Nicolas Malebranche

From Academic Kids

Nicolas Malebranche (August 6, 1638October 13, 1715) was a French philosopher of the Cartesian school.

The youngest child of Nicolas Malebranche, secretary to King Louis XIII of France, and Catherine de Lauzon, sister of a viceroy of Canada, was born in Paris. Deformed and frail, he received his elementary education from a tutor, and left home only when ready to enter upon a course of philosophy at the College de la Marche, and subsequently to study theology at the Sorbonne. He had resolved to take holy orders, but his academic disposition led him to decline a stall in Notre Dame, and in 1660 he joined the congregation of the Oratoire de France. He was first advised to devote himself to ecclesiastical history, and laboriously studied Eusebius of Caesarea, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, but "the facts refused to arrange themselves in his mind, and mutually effaced one another." Richard Simon attempted unsuccessfully to teach him Hebrew and Biblical criticism .

At last in 1664 he happened to read Descartes's Trait de l'homme (de homine), which moved him so deeply that he claimed to be repeatedly compelled by palpitations of the heart to lay aside his reading. Malebranche was from that hour consecrated to philosophy, and after ten years' study of the works of Descartes he produced the famous De la recherche de la verit, followed at intervals by other works, both speculative and controversial. Like most of the great metaphysicians of the 17th century, Malebranche interested himself also in questions of mathematics and natural philosophy, and in 1699 was admitted an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences.

The influence of Descartes is very clear in the following passage from "Entretiens sur la Metaphysique," "We must follow reason despite the caresses, the threats and the insults of the body to which we are conjoined, despite the action of the objects that surround us....I exhort you to recognize the difference there is between knowing and feeling, between our clear ideas, and our sensations always obscure and confused."

Late in life, other scholars with whom he was in dispute noticed similarities between his views and those of Baruch Spinoza and charged him with being, like Spinoza, a pantheist. Malebranche indignantly denied these charges and maintained the Roman Catholic orthodoxy of his own opinions.

During his later years his society was much courted, and he received many visits from foreigners of distinction. His death was said to have been hastened by a metaphysical argument into which he had been drawn in the course of an interview with Bishop George Berkeley.


  • A full account by Mrs Norman Smith of his theory of vision, in which he unquestionably anticipated and in some respects surpassed the subsequent work of Berkeley, will be found in the British Journal of Psychology (Jan. 1905).
  • H Joly, in the series Les Grands philosophes (Paris, 1901)
  • Laprune, La Philosophie de Malebranche (1870)
  • M Novaro, De Philosophie des Nicolaus Malebranche (1893)

External links

fr:Nicolas Malebranche ja:ニコラス・マールブランシュ pl:Nicolas Malebranche sk:Nicolas Malebranche


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