From Modern Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser


Copyright 2015, updated 1/1/2017



RULES OF SCIENCE (from The Search after Truth, 1674-75)


The First Rule of Speculative Science: Assent only to That which is Certain (1.2-3)

1.2. Here are then the two established rules, which I spoke of, which are very necessary in all speculative and moral sciences, and which we ought to look upon as the foundation of all human sciences.

            The first, which relates to science, is this: never give a complete assent, except to propositions that appear so evidently true, that we cannot refuse them without feeling an inward regret and secret disapproval of our reason; that is, unless we know clearly that we would make an improper use of our liberty if we would not assent, or would extend our power to things, over which we have none.

            The second, which respects morality, is this: never to love any good absolutely, if we can without remorse restrain. From this it follows that we ought to love nothing absolutely, and without relation to anything else, but God. For it is he only, from the love of whom we cannot abstain without this sort of remorse; that is, without an evident knowledge of our doing ill, supposing him known by reason and revelation. . . .


Success of Descartes' Method

1.3. It is no hard thing to foresee that the practice of the first rule, which I spoke of in the preceding chapter, will not please all the world, but especially those imaginary learned, who pretend to know all things, and yet know nothing at all, pleasing themselves in speaking confidently of the most difficult things, and who certainly are ignorant of the most easy ones.

            They will not fail to say with Aristotle, that certainty is only to be found in mathematics, but in morality and physics probability suffices. Or that Descartes was very much off the mark by treating physics like geometry, and that for that reason he had no better success. Or that it is not possible for men to arrive at the knowledge of nature, that her secret springs and movements lie too deep to be pierced by a human mind. . . .

            I need to confess that the law I impose is very rigorous and severe, and that there are many who would rather renounce reasoning altogether than reason on such conditions, and that it is impossible to run so fast with such restricting cautions. However, it must be granted me that a man will walk with greater security in observing it, and that previously those who have marched so hastily have been obliged to return upon the same ground. Besides, there are a great number of men who will agree with me in this, that Mr. Descartes has discovered more truths in thirty years than all the philosophers that preceded him, merely for his submission to that law. If many others would study philosophy as he has done, we should in no time be acquainted with the greatest part of those things which are necessary to make life as happy as possible upon an earth that God has cursed.




We only perceive Ideas of Things, not the actual Things Themselves (3b.1.1)

I think everyone will confess that we do not perceive external objects by themselves. We see the sun, the stars, and many objects outside of us. It is not probable that the soul should go out of the body and walk, as it were, through the heavens, to contemplate all those objects there. She does not, then, see them by themselves and as the immediate object of mind. When the soul sees the sun, for instance, it is not the sun, but something which is closely united to our soul. It is that which I call “idea” so that here by this word “idea,” I mean only what is the immediate object, or the nearest thing to the mind when it perceives anything.

            It must be observed, that to make the mind perceive any object, it is absolutely necessary that the idea of this object should be actually present, of which we can have no doubt. But it is not required that there should be some external object which resembles this idea. For it often happens that we perceive things which do not exist, and which never did exist. Thus, we often have in our minds real ideas of things which never were. For instance, when a person imagines a mountain of gold, it is absolutely necessary that the idea of this mountain should be really present to his mind. When a mad person, a person in a high fever, or a person that is asleep, sees any terrible animal before his eyes, it is certain that the idea of this animal truly exists. Yet this mountain of gold, and this animal, never were.

            However, people being naturally inclined to believe that only corporeal objects exist, they judge the reality and existence of things quite differently than they should. For as soon as they are sensible of any object, they will certainly maintain that this object exists, although, it often happens, that there is nothing out there. Further, they affirm that this object is exactly the same as they see it, which never happens. But in respect to the idea which necessarily exists, and which can be nothing else besides what it appears to be, without any reflection, they commonly judge it to be nothing. They do this as if ideas had not a very great number of properties: as if the ideas of a square, for instance, were not very different from that of some number, and did not represent things perfectly distinct; which could never happen to nothing, since nothing has no propriety. It is therefore indisputable that ideas have a real existence. But let us examine their nature and essence, and see what it can be in the soul that is capable of representing all things. . . .


Five Possible Theories of Perception (3b.1.2)

We are assured then, that it is absolutely necessary that the ideas we have of bodies, and of all other objects which we do not perceive by themselves, [1] proceed from these bodies, or these objects, or else that [2] our soul has the power of producing these ideas, or that [3] God created them with our souls; or that [4] he produces them every time that we think of any object; or else that [5] the soul has all those perfections in itself that it sees in these bodies: or in short, that it is united with a perfect being, which in general includes all the perfections of created beings.

            We cannot see objects except after one of these ways. Let us examine without prejudice (and without frightening ourselves with the difficulty of the question) which of them seems most probable. We may resolve it very clearly, although we do not pretend here to give such demonstrations as will satisfy all sorts of persons, but only convincing proofs to those at least who will meditate with serious attention upon them. For perhaps it would be thought too rash if we should pretend otherwise.


Theory 1: Material Objects emit Species (mini copies) of Themselves which Reach our Eyes (3b.2)

The most common received opinion is that of the Peripatetics who think that external objects emit species which resemble them, and that those species are carried by the external senses to the common sense or understanding. They call these species impressed, because the object imprints them on the external senses. These impressed species, being material and sensible, are made intelligible, by means of the active, or active intellect; and are fit to be received in the passive intellect. These species, thus spiritualized, are called expressed species, because they are expressed by the impressed ones. It is by them that the passive intellect knows all material things. . . .



            We are assured, then, that it is improbable that objects should emit their images, or species which represent them, for these reasons.

            The first is from the impenetrability of objects. All objects, as the sun, stars, and all such as are near the eyes, cannot emit species which are different from their respective natures. For this reason philosophers commonly say that these species are gross and material, in which they differ from expressed species which are spiritualized. These impressed species of objects, then, are little bodies and they cannot therefore be penetrated, nor all the spaces which are between the earth and the heaven, which must be full of them. From this it is easy to conclude that they must be bruised and broken in moving every way; and thus they cannot make objects visible. . . .

            The second reason is taken from the change which happens in the species. It is evident that the nearer any object is, the greater its species ought to be, since we see the object is greater. But what is yet more difficult to conceive, according to their opinion, is that if we look upon this object with a telescope, or a microscope, the species immediately becomes six hundred times as great as it was before. For it is yet more difficulty conceived from what parts it can grow so great in an instant.

            The third reason is when we look upon a perfect cube, all the species of its sides are unequal. Nevertheless, we see all the sides equally square. So when we consider ellipses and parallelograms in a picture, which cannot but emit like species, we nevertheless see circles and squares. This manifestly shows that it is not necessary that the object beheld should emit species like itself, that it may be seen.

            In short, it cannot be conceived how it can be that a body, which does not sensibly diminish, should always emit species on every side, which should continually fill all the great spaces about it, and that with an inconceivable swiftness. . . .


Theory 2: Human Souls Produce those Ideas Themselves (3b.3)

The second opinion is that of those who believe our souls have any power of producing the ideas of such things about which they will think, and the souls are excited to produce the ideas by the impressions which objects make upon bodies, although these impressions are not images like the objects which cause them. They believe that it is in this that humans are made after the image of God, and participates in his power. Just as God created all things out of nothing and can reduce them to nothing again, and then create them anew, so too can humans create, and annihilate the ideas of all things as they please. But there are good reasons to distrust all these opinions which praise a person, since these are the common thoughts which arise from a vain and proud origin, and which the Father of light has not inspired.

            This participation of the power of God, which people boast of having, to represent objects and of doing many other particular actions, is a participation which seems to relate to something of independence, as independence is commonly explained. It is also an imaginary participation which people’s ignorance and vanity make them imagine. They depend much more than they think upon the goodness and mercy of God. But this is not a place to explain these things. It is enough if we try to show that people have not the power of forming the ideas of things which they perceive.

