Malebranche, Nicolas de

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Malebranche, Nicolas de


Born Aug. 6, 1638, in Paris; died there Oct. 13, 1715. French idealist philosopher; the principal representative of occasionalism (along with A. Geulincx).

In 1664, Malebranche was ordained as a priest. Having read Descartes’s Treatise on Man, Malebranche became interested in philosophy. He strove to combine Cartesian philosophy with the Augustinian tradition of Christian philosophy. His main work was On the Search for Truth (1674-75; Russian translation, vols. 1-2, 1903-06).

Assuming an absolute demarcation between extended matter and thinking spirit, Malebranche believed that these two substances cannot on their own interact because of the difference of their natures. Such interaction takes place in each case only by the intervention of divine will. Malebranche distinguished four paths to knowledge corresponding to its objects: (1) by means of the very things themselves (knowledge of the existence of god), (2) by way of ideas of things (knowledge of material bodies), (3) through inner feeling (knowledge of one’s own soul), and (4) by analogy (knowledge of the souls of other people and of pure spirits). Man can have a clear and distinct knowledge only of material bodies; here alone can one apply Descartes’s rules of method. Man’s knowledge of his own soul, of the souls of other people, and of god is vague and uncertain; this is the domain of faith and not of reason. In his understanding of the nature of ideas, Malebranche was close to Platonism. In contemplating ideas, man sees them in god. In contrast to Spinoza, Malebranche held that the world exists in god and not god in the world.

The contradictions of Malebranche’s philosophy drew criticism from various viewpoints. J. B. Bossuet and F. Fénelon reproached Malebranche for departing from orthodox Christianity. Thus Malebranche’s works were, like Descartes’s, placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. Malebranche’s idealism was criticized by sensualists and materialists, such as J. Locke and the French Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century. His teaching was subjected to criticism from the standpoint of orthodox Cartesian philosophy by H. Arnaud.


Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1-20. Paris, 1958-68.
In Russian translation:
“Beseda khristianskogo filosofa s filosofom kitaiskim.” Pravoslavnyi sobesednik. Kazan, 1914.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 141.
Ershov, M. N. Problema bogopoznaniia v filosofii Mal’bransha. Kazan, 1914.
Ollé-Laprune, L. La Philosophic de Malebranche, vols. 1-2. Paris, 1870.
Etudes sur Malebranche. Paris, 1938.
Ducassé, P. Malebranche: Sa vie, son oeuvre, 2nd ed. Paris, 1947.
Guéroult, M. Malebranche. vols. 1-3. Paris, 1955-59.
Rodis-Lewis, G. N. Malebranche. Paris, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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