‘Malebranche’s Theory of the Soul: A Cartesian Interpretation’ by Tad Schmaltz

Published by Oxford University Press in 1996.


This book considers in the broader context of early modern Cartesianism Malebranche’s claim that consciousness of the soul yields knowledge of a nature that is radically inferior in kind to the knowledge that Cartesians have of the nature of the body. Though Malebranche accepted Descartes’s substance dualism, his claim stands on its head the doctrine in the Meditations that the nature of mind is better known than body. Malebranche insisted against Descartes and more orthodox followers such as Arnauld that what the Cartesians themselves say reveals that they have only a confused consciousness of the soul. The thesis here is that this idiosyncratic conclusion, which Malebranche attempted to defend in several different ways on several different fronts, is essentially correct.

The discussion of this conclusion in this book has two parts. Part I focuses on Malebranche’s claim that though a consideration of the cogito provides certain knowledge of the existence of the self, it yields only a confused consciousness of the sensory and intellectual modifications of the soul. Part II concerns Malebranche’s argument that his negative thesis concerning our knowledge of the soul does not preclude the Cartesian project of constructing clear and evident demonstrations of the three principal properties of the soul, namely, its spirituality, immortality, and freedom.

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