            No one can doubt that ideas are real beings, since they have real properties and since they differ from each other, and represent all different things. Nor can we reasonably doubt that they are spiritual, and very different from the bodies which they represent. But it seems reasonable to doubt whether ideas, by whose means we see bodies, are not nobler than the bodies themselves. For indeed the intelligible world must be more perfect than the material and earthly, as we will see hereafter. Thus when we affirm that we have the power of forming such ideas as we please, we will be in danger of persuading ourselves to make more noble and perfect beings than the world which God has created. However, some do not reflect upon it, because they imagine that an idea is nothing, since it is not to be felt. Alternatively, if they look upon it as a being, it is a very mean, contemptible one, because they imagine it to be annihilated as soon as it is no longer present to the mind.


Criticism: Creating Ideas requires Miraculous Abilities

But supposing it true, that ideas were only little contemptible beings. Nevertheless, they are beings, and spiritual ones. Since people do not have the power of believing, it follows that they cannot produce them. For the production of ideas, after the manner before explained, is a true creation. People try to gloss over and soften the hardness of this opinion by saying that the production of ideas presupposes something else, but creation presupposes nothing. Still, the difficulty is not solved by this ploy.

            For we ought to consider that it is no more difficult to produce something out of nothing, than to produce one thing out of another which cannot at all contribute to its production. For example, it is no more difficult to create an angel than to produce him from a stone; since a stone is of another sort of being wholly different, it cannot in the least be useful to the production of an angel. But it may contribute to the production of bread, gold, etc. For a stone, gold, and bread, are only the same thing differently configured, and are all material.

            It is even more difficult to produce an angel of a stone, than to produce him out of nothing. This is because to make an angel out of a stone (so far as it can be done) the stone must be annihilated, and afterwards the angel created. But simply to create an angel, nothing is to be annihilated. If therefore the mind produces its ideas from the material impressions which the brain receives from objects, it must always do the same thing, or a thing as difficult, or even more difficult than if it created them. Since ideas are spiritual, they cannot be produced of material images, which have no proportion with them.

            But if it is said that an idea is not a substance, I consent to it, yet it is always something that is spiritual. As it is impossible to make a square of a spirit, although a square is not a substance from a spiritual idea, although an idea was no substance.

            But even if we should grant to the mind of humans a sovereign power to annihilate, and create the ideas of things, it would still never make use of that power to produce such ideas. For, even as a painter, how skillful he is, could not represent an animal which he had never seen and of which he never had any idea, so that the picture which he should make would resemble this unknown animal. Thus a person cannot form the idea of an object if he did not know it before, that is, if he does not already have some idea of the object which does not depend upon his will. If he already had an idea of it, he certainly knows this object, and it would be unnecessary for him to form it anew. It is therefore in vain to attribute to the mind of humans the power of producing his ideas.


Theory 3: God Implants All Ideas within Us at Birth (3b.4)

The third opinion is, that of those who say all ideas are created with us.

            To discover the improbability of this opinion, it will be necessary to consider that there are many different things in the world of which we have ideas. But to speak only of simple figures, it is certain that the number of them is infinite. No, even if we consider but one only, as the ellipsis, we cannot doubt but the mind conceives an infinite number of different kinds of them when it considers that one of the diameters may be lengthened out to infinity, and the other always continue the same. . . .


Criticism: Not the Easiest way, and we cannot Explain why the Soul Selects a Given Idea

            Now I ask, is it probable that God should create so many things within the mind of humans? For my part it does not appear so to me, mainly since that might be accomplished in a more simple and easy manner, as we will soon see. For as God always acts by the most simple ways, it does not seem reasonable to explain how we know objects by admitting the creation of an infinite number of beings, since we can resolve this difficulty in a more easy and natural way.

            But although the mind should have a magazine of all the ideas which are necessary for it to see things, it would be yet more difficult to explain how the soul would make choice of them to represent things. For instance, how can the soul represent the sun to itself when the sun is present to the eyes of its body?

            For since the image which the sun imprints in the brain does not resemble the idea we have of it (as has been elsewhere proved), and since the soul does not perceive the motion that the sun produces in the bottom of the eyes and in the brain, it is inconceivable how it should exactly guess (among these infinite number of ideas that it has) which one it must represent to itself so to imagine or to see the sun. We cannot, therefore, say that the ideas of things were created with us, as this will not explain how we see the objects that are about us.

            Nor can we say that God produces as many of them every moment, as we perceive different things. This has been sufficiently refuted from what has been said in this chapter. Besides it is necessary that at all times we actually have in ourselves the ideas of all things, since we are always able to think of all things. We could not do this if we perceived them already confusedly, that is, if an infinite number of ideas were not present to our minds. For, we cannot will to think of objects of which we have no idea.


Theory 4: The Human Soul Naturally Contains Ideas of Everything (3b.5)

The fourth opinion is that the mind stands in need of nothing besides itself to perceive objects. In considering itself and its own perfections, it can discover all things that are outside of it.

            It is certain that the soul sees within itself (and without ideas) all the sensations and passions it is capable of, such as pleasure, pain, cold, heat, colors, sounds, odors, flavors, its love, its hatred, joy and sadness, etc. This is because all the sensations and passions of the soul represent nothing external which is like them, and because they are only modifications which nothing but the mind is capable of. But the difficulty is to know whether the ideas which represent something that is outside of the soul and which resembles them in some measure (as the ideas of a sun, a house, a horse, a river, etc.) are only modifications of the soul. This is considering that the soul cannot stand in need of anything besides itself to represent to itself all external things. . . .


Criticism: This requires a Master Plan of Creation, and only God has This

It is certain that there was no one but God alone before the world was created, and he could not produce it without knowledge and without ideas. Consequently those ideas which God had of the world are not different from himself. Thus all creatures, even the most material and most terrestrial, are in God, though in a manner altogether spiritual, which we cannot understand. God therefore sees all beings in himself, in considering his own perfections which represent them to him. He also knows their existence perfectly. For since the existence of all things depend on his will, he cannot be ignorant of his own will. It follows, then, that he cannot be ignorant of their existence. Thus God does not only see in himself the essence of all things, but also their existence.

            But the case is different with created [human] spirits since they can neither see the essence of things, nor their existence within themselves. They cannot see the essence of things within themselves because, being very limited, they do not contain all existing beings as God does, whom we may call the universal being (or plainly he that is, as he calls himself.). Since, therefore, the human mind may know all beings and infinite beings, and yet not contain them, it is a certain proof that the human mind does not see the essence of things in itself. For the mind does not only see sometimes one thing, and sometimes another successively, it also actually perceives infinity, though it does not comprehend it. So that not being actually infinite, nor capable of infinite modifications at the same time, it is absolutely impossible that it should see within itself what is not there. Therefore it does not see the essence of things in considering its own perfections, or by modifying itself variously. . . .




Theory 5: Ideas of Created Things Reside in God which he Allows us to See Within him

We have examined in the preceding chapters four different manners in which the human mind may see external objects, and these do not appear probable to us. There only remains the fifth, which alone appears agreeable to reason and is the most proper, which is the dependence that spirits have on God in all their thoughts.

            In order to understand it correctly, we must remember what has been said in the preceding chapter, that it is absolutely necessary that God should have in himself the ideas of all the beings he has created, since otherwise he could not have produced them. Thus, he sees all those beings by considering the perfections which he includes in himself, and to which all beings are related. Moreover, it is necessary to know that God is very strictly united to our souls by his presence, so that we may say that he is the place of spirits, just as space is the place of bodies. These two things being supposed, it is certain that the mind may see what there is in God, which represents created beings, since that is very spiritual, very intelligible, and most present to the mind. Thus the mind may see in God the works of God, supposing God be willing to disclose to our minds what there is in God which represents those works. These are the reasons which seem to prove that he wills rather than creates an infinite number of ideas in every mind.


