Sunday, February 22, 2009

Malebranche's Watch

This came up in a discussion somewhere. Paley did not invent the watch:

But if one examines the reasons and purpose of all these things, one will find so much order and wisdom that a little serious thought will convince even the most devoted disciples of Epicurus and Lucretius that there is a providence which rules the world. When I see a watch, I have reason to conclude that there is an intelligence, because it is impossible that chance could produce and arrange all its wheels. How then would it be possible for chance, and the encounter of atoms, to be capable of arranging in all men and in all the animals so many different forces, with the precision and proportion that I have just explained? And how, by chance, could it happen that men and animals procreate other beings that exactly resemble them? Thus it is simply ridiculous to think or to say with Lucretius that chance formed all the parts that make up a man, that eyes were not made in order to see, but rather that one thinks of seeing because one has eyes, and similarly with the other parts of the body.


[Malebranche, Search after Truth, Book II, Part One, Chapter Four, LO 98-99]

It is notable, though, that this is not an argument for the existence of God; Malebranche is a Cartesian, and a strong one at that: he thinks the existence of God is rationally obvious to anyone who reflects properly. Rather, it's a design argument for providence, which is a different thing. That is, an argument that it is absurd to attribute certain things in the world to mere chance, and that, therefore, there must be general laws. (Malebranche is an occasionalist, and occasionalists put considerable emphasis on laws of nature.) The existence of God is not in doubt or contention when Malebranche dabbles in design arguments; it is assumed. This is very noticeable when Malebranche discusses animals as infinite machines.

I doubt, incidentally, that Paley got the watch analogy from Malebranche; there are just too many more plausible alternative sources.

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