Pour Cavendish, la matière est de plus essentiellement vivante, sentante et rationnelle. Elle rejette aussi l'explication mécaniste du changement en simples termes de transmission de mouvement. Sa propre explication du changement s'appuie sur la notion de cause occasionnelle. Cet article defend l'idée que les causes occasionnelles de Cavendish ne doivent pas être confondues avec celles de Malebranche ; les siennes ont des pouvoirs causaux efficients. Il permet done de suivre l'histoire du concept de cause occasionnelle des anciens Stoïciens, en passant ensuite par Galien jusqu'aux Philosophes de la nature de la Renaissance, comme J. B. van Helmont, et finalement jusqu'à Cavendish et Descartes. Le but de cet article est ainsi de rendre explicite le modèle que Cavendish donne du changement naturel et de montrer comment le concept clé de ce modèle, celui de cause occasionnelle, est le produit d'une longue filiation philosophique. (shrink)
There is a long-standing view that Malebranche and his fellow occasionalists accepted occasionalism to solve the problem of interaction between immaterial souls and extended bodies. Recently, however, scholars have shown this story to be a myth. Malebranche, Geulincx, La Forge, and Cordemoy adopted occasionalism for a variety of reasons, but none did so because of a need to provide a solution to a perceived mind-body problem. Yet there is one Cartesian for whom the “traditional” reading is largely on the mark. (...) François Lamy argues in the second volume of his De la Connoissance de Soi-Meme much as the standard story has it. In this article I discuss and analyze Lamy’s argument, showing how he deals with some of the many concerns that made occasionalism attractive, and how he brings out some of the thorny questions that an occasionalist must face. (shrink)
Malebranche presents two major arguments for occasionalism: the “no necessary connection” argument (NNC) and the “conservation is but continuous creation” argument (CCC). NNC appears prominently in his Search After Truth but virtually disappears and surrenders the spotlight to CCC in his later major work, Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion . This paper investigates the possible reasons and motivations behind this significant shift. I argue that the shift is no surprise if we consider the two ways in which the CCC (...) is preferable to NNC: it is not only more effective against opponents but also more consistent with his own views on freedom. (shrink)
Unlike many of Descartes’s other followers, Pierre-Sylvain Re´gis resists the temptations of occasionalism. By marrying the ontology of mechanism with the causal structure of concurrentism, Re´gis arrives at a novel view that both acknowledges God’s role in natural events and preserves the causal powers of bodies. I set out Re´gis’s position, focusing on his arguments against occasionalism and his responses to Malebranche’s ‘no necessary connection’ and divine concursus arguments.
Despite their influence on later philosophers such as Hume, Malebranche's central arguments for occasionalism remain deeply puzzling. Both the famous ‘no necessary connection’ argument and what I call the epistemic argument include assumptions – e.g., that a true cause is logically necessarily connected to its effect – that seem unmotivated, even in their context. I argue that a proper understanding of late scholastic views lets us see why Malebranche would make this assumption. Both arguments turn on the claim that a (...) volition is the only candidate for a cause, because only a volition can include an effect as its intentional content. (shrink)
In the last twenty years or so, the study of early modern philosophy seems to have experienced a revival of interest in Nicolas Malebranche. Some might wonder whether “revival” is the right term but I use it intentionally, since it is hardly the case that we for the first time are uncovering an obscure but talented figure from the bin of neglected, underappreciated philosophers. As one commentator has recently noted, Malebranche was hailed by none other than Pierre Bayle as “the (...) premier philosopher of our age”1 and it has been well established that his work was widely read and influential. (shrink)
"Dieu fainéant? God and Bodies in Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz" Conservation, concurrence with secondary causes, and occasionalism are the three attitudes that God can have towards the created universe in early modern philosophy. The aim of this article is to show how and in what forms these three originally mediaeval theories had survived the seventeenth century in Descartes, Malebranche, and Leibniz. I argue that although it cannot always be unequivocally determined which of the three doctrines each of the thinkers is (...) indebted to, Descartes should nevertheless be interpreted as a concurrentist, Malebranche as an occasionalist, and Leibniz can be read as a mere conservationist. The conservation of substances in existence being nothing but a continual creation, we claim (against the famous thesis of Alexandre Koyré) that Leibniz’s God can be called neither Dieu fainéant nor God of the Sabbath day. (shrink)
Occasionalism is the doctrine that God is the sole immediate cause of all events, to the exclusion of any causal participation on the part of creatures. While this doctrine clearly has interesting implications with regard to causation and the philosophy of natural science, few have noticed that it also seems to entail, not only that creatures have no causal power whatsoever, but that they are completely devoid of intrinsic natures, conceived as intrinsic dispositional properties. In this paper, I will outline (...) what is probably the first systematic argument for occasionalism, mounted by the eleventh-century Muslim, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, and show how the implication in question follows from this argument. (shrink)
Malebranche is both an occasionalist and an advocate of the preformationist theory of generation. One might expect this given that he is a mechanist: passive matter cannot be the source of its own motion and so requires God to move it (occasionalism); and such matter, moving according to a few simple laws of motion, could never fashion something as complex as a living being, and so organisms must be fashioned by God at Creation (preformationism). This expectation finds a challenge in (...) Kant's depiction of the relation between causation and generation. According to Kant, preformation is the generation theory one would expect the advocate of the pre-established harmony to endorse, while the occasionalist would endorse a theory whereby God directly forms the organism upon every insemination. I make sense of Malebranche's position in light of Kant's suggestion by examining the relation Malebranche sees between science and metaphysics, the roles that he believes empirical investigations and final causes have in scientific practice and explanation, and the role of the supernatural in Malebranche's philosophy. (shrink)