Efficiency Argument

First, although we do not absolutely deny that God was able to produce an infinitely infinite number of beings who represent objects with every mind he creates, yet we ought not to believe that he does so. For it is not only compatible with reason, but it also appears by the economy of nature, that God never does by very difficult means what may be done by a plain and easy way. God does nothing in vain and without reason. His wisdom and his power are not exhibited by doing little things by difficult means. That is repugnant to reason, and shows a limited knowledge. On the contrary, his greatness is seen by doing great things by plain easy means. It is thus that from extension alone he produces everything we see that is admirable in nature, and even that which gives life and motion to animals. For those who postulate substantial forms, faculties, and souls in animals different from their blood and from the organs of their body, in order to perform their functions, at the same time seem to argue that God lacks understanding, or that he cannot do those admirable things by extension alone. They measure the power of God and his sovereign wisdom by the smallness of their own capacity. Then since God may make human minds see all things, by willing barely that they should see what is in themselves; that is, what is in him that has a relation to those things, and which represents them, there is no probability that he would do it otherwise; and that he should produce, in order thereunto, as many infinities of infinite numbers of ideas, as there are created spirits.

            We must observe, however, that we cannot conclude that spirits see the essence of God insofar as they can see all things in God in that manner. This is because what they see is very imperfect, whereas God is very perfect. We see matter divisible and figured, etc., but there is nothing in God that is divisible or figured. For God is all beings, because he is infinite and comprehends all, but he is no being in particular. Nevertheless that which we see is but one, or several beings in particular, and we do not apprehend that perfect simplicity of God which includes all beings. Besides that it may be said, that we do not so much see the ideas of things, as the things which those ideas represent; for when we see a square, for instance, we do not say that we see the idea of that square, which is united to the mind, but only the square which is without us.


Sovereignty Argument

There is a second reason which may induce us to believe that we see all objects because God wills that that which is in God and represents things should be discovered to us (rather than because we have as many ideas created with us as we can see things). For this puts all created spirits in an absolute dependence upon God, and the greatest spirits that can be. This being so, we cannot only see nothing except what God wills that we should see, but we can also see nothing, unless God himself shows it to us. Non sumus sufficientes cogitare aliquid a nobis, tanquam ex nobis, sed sufficientia nostra ex deo est (2 Cor. 3:5). It is God himself which instructs and enlightens philosophers in that knowledge which ungrateful people call natural, although it is an immediate gift from heaven: deus enim illis manifestavit (Rom. 1:19). It is he that is properly the light of the mind, and the father of light or knowledge. Pater luminum (James 1:17). It is he that teaches wisdom to people: qui docet hominem scientiam (Psalms 53). In a word, he is the true light, which enlightens all those that come into this world: lux vera que illuminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum (John 1:9).

            In short, it is pretty difficult to distinctly recognize the dependence which our minds have on God in all their particular actions (supposing that they have all that which we distinctly know to be necessary for them in order to act, or all the ideas of things present to their mind, and truly that general and confused word concurrence, by which people pretend to explain the dependence that creatures have on God, does not awaken any distinct idea in an attentive mind). Yet it is quite necessary that people should know distinctly that they can do nothing without God.


Abstract Idea Argument

But the strongest of all reasons, is the manner in which the mind perceives all things. It is certain, and everybody knows by experience, that when we wish to think on anything in particular thing, we first cast our eyes on all beings. After that, we apply ourselves to the consideration of the object we design to think on. Now it is most certain that we see it already, though confusedly and in general. So, as we may desire to see all the beings, sometimes one and sometimes another, it is certain that all beings are present to our mind. It appears that all beings can only be present to our mind because God is present to our minds, that is, he who includes all things in the simplicity of his being.

            It seems, moreover, that the mind would not be capable of representing to itself universal ideas of kinds and species, etc., unless it saw all beings included in one. Since every creature is a particular being, we cannot say that we see anything created when we see, for instance, a triangle in general. In short, I believe that it is impossible to give a good reason of the manner in which the mind comes to know several abstracted and general truths, unless it is by the presence of him [i.e. God] that can direct the mind in a world of different manners.

            Thus, the chief proof of the existence of God which is the best, the most majestic, and the most solid (or that which supposes the fewest things) is the idea we have of infinity. For, the mind does not comprehend infinite being, and the mind has a very distinct idea of God which it can only have by the union it has with God. This is because it cannot be conceived that the idea of a being infinitely perfect, as that we have of God, should be anything that is created.

            But not only does the mind have the idea of infinity, it has it even before that of the finite. For we conceive the infinite being, and from this alone that we conceive a being, without considering whether it is finite or infinite. But in order to conceive of a finite being, we must reduce something of that general notion of a being which, consequently, must precede it. Thus, the mind perceives nothing but an infinity, and that idea cannot be formed by the confused mixture of all the ideas of particular beings, as philosophers imagine. On the contrary, all those particular ideas are only participations of the general idea of infinity insofar as God does not derive his being from the creatures, but all creatures only subsist by him.


Principle Purpose Argument

The last proof, which perhaps will be a demonstration to those that are used to abstracted arguments, is this. It is impossible that God should have any other principal end of his actions but himself. This notion is common to all people that are capable of any reflection, and the holy scriptures do not allow us to doubt that God has made everything for himself. Therefore, it is necessary that our natural love (I mean the motion he produces in our mind) should tend towards him. Moreover, the knowledge and the light which he presents to our minds should make us know something that is in him. For whatever comes from God can only be for God. If God created a spirit, and gave it an idea of the sun (as the immediate object of its knowledge), in my opinion God would create that spirit, and the idea in that spirit, for the sun and not for him.

            God cannot therefore create a spirit to know his works, unless that spirit sees God in some measure by looking at his works. So we may say that, unless we do see God in some measure, we would see nothing. Similarly, unless we do love God (I mean, unless God continually imprinted in us the love of good in general) we should love nothing. For since that love is our will, then we can love nothing, nor will anything without him. This is because we cannot love particular goods without directing towards those goods the inclination of love which God gives us towards himself. Thus, just as we love nothing except by the necessary love we have for God, so too we see nothing except by the natural knowledge we have of God. All the particular ideas we have of creatures are only limitations of the idea of the creator, as all the motions of the will for the creatures, are only determinations of the motion for the creator. . . .


The Most Probable Theory

Here, then, are some reasons which may persuade us that spirits perceive all things by the immediate presence of him who comprehends all in the simplicity of his being. Everyone will judge it according to the internal conviction he will receive of it, after having seriously considered it. But I do not think that there is any probability in all the other ways of explaining these things, and that this last appears more than probable. Thus our souls depend on God in all respects. For as it is he who makes them feel grief, pleasure, and all other sensations, by the natural union he has established between them and our body which is no other than his decree and general will. Thus it is he, who by the natural union which he has made between the will of humans, and the representation of the ideas which the immensity of the divine being includes, that makes them know whatever they do know. That natural union is also nothing else but his general will. So, none but he can direct us, by representing all things to us; as none but he can make us happy, by making us taste all manner of pleasures.

            Let us therefore keep to this opinion that God is the intelligible world, or the place of spirits, just as the material world is the place of bodies. Spirits receive all their modifications from his power. That they find all their ideas in his wisdom. It is by his love that they are acted in all their regular motions. Since his power and love are nothing but himself, let us believe with St. Paul, that he is not far from every one of us, and that it is in him that we have life, motion, and a being. Non longe est ab unequoque nostrum, in ipso cnim vivimus, movemur, & sumius (Acts 17:28).




Ancient Philosophy: There are Immaterial Causal Powers within Physical Things

Ancient philosophers explained the effects of nature by certain entities which they had no particular idea of. In doing so they not only spoke of what they did not conceive, but even established a principle from where may directly be drawn most false and dangerous consequences.

            Let us suppose, according to their opinion, that in bodies there are some beings distinct from matter. Not having any distinct idea of these entities, we might easily imagine that they are the true, or principal causes of the effects which we see produced. This is indeed the common sentiment of most philosophers. For it is mainly to explain these effects, that they make use of the notions of substantial forms, real qualities, and other similar entities. But when we attentively consider the idea we have of cause or power of acting, we cannot doubt that it represents something divine. For the idea of a sovereign power is the idea of sovereign divinity. The idea of a subordinate power is the idea of an inferior. But a true divinity at least, according to the opinion of the heathens, is the idea of a power or true cause. We admit therefore something divine in all bodies which encompass us, when we admit forms, faculties, qualities, virtues, and real beings, capable of producing certain effects, by the power of their own nature. TFhus, they insensibly enter into the opinions of the heathens, by the respect they have for their philosophy. Faith indeed works it, but it may perhaps be said that if we are Christians in our hearts, we are heathens in our minds.


