Sunday, August 22, 2004

Malebranche on Divine Concourse

This is an interesting little passage from Malebranche's Réponse a une Dissertation de Mr. Arnauld contre un Eclaircissement du Traité de la Nature et de la Grace (1685). You can find this at OC 7:545-546 (RD chapter X, section XIII). Again, my translation is rather rough. I hesitated a bit about the word "concourse"; as can be seen from the passage below it's often most easily treated as meaning "concurrence," which can translate both the French concourse and the Latin concursus it is translating. But "concourse" is a technical term, as well, being a scholastic theory of providence. (This excellent paper by Freddoso provides a brief intro to what motivated the theory; and this one a brief intro into some of the difficulties it faces.) One occasionally finds "concourse" used as a technical term in English, and Malebranche is certainly using it as a technical term here. So, since this passage is fairly short, I decided to keep it as "concourse"; you can mentally fill in "concurrence" if it helps. The third opinion Malebranche notes is, of course, his own, namely, occasionalism: God is the only agent, strictly speaking. In an Elucidation to the Search after Truth, Malebranche also opposes his occasionalism to concurrentism, on the very similar grounds that concurrentism concedes too much to pagan idolatry by allowing creatures their own causal efficacy. This worry about idolatry is what motivates Malebranche's entire philosophy of causation; and, ironically, leads to the arguments that Hume would later adapt to his even more skeptical theory of causation.

"There are only three opinions on this matter. The first, that creatures are able to act by their own efficacy without the concourse of God. The second, that they are only able to act with the concourse. The third, that they are not able to act by their own efficacy. The first opinion is rejected by the greater part of the Theologians, becase it renders creatures independent in their actions: and I do not believe that Mr. Arnaud wishes to uphold it.The second is more Christian, but it has many defects. I. It is not intelligible. If you examine it you will see this well. II. It is not in conformity with Scripture. For if one must take literally the passages that seem to attribute a proper efficacy to creatures, the first opinion would be the true one. Assuredly the Jews, to whom Scripture speaks, did not think of a simultaneous concourse....In the end, the concourse is good for nothing, save on the supposition that the Philosophy of Aristotle is true, and that the nature and the natural laws are something other than the efficacy of the will of God, and the laws that he has established in order to govern the world. But more than this, one should consider that, if the concourse of God is necessary, for the purpose of being able to act, certainly one cannot attribute to oneself a true power, if there is nothing but God, having made for himself a general law of always giving his concourse, that renders our actions efficacious. And so one necessarily falls again into the third opinion, which one wished to evade in order to defend a Philosophy and some prejudices that give to the creature what only pertains to the Creator."

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