Department of Philosophy



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Melissa Frankel (Carleton University)

"Occasionalism, Knowledge and Agency"

Malebranche is perhaps best remembered for his occasionalism, that is, his view that there are no genuine efficient finite causes, but that all putative finite causes are merely occasions on which God exercises causal power.  The most well known arguments for occasionalism are global arguments: they are general arguments that are meant to undermine all putative cases of finite causation.  But Malebranche also offers some local arguments, including an argument that is specifically directed against the possibility of finite minds being the causes of bodily motions.  This is sometimes called the ‘epistemic’ argument, because it appeals to something like the principle that causation requires knowledge: Malebranche argues that because we cannot have knowledge of our bodily motions, we cannot be the causes of such motions.  This argument has often been dismissed by commentators as implausible.  In this talk, I reconstruct a number of key moves in the epistemic argument in an attempt to render it plausible while still remaining faithful to the texts.  Ultimately I suggest that the argument can be clarified by an appeal to Malebranche’s accounts of perception and sensation.  I also sketch out some ways in which Malebranche’s epistemic argument is interestingly similar to contemporary work in the philosophy of action.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Watson Hall 517 @ 4:00 pm

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