Ancient Philosophy: We should Love and Fear Powers that Cause us Pleasure and Pain

Moreover, it is difficult to persuade ourselves that we ought neither to love or fear true powers and beings, who can act upon us, punish us with pain, or recompense us with pleasure. As love and fear are a true adoration, it is also difficult to persuade ourselves that we ought not to adore them. For whatever can act upon us as a real and true cause is necessarily above us, according to St. Augustine and right reason. The same father (and the same reason) tells us it is an immutable law that inferior things should submit to superior. From hence, this great father concludes, that the body cannot act upon the soul, and that nothing can be above the soul but God.

            In the holy scriptures, when God proves to the Israelites that they ought to adore him, that is, that they ought to fear and love him, the chief reasons he brings are taken from his power to recompense and punish them. He represents to them the benefits they have received from him, the evils for which he has punished them, and that he has still the same power. He forbids them to adore the Gods of the heathens, because they have no power over them, and can do them neither harm nor good. He requires them to honor him only, because he only is the true cause of good and evil, and that there happens none in their city, according to the prophet, which he has not done; for natural causes are not the true causes of the evil that appears to be done to us. It is God alone that acts in them, and it is he only that we must fear and love: soli deo honor & gloria.

            In short, this opinion (that we ought to fear and love whatever is the true cause of good and evil) appears so natural and just, that it is impossible to destroy it. Thus, if we suppose this false opinion of the philosophers (which we try here to confute -- that bodies which encompass us are the true causes of the pleasures and evils which we feel), then reason seems to justify a religion like to that of the heathens, and approves of the universal irregularity of manners.

            It is true that reason does not tell us that we must adore onions and leeks as the sovereign divinity; because they cannot make us entirely happy when we have of them, or entirely unhappy when we want them. Nor have the heathens ever done to them so much honor as to the great Jupiter, upon whom all their divinities depend, or as to the sun, which our senses represent to us, as the universal cause which gives life and motion to all things. If with the heathen philosophers, we suppose the sun includes in its being the true causes of whatever it seems to produce, not only in our bodies and minds, but likewise in all beings which encompass us, we cannot prevent ourselves from regarding this as a sovereign divinity.

            But if we must not pay a sovereign honor to leeks and onions, yet we may always give them some particular adoration. I mean, we may think of and love them in some manner. If it is true, that in some sort they can make us happy, we must honor them in proportion to the good they can do us. Certainly, people who give ear to the reports of their senses, think that lentils are capable of doing them good. Otherwise the Israelites, for instance, would not have regretted their absence in the defect, nor considered it as a misfortune to be deprived of them, if they did not, in some manner, look upon themselves happy in the enjoyment of them. These are the irregularities which our reason engages us in, when it is joined to the principles of the heathen philosophy, and follows the impressions of the senses.


God is the True Cause of Physical Motion, Nature is only the Occasional Cause

To cast doubt on this miserable philosophy, the certainty of its principles, and clearness of the ideas we make use of, it is necessary to clearly establish those truths which are opposite to the errors of the ancient philosophy. In short, we must prove that there is only one true cause, because there is only one true God. Nature, or the power of everything, proceeds only from the will of God. All natural things are not true causes, but only occasional ones, and some other truths will be the consequences of these.

            It is evident that all bodies, both great and small, have no power of moving themselves: a mountain, a house, a stone, a grain of sand. In short, the least or biggest bodies we can conceive, have no power of moving themselves. We have only two sorts of ideas, that of bodies, and that of spirits. Since we ought to speak only of those things which we conceive, we should reason according to these two ideas. Since therefore the idea we have of all bodies shows us that they cannot move themselves, it must be concluded that they are moved by spirits only. But when we examine the idea we have of all finite minds, we do not see the necessary connection between their wills and the motion of anybody whatever it may be. On the contrary, we see that there is none, nor can there be any. From this we ought to conclude (if we will argue according to our knowledge) that as nobody is able to move itself, so there is no created spirit that can be the true or principal cause of the motion of anybody whatever.

            But when we think of the idea of God, of a being infinitely perfect, and consequently almighty, we know that there is such a connection between his will, and the motion of all bodies. It is impossible to conceive that he should will the motion of a body, and that would not be moved. Thus, if we speak things as we conceive them (and not as we feel them), we must say that only his will can move bodies. The moving force of bodies, therefore, is not in the bodies which move, since this power of motion is nothing else but the will of God.

            Thus bodies have no action. When a bowl is moved and contacts another bowl which is in turn moved, it communicates nothing of its own. For in itself it does not have the impression that it communicates to the other. Yet a bowl is the natural cause of the motion which it communicates. A natural cause, then, is not a real and true cause, but only an occasional one, and which determined the author of nature to act after such and such a manner, in such and such an occurrence.

            It is certain, that it is by the motion of visible or invisible bodies that all things are produced. For experience teaches us that bodies, whose parts are in greatest motion, always act more than others, and produce the greatest change in the world. All the powers of nature then proceed from the will of God. He has created the world because he willed it: dixit & facta funt ["he spoke, and it was there"]: he moves all things, and so produces all the effects that we see happen. Because he has also willed certain laws, according to which bodies communicate their motions in their encounters. Because these laws are productive, they act, and bodies cannot act. There is therefore no force, power, or true cause, in the material and sensible world, nor must we admit of forms, faculties, and real qualities, to produce effects that bodies cannot, and to divide, with God, the force and power which is essential to him.

            Not only bodies cannot be the true causes of anything, but the most noble spirits are similarly powerless. They can know nothing if God does not enlighten them. Nor can they have any sensation if he does not modify them. They are capable of willing nothing if God does not move them towards him. I confess they can determine the impression that God gives them towards him to other objects. But do not know whether that can be called a power. If the capability of sinning is a power, it would be a power which the almighty does not have. St. Augustine says in some of his works, if people had in themselves the power of loving good, we might say they had some power. But people can only love because God wills they should love, and because his will is effective. They love only because God continually inclines them to good in general, that is, towards himself. Since God created them only for himself, he never preserves them without turning them towards and inclining them to himself. They have no motion towards good in general, since it is God who moves them. They only follow by an entire free choice, this impression according to the law of God, or determine it towards a false good after the law of the flesh: they can only be determined by a prospect of good: for being able to do only what God makes them, they can love nothing but good.


God is the True Cause of Human Bodily Motion, Human Will only the Occasional Cause

But if we should suppose what is true in one sense, that spirits have in themselves the power of knowing truth and loving good, if their thoughts and wills produced nothing external, we might always say they were able to do nothing. Now it appears most certain to me, that the will of spirits is not capable of moving the smallest body in the world. For it is evident there is no necessary connection between the will we have of moving our arms, and the motion of them. It is true, they are moved when we please, and by that means we are the natural cause of their motion. But natural causes are not true causes; they are only occasional ones, which act merely through the power and efficacy of God, as I have already explained.

            For how can we move our arms? To move them we must have animal spirits, and convey them by certain nerves, into such and such muscles to swell and contract them. For by this means the arms move. Or according to the opinion of some, we do not know yet how it is performed. We see that people who do not even know they have spirits, nerves, and muscles to move their arms, yet move them with as much art and facility as those that understand anatomy best. It is then granted, that people will the motion of their arms, but it is only God that can and knows how to move them. If a person cannot throw down a tower, at least he knows well what must be done in order to it. But there is no person that knows so much as what he must do to move one of his fingers by the help of his animal spirits. How then can people move their arms? These things appear evident to me, and to all those that will think of them, though perhaps they may be incomprehensible to such as will not consider them.

            Not only are people not the true causes of the motions produced in their bodies, it seems even a contradiction that they should be so. A true cause is such that the mind perceives a necessary connection between it and its effect. This is what I mean. Now it is only an infinitely perfect being whose mind can perceive a necessary connection between his will and the effects of it. It is only God, then, who is the true cause, and who has really the power of moving bodies. I say, moreover, it is not probable that God would transfer this power he has of moving bodies either to humans or angels. Those who pretend the power we have of moving our arms is a true power, must confess that God could also give to spirits the power of creating, annihilating, and performing all possible things. In a word, this implies that he can make them almighty, as I will further show.