There is considerable debate among scholars over whether Descartes allowed for genuine body–body interaction. I begin by considering Michael Della Rocca’s recent claim that Descartes accepted such interaction, and that his doctrine of the creation of the eternal truths indicates how this interaction could be acceptable to him. Though I agree that Descartes was inclined to accept real bodily causes of motion, I differ from Della Rocca in emphasizing that his ontology ultimately does not allow for them. This is not (...) the end of the story, however, since two of Descartes’s successors offered incompatible ways of developing his conflicted account of motion. I contrast the occasionalist view of Nicolas Malebranche that changes in motion derive directly from divine volitions with the non-occasionalist claim of Pierre-Sylvain Regis that such changes derive from a nature distinct from God. In light of Della Rocca’s interpretation, it is noteworthy that the issue of eternal truths is relevant to both alternative accounts. Indeed, Regis took the doctrine that such truths are created to provide crucial support for his alternative to an occasionalist account of body–body interaction. What does not help Della Rocca, however, is that Regis’s view of motion requires a fundamental revision of Descartes’s ontology. Author Keywords: Descartes; Malebranche; Regis; Causation; Motion; Eternal Truths. (shrink)
The doctrine that there are no logically necessary connections in nature can be used to support both occasionalism, according to which God alone can be a cause, and 'anti-occasionalism', according to which God cannot be a cause. Quentin Smith has recently invoked the 'no logically necessary connections in nature' doctrine in support of the latter. I bring two main objections against his thesis that God (logically) cannot be a cause. The first is that there are good reasons to think that (...) there are irreducible dispositions in nature, and that where such dispositions are manifested, there are logically necessary causal connections. The second objection is that even if the 'no logically necessary connections in nature' doctrine is true, one is not forced to deny causal efficacy to God: with no breach in logical propriety, one may embrace occasionalism. (shrink)
One contentious issue in contemporary interpretations of medieval Islamic philosophy is the degree of esotericism espoused by its proponents, and therefore the degree of interpretive effort required by its modem readers to ascertain the author's real beliefs. One philosopher who has been accused of esotericism is Averroes (Ibn Rushd), particularly because he is quite explicit in distinguishing among the different types of reasoning appropriate to different classes of people: philosophers, theologians, and laypersons. But on closer inspection Averroes appears to have (...) at his disposal some subtle strategies for achieving partial reconciliation between religion and philosophy, strategies which do not actually involve falsifying the views of either side, although that is how it might appear at first sight. These polemical devices appear most clearly in his exchanges with the theologians (mutakallimun) of the Ash'arite school, of which Ghazali is the most original representative. In this paper I will examine Averroes's position on two sensitive matters, the creation of the universe and the possibility of miracles, in order to illustrate the use of what may be called his "method of re-interpretation," whereby certain key terms are interpreted in such a way as to emphasize the agreements between the two sides while downplaying the differences. (shrink)
Louis de La Forge and the Development of Occasionalism: Continuous Creation and the Activity of the Soul STEVEN NADLER THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE CONSERVATION is a dangerous one. It is not theologi- cally dangerous, at least not in itself. From the thirteenth century onwards, and particularly with the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas, the notion of the continuous divine sustenance of the world of created things was, if not univer- sally accepted, a nonetheless common feature of theological orthodoxy, Chris- tian (...) and otherwise. Rather, the danger is philosophical in nature . The philosophical problem I am concerned with is not some logical incoherence at the heart of the doctrine; nor does it lie in any objections that can be raised against the arguments that, historically, have been given for the thesis that God, as a causa secundum esse, must continually act in order to conserve the world in being. The question I address -- and it is a pressing one for any seventeenth-century Cartesianmis whether the doctrine of divine conservation establishes too much. I believe that, under certain circumstances, it does, and that the ultimate ramifications of the doctrine for natural causality must be unacceptable to an orthodox Cartesian such as Louis de La Forge , perhaps the most strict follower of Descartes of the.. (shrink)
In Malebranche's account of occasional causality, God exercises his general will with respect to every event that merits a causal explanation. Nadler distinguishes two pictures of God's involvement; (1) there are as many distinct acts of God's will as there are causal events to be explained; (2) God's will is exercised once only, when the natural order of causes is created. I argue that Malebranche's concept of God is inconsistent with a real distinction between God and acts of his will, (...) and with using temporal parameters to identify God's acts. Thus, Leibniz's pre-established harmony is analogous to Malebranche's occasionalist concurrence. (shrink)
This paper examines a common misreading of the mechanics of Malebranche's doctrine of divine causal agency, occasionalism, and its roots in a related misreading of Malebranche's theories. God, contrary to this misreading, is for Malebranche constantly and actively causally engaged in the world, and does not just establish certain laws of nature. The key is in understanding just what Malebranche means by general volitions'.
This essay was completed in January 2016 and accepted for publication in a collection on occasionalism by Nazif Muhtaroglu. It attempts to update the doctrine of occasionalism to make it independent of theism and fit better with contemporary physics and a modern understanding of causation. We find that modern physics provides an avenue to support the essential core of occasionalism.