Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Lacuna in the Literature

For various reasons my dissertation has ended up (at least for the half of it that has been written so far) discussing a number of issues about how theological issues shape Malebranche's philosophical work. I had expected this to be the case, to some degree, but I've found that the secondary literature on him is astoundingly deficient in this respect. So I've had to look elsewhere, and I've discovered a sort of pattern in the scholarship. The 17th and 18th centuries are a heavily religious period; even writers who are relatively non-religious, like Hume, the freethinkers, the French philosophes, &c. tend to be heavily influenced by religious themes. Most of the major thinkers in the period devote a good portion of their work to religious issues, and write works that (in one sense or another) can be regarded as religious. Christianity pervades even the least Christian thinkers of the period, if for no other reason than that they need to deal with Christianity head-on to distinguish their own views. Yet this is an aspect of the period that is surprisingly little examined, and in general the works most symptomatic of this period tend to get ignored. Thus, for instance, Kant scholars struggle to try to fit Kant's Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, with its talk of grace, radical evil, the Son of God, &c. into the greater scheme of Kant's work, or else ignore it. Something similar is the case with Locke's Reasonableness of the Christian Religion, although it's changing. It's also the case with Hume's Natural History of Religion. Thinkers with whom one cannot isolate their more religiously influenced thought from the rest (as one can, to at least some extent, do with Hume, Locke, and Kant) tend to be ignored, or surgery gets performed on them in the attempt to work around the 'theology' (this is what happens with Malebranche). It's curious, and I'll need to think about it a bit more....

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