            God has no need of any instrument to act. It is sufficient if he wills a thing for it to be, because it is a contradiction to suppose he wills it, and that it should not be. His power then is his will, and the communicating of his power is a communication of his will. But to communicate his will to a person or an angel, can signify nothing else but willing. Some body, for instance, should be effectively moved when it is willed by a person or an angel. Now in this case I see two wills which concur when an angel would move a body, that of God, and that of the angel. To know which of the two will be the true cause of the motion of this body, we must know which it is that is productive. There is a necessary connection between the will of God, and what he wills. God wills in this case, that a body should move when it is willed by an angel. There is a necessary connection therefore, between the will of God and the motion of this body. Consequently it is God who is the true cause of the motion of the body, and the will of the angel only an occasional one.


God as True Cause, even when Human Will is Present

But to show it yet more clearly, let us suppose that God wills that things should happen quite contrary to what some spirits desire, as we may think of devils, or some other spirits, who merit this punishment. We cannot say in this case that God communicates his power to them, since they can do nothing that they would do. Yet the wills of these spirits would be the natural causes of whatever effects should be produced. As such, bodies should be moved to the right hand, because these spirits would have them moved to the left; and the desire of these spirits would determine the will of God to act, as our wills to move the parts of our bodies, determine the first cause to move them. Accordingly, the wills of spirits are only occasional causes.

            Yet if after all these reasons, we will still maintain, that the will of an angel, which moves any body, should be a true cause, and not an occasional one, it is plain that this same angel might be the true cause of the creation and annihilation of all things. For God could as well communicate to him his power of creating and destroying bodies, as that of moving them, if he willed that things should be created and annihilated. In a word, if he willed, all things would happen as the angel wishes them, even as he wills that bodies should move as the angel pleases. If it is said that an angel or a human would be the true movers, because God moves bodies when they with it, it may also be said, that a human and an angel may be true creators since God can create beings when they will it. No, perhaps it might be said, that the most vile animals, or matter of itself, should be the effective cause of the creation of any substance. This would be so if we supposed, as the philosophers do, that God produces substantial forms whenever the disposition of matter requires it. In short, because God has resolved from all eternity in certain times to create such and such things, we might also say that these times should be the causes of the creation of these beings, as reasonably as to pretend, that a bowl which meets another, is the true cause of the motion it communicates to it. This is because God has determined by his general will, which constituted the order of nature, that when two bodies should meet there should be such and such a communication of motion.

            There is then but one only true God, and he the one only true cause. We must not imagine that that which precedes an effect is the true cause of it. God cannot even communicate his power to the creatures, if we follow the light of reason. He cannot make them true causes, because he cannot make them Gods. Bodies, spirits, pure intelligences, can all do nothing. It is he who has made these spirits that illuminates and acts them. It is he who has created the heavens and the earth, which regulates the motions thereof. In short, it is the author of our being that executes our wills, semel jussit, semper, paret ("once commanded, always obeys"). He even moves our arms when we make use of them against his orders, for he complains by his prophets, that we make him serve our unjust and criminal desires.


Proper Religion teaches one true God, Proper Philosophy teaches One True Cause

All these little heathen divinities, and all these particular causes of the philosophers, are only chimeras that the wicked spirit tries to establish to ruin the worship of the true God. It is not the philosophy they have received from Adam, which teaches these things. It is that which they have received from the serpent, for since the fall the human mind became perfectly heathenish. It is this philosophy which joined to the errors of the senses, has made them adore the sun, and which is still at this day, the universal cause of the irregularity of the mind, and corruption of the heart of humans. By their actions, and sometimes by their words, why do they say that we should love the body, since the body is capable of affording us all pleasures? And why do we laugh at the Israelites, which regretted the loss of the garlic and onions of Egypt since, in effect, they were unhappy by being deprived of what, in some measure, could make them happy? But the new philosophy, which they represent as a dismal thing to frighten weak minds, is despised and condemned without being understood. The new philosophy, I say, since they are pleased to call it so, destroys all the arguments of the libertines, by the establishment of the most chief of its principles, which perfectly agrees with the first principle of the Christian religion, that we must love and fear but one God, since there is only one God who can make us happy.

            For if religion teaches us that there is but one true God, this philosophy shows us there is but one true cause. If religion informs us, that all the divinities of the heathens are only stones and metals without life and motion, this philosophy discovers to us, also, that all second causes, or all the divinities of their philosophy, are only matter and ineffective wills. In short, if religion teaches us that we must not bow our knees to false Gods, this philosophy also tells us that our imaginations and minds ought not to be prostituted to the imaginary greatness and power of causes, which are not true causes. We must neither love nor fear them, nor busy ourselves about them. Instead, we should think upon God only, see him, adore him, fear and love him in all things.

            But this does not agrees with the inclination of some philosophers. They will neither see nor think upon God. For, since the fall, there is a secret opposition between God and humans. People take pleasure in erecting Gods after their own imagination, and they voluntarily love and fear the fictions of their own imagination, as they heathens did the works of their own hands. They are like children who tremble at their companions, after they have daubed their faces. Or if they allow for a more noble comparison (although perhaps it be not so just) they resemble those famous Romans, who had some fear and respect for the fictions of their own minds, and foolishly adored their emperors after they had let loose the eagle when they deified them.


TOTAL DEPENDENCE OF HUMANS ON GOD (From Meditations concerning Humility and Repentance, 1677)


Human Existence Dependent on God Willing one's Continuation

1. Man, in himself, is but a mere nothing. His very being depends absolutely on the will of God. If God should only cease to will his existence, he would at the same time cease to be. For the power that God has to annihilate his creatures does not consist in willing their non-existence, since "nothing" includes no good, and cannot be the object of a positive act of God's will. But he is able to destroy them merely by ceasing to will that they should continue to be; for since the creatures do not contain all goodness, they are not necessarily and indispensably lovely; and God himself includes all that perfection and goodness that is in them. (Note: It is not that God can cease to will what he once did will, since his will is eternal and unchangeable. But he might have willed from all eternity, and by an unchangeable will, that I should exist to this very moment, and no longer.)


All Human Motion Dependent on God

2. Man, in himself, is nothing but weakness and infirmity. He cannot desire good in general, but by virtue of a continual impression from God, who incessantly turns and forces him towards himself. For God is that indefinite and universal good, which comprehends all other good things. Man is also not able by himself, to desire any particular good, but only so far as he is capable of determining the impression which he receives from God.

            Man is utterly unable to do good, but through a new supply of grace, which illuminates him by its light, and attracts him by its sweetness. For by himself he is only able to sin.

            He could not so much as move his hand if God did not communicate to his blood and to the aliment by which he is nourished, a part of that motion which he has spread through the whole mass of matter, and afterwards determine the motion of the spirits according to the different acts of the impotent will of man, guiding them towards the pipes of the nerves which the man himself does not so much as know.

            A man indeed may desire to move his hand, but it is God alone that can, and knows how to move it. For if man did not eat, and if that which he eats were not digested, and agitated in his entrails and heart, to be afterwards turned to blood and spirits without expecting the orders of his will, or if these spirits were not guided by a knowing hand, through a million different tubes, it would be in vain for man, who is ignorant of his own body, to desire to put it into motion.


All Human Perception of Objects Dependent on God

3. Man, in himself, is nothing but darkness. He does not produce in himself those ideas by which he perceives all things, for he is not his own light. Since philosophy teaches me that the objects cannot form in the mind those ideas by which they are represented, it must be acknowledged that it is God alone who enlightens us. He is the great sun which penetrates all things, and fills them with his light, and the great master who instructs every man that comes into the world. All that we see we see in him, and in him we may see all that we are capable of seeing. For since God includes the ideas of likenesses of all beings, and we also are in him -- for in him we live, move, and have our being-- it is certain that we see or may successively see all beings in him. He is that intelligible world in which all spirits are, and in which they perceive the material world, which is neither visible, nor intelligible by itself.


