meaning that the infinite and universal is complete in itself without the finite and individual, when the finite and individual is treated as a mere accidental existence due to the “arbitrary will of God,” it ceases to be possible to conceive even God as a spirit. Did Malebranche realize what he was saying when he declared that God was “being in general,” but not any particular being? At any rate we can see that the same logic that leads him almost to deny the reality of finite beings, leads him also to seek the divine nature in something more abstract and general even than thought. If we must abstract from all relation to the finite in order to know God as he is, is it not necessary for us also to abstract from self-consciousness, for self-consciousness has a negative element in it that is something definite, and therefore limited? We do not wonder, therefore, when we find Malebranche saying that reason does not tell us that God is a spirit, but only that he is an infinitely perfect being, and that he must be conceived rather as a spirit than as a body simply because spirit is more perfect than body. “When we call God a spirit, it is not so much to show positively what he is, as to signify that he is not material.” But as we ought not to give him a bodily form like man’s, so we ought not to think of his spirit as similar to our own spirits, although we can conceive nothing more perfect. “It is necessary rather to believe that as he contains in himself the properties of matter without being material, so he comprehends in himself the perfections of created spirits without being a spirit as we alone can conceive spirits, and that his true name is ‘He who is,’ i.e. Being without restriction, Being infinite and universal.” Thus the essentially self-revealing God of Christianity gives way to pure spirit, and pure spirit in its turn to the eternal and incomprehensible substance of which we can say nothing but that it is. The divine substance contains in it, indeed, everything that is in creation, but it contains them eminenter in some incomprehensible form that is reconcilable with its infinitude. But we have no adequate name by which to call it except Being. The curious metaphysic of theology by which, in his later writings, Malebranche tried to make room for the incarnation by supposing that the finite creation, which as finite is unworthy of God, was made worthy by union with Christ, the divine Word, shows that Malebranche had some indistinct sense of the necessity of reconciling his philosophy with his theology; but it shows also the necessarily artificial nature of the combination. The result of the union of such incongruous elements was something which the theologians at once recognised as heterodox and the philosophers as illogical.
There was another doctrine of Malebranche which brought him into trouble with the theologians, and which was the main subject of his long controversy with Arnauld. This was his denial of particular providence. As Leibnitz maintained that this is the best of all possible worlds, and that its evils are to be explained by the negative nature of the finite, so Malebranche, with a slight change of expression derived evil from the nature of particular or individual existence. It is not conformable to the nature of God to act by any but universal laws, and these universal laws necessarily involve particular evil consequences, though their ultimate result is the highest possible good. The question why there should be any particular existence, any existence but God, seeing such existence necessarily involves evil, remains insoluble so long as the purely pantheistic view of God is maintained; and it is this view which is really at the bottom of the assertion that he can have no particular volitions. To the coarse and anthropomorphic conception of particular providence Malebranche may be right in objecting, but on the other hand, it cannot be doubted that any theory in which the universal is absolutely opposed to the particular, the infinite to the finite, is unchristian as well as unphilosophical. For under this dualistic presupposition, there seem to be only two possible alternatives open to thought: either the particular and finite must be treated as something independent of the universal and infinite, which involves an obvious contradiction, or else it must be regarded as absolute nonentity. We find Malebranche doing the one or the other as occasion requires. Thus he vindicates the freedom of man’s will on the ground that the universal will of God does not completely determine the particular volitions of man; and then becoming conscious of the difficulty involved in this conception, he tries, like Descartes, to explain the particular will as something merely negative, a defect, and not a positive existence.