All Human Perception of Physical Pleasure and Pain Dependent on God

            4. Man, by himself, is insensible, and in a manner dead. The body cannot act upon its own soul. A sword indeed may pierce me, and cause some alteration in the fibers of my flesh, but I perceive clearly that it cannot make me suffer pain. A harmonious sound may first shake the air, and then the fibers of my brain, but my soul cannot be shaken by it. My soul is far above my body, neither is there any necessary relation between those two parts of myself. On the other hand, I find that pleasure, pain, and all my other sensations, are produced in me without any dependency upon me, and often even in spite of all my efforts to the contrary. Therefore I cannot doubt but that there is a being different from my soul, which stimulates it with life and sensation, and I know no other power but that of God which is able to act thus upon creatures. It is he then who is the sovereign of the soul, and can only punish or reward it.


MIRACLES AND DIVINE SIMPLICITY (from Treatise on Nature and Grace, 1680)


God Acts through General Natural Laws, only Rarely through Particular Volitions and Miracles (from Treatise on Nature and Grace, 1680)

1.21. There are still some infrequent cases where the general laws of motion need to cease to produce their effect. It is not that God changes or corrects his laws, but that some miracles must happen on particular occasions, by the order of grace, which ought to supersede the order of nature. Besides, it is appropriate that men should know that God is so much the master of nature, that if he submits to his established laws, it is more because he wills it so, rather than because of an absolute necessity. . . .

            1.57. If I thought what I have said was insufficient to convince attentive people that God does not act by particular volitions (like particular causes, and finite understandings) I would proceed to show that there were very few truths that would admit of greater testing, on supposition that God governs the world, and that the nature of the heathen philosophers is nothing. For indeed everything in nature proves this opinion, except miracles. Yet even these would not be miracles, or different from those we call natural effects, if it were true that God acted by particular volitions, since miracles are such only from their not happening by general laws. Therefore miracles suppose these laws, and prove the opinion I have established. But as to ordinary effects, they clearly and directly demonstrate general laws or volitions. If, for instance, a stone is dropped upon the head of passengers, it will continually fall with equal speed, not distinguishing the piety or quality, or good or ill-disposition of those that pass. If we examine any other effect, we may see the same consistency in the action of the cause of it: but no effect proves that God acts by particular volitions, though men commonly think God is constantly working miracles in their favor. In that way they would have God act in conformity with their own [favor], which is indulgent to self-love and centers all things on themselves. It would be very proportionate to their ignorance of the complication of occasional causes, which produce extraordinary effects, naturally falls into men's thoughts, when but newly studied in nature, and not consult with sufficient attention the abstract idea of an infinite wisdom, of a universal cause, and of an infinitely perfect being. . . .

            2.45. Now the laws of nature are always most simple and general. For God acts not by particular volitions unless order requires a miracle. This truth I have sufficiently proved in the first discourse. Thus when a stone falls on the head of a good man, and rids him of his life, it falls in consequence of the laws of motion; and not because that man is just, and God designs to reward him. When a similar accident destroys a sinner, it is not because God will actually punish him: for God, on the contrary, would have all men saved. But he is not to change the simplicity of his laws, to suspend the punishment of a criminal. So likewise when light breaks into our understanding, it is because our desires are the natural or occasional causes of it. It is because we hear some understanding person, and because our brain is disposed to receive the impressions of the speaker: and not that God has a particular will on our behalf, but that he follows the general laws of nature, to which he has obliged himself. I can see nothing mysterious in the distribution of these kinds of graces, and I stand not to draw consequences deducible from these truths. . . .


God's Plan executed through Nature as the Simplest Way

            2.63. If I mistake not, we are obliged to think that God, having a wisdom precious of all the events and consequences of all possible orders, and all their combinations, never works miracles when nature is sufficient, and that therefore he must choose that combination of natural effects, which, as it were, reducing him the expense of miracles, nevertheless most faithfully executes his designs. . . .

            4.9. When the preceding marks are not sufficient for us to judge whether a certain effects is or is not produced by a general will, we are to believe it is, if it is certain that there is an occasional cause established for the like effects. . . .

            For example, if we see it rain to some purpose in a field, we do not examine whether this rain falls or not in the great roads, and we know not whether it is harmful to the surrounding grounds. No, we suppose it only does good, and that all the attending circumstances are perfectly accommodated to the design for which we are obliged to believe that God would have it rain. Nevertheless, I say that we ought to judge that this rain is produced by a general volition, if we know that God has settled an occasional cause for the like effects. For we must not have recourse to miracles without necessity. We ought to suppose that God acts herein by the simplest ways; and though the lord of the field ought to return thanks to God for the bounty, yet he ought not to imagine it was caused in a miraculous manner by a particular volition. The owner of the field ought to thank God for the good he receives, since God saw and willed the good effects of the rain, when he established the general laws whereof it is a necessary consequence, and that it was for the like effects they were established. On the contrary, if the rains are sometimes hurtful to the earth, as it was not to render them unfruitful, that God established the laws which make it rain, since drought suffices to make them barren; it is plain we ought to thank God, and to adore the wisdom of his providence, even when we do not feel the effects of the laws established in our favor.


EVIL AND DIVINE SIMPLICITY (from Dialogues on Metaphysics, 1688)


Evil Inconsistent with Divine Perfection Alone

            9.9. Theodore. - Let us try, Aristes, to understand the most general principles, because then everything else will follow by itself: all will develop in mind with order and with wonderful clarity. Let us look again into the notion of the infinitely perfect being for what can be God's plan. I do not pretend that we can see the detail; but perhaps we recognize what is there more general, and you will see in the following that the little we have discovered will be of great use. So do you think that God would produce the most beautiful work, the most perfect that he can?

            Aristes. - Yes, without doubt; because the more his work is perfect, the more it will express the qualities and perfections which God glorifies. This is evident by what you just said.

            Theodore. - The universe is the most perfect God can make? But how so? There are so many monstrosities, so many disorders, so many ungodly; do all these contribute to the perfection of the universe?

            Aristes. - You trouble me, Theodore. God wills to make the most perfect world he can, because the more perfect it is, the more it is to his honor. This seems obvious to me, although I understand that it would be better accomplished if it was free from a thousand faults which disfigure it. This is a contradiction that stops me short. It seems that God has not fulfilled his plan, or that he did not follow a plan that was the most worthy of its attributes.

            Theodore. – This is because you have not yet understood the principles. You have not reflected enough on the notion of the infinitely perfect Being that contains them. You do not know how God acts according to what it is.


Possible Benefits to Evil

            Theotimus. - But, Aristes, could the point be that the disturbances in nature, the monstrosities, and the wicked are like the shadows in a picture that give strength to the work and dimension to the figures?

            Aristes. - Your idea has something that appeals to the imagination; but the mind is not content with it. I do understand that the universe would be more perfect if there was nothing disordered in any of the component parts; but in almost every part there is some defect.

            Theotimus. - So it is that God does not want his work to be perfect?

            Aristes. - It is not that either, because God cannot will positively and directly any irregularities which disfigure his work, and which do not express any of the perfections he has and in which he takes pride. That seems obvious. God permits disorder, but he does not make it, and he does not will it.

            Theotimus. – You say "God permits". I cannot understand this term very well. To whom does God give permission to freeze the vines and destroy the crops he grew? Why is he permitting someone to put into his work monstrosities that he does not want? What then? Is it that the universe is not as God willed?

            Aristes. – No, because the universe is not as God made it.

            Theotimus. - This may be true with respect to disorders that have fallen into the misuse of free will; because God did not make the wicked, he allowed them to become so. I understand that, although I do not know why. But certainly it is only God who makes monstrosities.

            Aristes. - These monstrosities are strange creatures, if they will not do honor to the one who gives them existence. Do you know, Theotimus, why God, who today covers the countryside throughout with flowers and fruits, then ravages it tomorrow with frost or hail?

            Theotimus. – Because the countryside will be more beautiful in a barren condition than in fertility, although this does not suit us. We often judge the beauty of God's works by use that we receive from it, and we are wrong.

            Aristes. - Still it is better to judge by their usefulness than by their uselessness. What a beautiful thing, a country desolated by a storm!

            Theotimus. – Yes, very beautiful. A country inhabited by sinners should be desolate.

            Aristes. - If the storm spared the land of good people, you might be right. Still it would be more appropriate if the rain refused to fall on the field a brutal man than, instead, for it to sprout and grow their wheat, only to be cut down by hail. This would certainly be the shortest path. But increasingly it is often the less guilty that are the most abused. What apparent contradictions in the conduct of God! Theodore has already given me the principles that remove these contradictions; but I have so misunderstood them that I do not remember them. If you do not want to put me in the right path, Theotimus, because I see that you amuse yourself with me, let Theodore speak.

            Theotimus. - That's reasonable.


Two Divine Principles: Perfection and Simplicity

9.10. Theodore. - You see, Aristes, it is not enough to have a glimpse of the principles, it is necessary to have well understood them so they come to mind when needed. Listen then, since Theotimus does not wish to tell you what he knows perfectly well.

            You are not mistaken to believe that the more a work is perfect, the more it expresses the perfections of the maker. Further, the work does him all the more honor when the perfections it expresses are more appealing to those who possess them. So, God wants to do his work the most that he can. But you have only half of the principle, and this is leaving you in the lurch. God wants his work to honor him; this you understand. But observe also that God does not want his work to dishonor him. This is the other half of the principle. God wants his actions, as well as his work to bear the character of its attributes. He is not satisfied that the universe honors him for its excellence and beauty. He also wants his actions to be glorified by their simplicity, their usefulness, their universality, uniformity, that is, by all characters that express the qualities he glories in possessing.

            So do not imagine that God wanted to make absolutely the most perfect work that he could, but rather the most perfect relative to the most worthy of his ways. . . .


Conclusion: Evil results from a Tradeoff between Perfection and Simplicity

            9.11. Aristes. - I see well your principle, Theodore. God acts only according to what he is, only in a way that bears the character of His attributes, only for the glory he finds in the relation of his work and his ways joined together with the perfections that it has, and which he glories in possessing. This is the greatness of the relation that God considers when forming his designs. For this is the principle: God can act only according to what he is, and he can only will absolutely and directly what is for his glory. If the defects of the universe we inhabit decrease this ratio, then the simplicity, usefulness, wisdom of its ways or laws which God follows would increase it all the more. A world more perfect, but which was produced in less useful and less simple ways, would not have the character of the divine attributes. That is why the world is full of the wicked, of monstrosities, and of disorder in all varieties. God could convert all men and prevent all disorders. But he must not disturb the simplicity and uniformity of his actions, because he must honor the wisdom of his ways, as well as by the perfection his creatures. He does not permit the monstrosities; it is he who makes them. But he does this to prevent changing his conduct, only out of respect for the generality of his ways, and only to accurately follow natural laws he established. He has not however established these because of monstrous effects they have produce, but because the effects are more worthy of his wisdom and goodness. That is why we can say that he permits them, although he is the only one who makes them. It is that he wants them only indirectly, because they are a natural consequence of his laws.


ORDER: THE ONLY MORAL VIRTUE (from A Treatise on Morality, 1684, 1.2)


Without Love of Order, Virtues are merely Mechanical Duties

1. The love of order is not only the chief of all moral virtues, but the only moral virtue. It is the mother virtue, the fundamental, universal virtue, the virtue which alone makes the habits or dispositions of our minds virtuous. He that gives his goods on the poor out of vanity or natural compassion is not liberal, because it is not reason that guides him, nor order that governs him. It is nothing but pride or mechanism. Officers that voluntarily expose themselves to dangers are not brave, if it is ambition that animates them, nor soldiers if it is only the abundance of spirits and the fermentation of the blood. This imaginary noble passion is nothing but vanity or clockwork. A little wine often is sufficient to produce a great deal of it. He that bears the injuries that are offered him many times is neither moderate nor patient. It is his slothfulness that makes him immoveable, or his ridiculous and stoical bravery that bears him up, and in imagination sets him above his enemies. It may be nothing but the disposition of the machine, want of spirits, coldness of blood, melancholy, and perhaps above all some contagious distemper of a strong imagination. The same may be said of all other virtues. If the love of order is not the foundation of them, they are false and vain, and altogether unbecoming of a reasonable nature, which bears the image of God himself, and has a communication with him. They derive their origin from the body only, and are not formed by the Holy Ghost.

            2. I do not know whether I may be mistaken or not, but I believe there are many people that do not rightly know what true virtue is. Even those that have written on morality do not always speak very clearly and exactly about it. It is certain that all those great names that they give to virtues and vices produce confused sensations in the mind rather than clear ideas. . . .

            6. We must not then confuse virtue with duty because of a similarity of names; it is this that deceives people. There are some who imagine they follow virtue when they follow on a natural inclination they have to perform some specific duties. Because they are not guided by reason, they are in truth vicious in excess when they imagine themselves to be champions of virtue. But the greatest part of humanity, being deceived by this confusion of terms and the splendor of names, rely upon and value themselves without reason, and often judge poorly of the most virtuous people. This is because it is impossible that good people can follow the rules of order for a long time without failing according to outward appearances in some essential duty. For, in short, to be prudent, good-natured and charitable in the eyes of the world, a man must sometimes approve of vice, or at least hold his tongue when he hears it approved of. To be liberal, he must be prodigal. If he is not rash, he will hardly be considered valiant. If he is not superstitious or gullible, regardless of how great his piety is, he may possibly pass for a libertine in the opinion of others.


Mere Duties lead to Relativism

7. It is certain that universal reason is always the same. Order is immutable, and yet morality changes according to places and times. It is a virtue among the Germans to drink hard, and a man cannot have a conversation with them if he is not drunk. It is not reason, but wine that unites their societies, settles their agreements, and makes their bargains. It is considered bravery in a gentleman to shed the blood of him that gives him the lie. Dueling was for a long time a lawful action among the French, and as if reason was not worthy to determine their differences, they decided them by force. They preferred the law of brutes or chance before the law of God himself. . . .

            8. But without going to look for damnable customs in the past ages, let anyone, by the light of reason, judge those that are at present kept up among us, or let him only observe the conduct of those very people who are appointed teachers of others. Without doubt, we will often find that every one of them has his particular morality, his own private religion, his favorite virtue. One talks of nothing but penance and mortification, another values only the duties of charity, and a third cries up nothing but meditation and prayer. From where can this diversity arise if human reason is always the same? From this, no doubt, that they cease consulting reason and allow themselves to be guided by imagination, its enemy. Instead of observing immutable order, as their inviolable and natural law, they frame to themselves ideas of virtue that are conformable in at least some ways to their own inclinations. For there are some virtues -- or rather duties -- that have a relation to our tempers or humors. There are shining and glittering virtues proper for fierce and lofty souls; low and humble virtues that are fit for timid and fearful minds; soft and effeminate virtues, if I may call them so, which suit very well with laziness and inactivity.

            9. It is true, they agree that order is the inviolable law of spiritual beings, and that nothing is regular if it is not conformable to it. But they maintain a little too rigidly that they are not capable of consulting this law. Though it is engraved upon the human heart, so that we need only retire to ourselves to be instructed in it, they think, like the earthly and carnal Israelites, that it is as hard to discover it as to climb up to heaven or go down to hell, as the scriptures speaks.


Bodily Distractions make Immutable Order Difficult to Find

10. I must confess that the immutable order is not easy to find. It wells within us, but we are always roving abroad. Our senses unite our soul to all the parts of our body, our imagination and passions extend it to all the objects that surround us, and often carry it into a world that has no more reality than imaginary spaces. This is undeniably so. But then we should try to silence our senses, imagination and passions, and not think that we can be reasonable without consulting reason. But this order by which we ought to be governed is a form too abstracted to serve as a model for earthly spirits. I grant it. Let us then give it a body, let us make it sensible, let us clothe it in several dresses to make it agreeable to carnal men. Let us, if I may so speak, incarnate it, yet so as it may always be known again. Let us accustom men to distinguish true virtue from vice, from seeming virtues, and from simple duties, which a man may often perform without virtue, and not set before them phantoms or idols, which attract their admiration and respect by the sensible splendor and pomp that surrounds them. For in short, if we are not guided by reason, if we are not animated by the love of order, however exact we may be in the performance of our duties, we can never be solidly virtuous.