But to understand fully Malebranche’s view of freedom and the ethical system connected with it, we must notice an important alteration which he makes in the Cartesian theory of the relation of will and intelligence. To Descartes, as we have
and will.seen, the ultimate essence of mind lay in pure abstract self-determination or will, and hence he based even moral and intellectual truth on the arbitrary decrees of God. With Malebranche, on the other hand, abstraction goes a step further; and the absolute is sought not in the subject as opposed to the object, not in pure formal self-determination as opposed to that which is determined, but in a unity that transcends this difference. With him, therefore, will ceases to be regarded as the essence of intelligence, and sinks into a property or separable attribute of it. As we can conceive an extended substance without actual movement, so, he says, we can conceive a thinking substance without actual volition. But “matter or extension without motion would be entirely useless and incapable of that variety of forms for which it is made; and we cannot, therefore, suppose, that an all-wise Being would create it in this way. In like manner, if a spiritual or thinking substance were without will, it is clear that it would be quite useless, for it would not be attracted towards the objects of its perception, and would not love the good for which it is made. We cannot therefore conceive an intelligent being so to fashion it.” Now God need not be conceived as creating at all, for he is self-sufficient; but if he be a creator of spirits, he must create them for himself. “God cannot will that there should exist a spirit that does not love him, or that loves him less than any other good.” The craving for good in general, for an absolute satisfaction, is a natural love of God that is common to all. “The just, the wicked, the blessed, and the damned all alike love God with this love.” Out of this love of God arises the love we have to ourselves and to others, which are the natural inclinations that belong to all created spirits. For these inclinations are but the elements of the love which is in God, and which therefore he inspires in all his creatures. “Il s’aime, il nous aime, il aime toutes ses créatures; il ne fait donc point d’esprits qu’il ne les porte à l’aimer, à s’aimer, et à aimer toutes les créatures.” Stripping this thought of its theological vesture, what is expressed here is simply that as a spiritual being each man is conscious of his own limited and individual existence, as well as of the limited and individual existence of other beings like himself, only in relation to the whole in which they are parts, so he can find his own good only in the good of the whole, and he is in contradiction with himself so long as he rests in any good short of that. His love of happiness, his natural inclinations both selfish and social, may be therefore regarded as an undeveloped form of the love of God; and the ideal state of his inclinations is that in which the love of self and of others are explicitly referred to that higher affection, or in which his love does not proceed from a part to the whole, but from the whole to the parts.
The question of morals to Malebranche is the question how these natural inclinations are related to the particular passions. Sensation and passion arise out of the connexion of body and soul, and their use is only to urge us to attend to the wants of Ethics. the former. We can scarcely hear without a smile the simple monastic legend which Malebranche weaves together about the original nature of the passions and their alteration by the Fall. “It is visibly a disorder that a spirit capable of knowing and loving God should be obliged to occupy itself with the needs of the body.” “A being altogether occupied with what passes in his body and with the infinity of objects that surround it cannot be thinking on the things that are truly good.” Hence the necessity of an immediate and instinctive warning from the senses in regard to the relations of things to our organism, and also of pains and pleasures which may induce us to attend to this warning. “Sensible pleasure is the mark that nature has attached to the use of certain things in order that without having the trouble of examining them by reason, we may employ them for the preservation of the body, but not in order that we may love them.” Till the Fall the mind was merely united to the body, not subjected to it, and the influence of these pleasures and pains was only such as to make men attend to their bodily wants, but not to occupy the mind, or fill it with sensuous joys and sorrows, or trouble its contemplation of that which is really good. Our moral aim should therefore be to restore this state of things, to weaken our union with the body and strengthen our union with God. And to encourage us in pursuing this aim we have to remember that union with God is natural to the spirit, and that, while even the condition of union with the body is artificial, the condition of subjection to the body is wholly unnatural to it. Our primary tendency is towards the supreme good, and we only love the objects of our passions in so far as we “determine towards particular, and therefore false goods, the love that God gives us for himself.” The search for happiness is really the search for God in disguise, and even the levity and inconstancy with which men rush from one finite good to another, is a proof that they were made for the infinite. Furthermore, this natural love of God, or inclination for good in general, “gives us the power of suspending our consent in regard to those particular goods which do not satisfy it.” If we refuse to be led by the obscure and confused voice of instinctive feeling, which arises from and always tends to confirm our union with the body, and wait for the light of reason which arises from and always tends to confirm our union with God, we have done all that is in our power, the rest is God’s work. “If we only judge precisely of that which we see clearly, we shall never be deceived. For then it will not be we that judge, but the universal reason that judges in us.” And as our love, even of particular goods, is a confused love of the supreme good, so the clear vision of God inevitably brings with it the love of him. “We needs must love the highest when we see it.” When it is the divine reason that speaks in us it is the divine love that moves us, “the same love wherewith God loves himself and the things he has made.”The general result of the ethics of Malebranche is ascetic. The
- Recherche, ch. ix.
- Recherche, i. pt. i. ch. i.
- Recherche, i. pt. i. ch. iv.
- Recherche, iv. ch. i.
- Entretien, iv.
- Recherche, v. ch. iv.
- Recherche, v. ch. i.
- Morale, pt. i. ch. i. § 9.
- Recherche, v. ch. v.