Questions for Review

1. In 1.2-3 of Malebranche's Search for Truth, what are his two rules of speculative science?

2. In 3b.1.1, what does Malebranche mean by "idea"?

3. In theory 1 of perception, what is the species theory of perception and Malebranche's three criticisms of it?

4. In theory 2 of perception, what is the theory of human souls producing ideas themselves, and what is Malebranche's point about the angel and the stone?

5. In theory 3 of perception, what is the theory of God implanting all ideas within us at birth, and what is Malebranche's argument about the image of the sun?

6. In theory 4 of perception, what is the theory that the human soul naturally contains ideas of everything, and what is the difference between how God and humans see the essences of things?

7. In theory 5 of perception, what are the "two things being supposed" that leads to the view that ideas of created things reside in God which he allows us to see within him?

8. In 3b.6, what are Malebranche's efficiency, sovereignty, abstract idea and principal purpose arguments for his view that we see all things through God?

9. In 6b.3, according to ancient philosophers, what are some of the entities that are supposedly responsible for the causal power that exists between things (and are thereby to some extent divine)?

10. In 6b.3, following the logic of the ancient philosophers, why does it make some kind of sense to worship the sun, leeks, onions or lentils?

11. In the section "God is the True Cause of Physical Motion", why does Malebranche conclude that finite minds cannot causally move things?

12. In the same section, what other types of mental events are caused by God, as suggested by Augustine?

13. In the section "God is Also the True Cause of Human Bodily Motion", as illustrated by his example of throwing down a tower, why are we not the true cause of the movement of our arms?

14. In the same section, who is the true cause of the movement of our arms when we go against God's orders?

15. In the section "Proper Religion teaches one true God", what is the cause of superstitious and Godless belief?

16. In Malebranche's Meditations concerning Humility and Repentance, what are the ways in which humans are dependent on God?

17. In Malebranche's Treatise on Nature and Grace, what is his view of God using miracles to reward or punish people for their conduct?

18. In Malebranche's Dialogues on Metaphysics, how do the two divine principles of perfection and simplicity explain the presence of evil?

19. In Malebranche's Treatise on Morality, what are some examples of relativism that result from people following mere duty?

20. In Malebranche's Treatise on Morality, what must we do to find immutable order and become virtuous?


Questions for Analysis


1. John Locke makes the following criticism of Malebranche's theory of seeing all things in God: "I shall here only take notice how inconceivable it is to me, that a spiritual, i.e. an unextended substance, should represent to the mind an extended figure, v. g. a triangle of unequal sides, or two triangles of different magnitudes. Next, supposing I could conceive an unextended substance to represent a figure, or be the idea of a figure, the difficulty still remains to conceive how it is my soul sees it. Let this substantial being be ever so sure, and the picture ever so clear; yet how we see it, is to me inconceivable. Intimate union, were it as intelligible of two unextended substances as of two bodies, would not yet reach perception, which is something beyond union." (An Examination of P. Malebranche’s Opinion). Explain Locke's criticism and discuss how Malebranche might respond.

2. David Hume makes the following criticism of Malebranche's theory of occasionalism: "Instead of saying that one billiard-ball moves another by a force which it has derived from the author of nature, it is the Deity himself, they say, who, by a particular volition, moves the second ball. . . . They assert that the Deity is the immediate cause of the union between soul and body. . . . They rob nature, and all created beings, of every power, in order to render their dependence on the Deity still more sensible and immediate. They consider not that, by this theory, they diminish, instead of magnifying, the grandeur of those attributes, which they affect so much to celebrate. It argues surely more power in the Deity to delegate a certain degree of power to inferior creatures than to produce everything by his own immediate volition" (Enquiry, Sect. 7). Explain Hume's criticism and discuss how Malebranche might respond.

3. David Hume makes the following criticism of Malebranche's theory of occasionalism: "Though the chain of arguments which conduct to it were ever so logical, there must arise a strong suspicion, if not an absolute assurance, that it has carried us quite beyond the reach of our faculties, when it leads to conclusions so extraordinary, and so remote from common life and experience. We are got into fairy land, long ere we have reached the last steps of our theory; and there we have no reason to trust our common methods of argument, or to think that our usual analogies and probabilities have any authority" (Enquiry, Sect. 7). Explain Hume's criticism and discuss how Malebranche might respond.

4. David Hume makes the following criticism of Malebranche of occasionalism: "We are ignorant, it is true, of the manner in which bodies operate on each other: Their force or energy is entirely incomprehensible: But are we not equally ignorant of the manner or force by which a mind, even the supreme mind, operates either on itself or on body? Whence, I beseech you, do we acquire any idea of it? We have no sentiment or consciousness of this power in ourselves. We have no idea of the Supreme Being but what we learn from reflection on our own faculties. Were our ignorance, therefore, a good reason for rejecting anything, we should be led into that principle of denying all energy in the Supreme Being as much as in the grossest matter" (Enquiry, Sect. 7). Explain Hume's criticism and discuss how Malebranche might respond.

5. Thomas Reid makes the following criticism of Malebranche of seeing all things through God: "It is obvious, that the system of Malebranche leaves no evidence of the existence of a material world from what we perceive by our senses; for the Divine ideas, which are the objects immediately perceived, were the same before the world was created. Malebranche was too acute not to discern this consequence of his system, and too candid not to acknowledge it: he fairly owns it, and endeavors to make advantage of it, resting the complete evidence we have of the existence of matter upon the authority of revelation. . . . He thinks, therefore, that the only compelling evidence we have of the existence of the material world is, that we are assured by revelation that 'God created the heavens and the earth,' and that 'the Word was made flesh'" (Essays on the Intellectual Powers, 2.1.7). Explain Reid's criticism and how Malebranche might respond.

6. Consider the following interpretation of Malebranche by John Stuart Mill: "having first said that matter can not have the power of moving itself, he proceeds to argue that neither can [finite] mind have the power of moving it. . . . Thus the idea of Mind is according to him as incompatible as the idea of Matter with the exercise of active force. But when, he continues, we consider not a created but a Divine Mind, the case is altered; for the idea of a Divine Mind includes omnipotence; and the idea of omnipotence does contain the idea of being able to move bodies. Thus it is the nature of omnipotence which renders the motion of bodies even by the Divine Mind credible or conceivable, while, so far as depended on the mere nature of mind, it would have been inconceivable and incredible. If Malebranche had not believed in an omnipotent Being, he would have held all action of mind on body to be a demonstrated impossibility" (System of Logic, 1843, 3.5.note). That is, God cannot move bodies through the normal act of mind, but does so only through his ultimate power. Explain Malebranche's position and whether Mill's interpretation of Malebranche correct.

7. Does Malebranche's occasionalism involve a continual divine miracle? Occasionalists say no, but in the following Leibniz says yes: "Let us see whether the system of occasional causes does not in reality suppose a perpetual miracle. They say here, no, because God would act according to this system [of occasionalism] only through general laws. I agree, but, in my opinion, that is not sufficient to remove the miracles. For, if God did it continually, they would not cease to be miracles, taking this word not popularly, as a thing rare and wonderful, but philosophically, as that which exceeds the forces of created beings. It is not sufficient to say that God has made a general law, for, besides the decree, there must also be a natural means of executing it. That is, what takes place must be capable of being explained by the nature which God gives to things. The laws of nature are not so arbitrary or so indifferent as many think." (Leibniz to Basnage de Beauval, 1698). Explain the two sides and weigh in on the issue.

8. Compare and contrast Spinoza's and Malebranche's views of miracles and discuss who has the better argument.

9. Evaluate Malebranche's solution to the problem of evil in his Dialogues on Metaphysics.