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Notes and Discussions Malebranche and Occasionalism: A Reply to Steven Nadler Steven Nadler has argued, in "Occasionalism and General Will in Malebranche, ''~ that many commentators have misunderstood Malebranche's occasionalism, especially the way in which it differs from Leibniz's preestablished harmony, and that in this respect I have fallen "into the same trap as Arnauld, Jolley, and McCracken" (4t). I am honored to share any position with the great Arnauld and would almost prefer to rest mutely in that esteemed condition rather than make any effort to renounce his intellectual fellowship. However, two comments might help to clarify the state of discussion in respect of Malebranche and occasionalism, and to explain why commentators continue to share Arnauld's apparent misunderstanding. The first concerns whether commentators "misunderstand" Malebranche or disagree with him; the second , whether Malebranche can coherently make the theological distinctions which Nadler needs in order to distinguish his position sufficiently from that of Leibniz. Evidently, it is irrelevant for the history of philosophy who is "right" or "wrong" about the interpretation of a particular text; but it seems important that, in claiming to clarify what some texts mean, we not attribute to them an interpretation which is gratuitously incoherent. 1, The first comment is about some of the features involved in disagreement about what texts mean, and how commentators might understand their role. One might expect that the primary role of the commentator is to repeat accurately what the original authors said or, at least, not to attribute to them views which they explicitly reject. Those who are as familiar as Nadler is with the amount of quotation, including selfquotation , involved in Arnauld's dispute about Malebranche's theory of ideas understand that the main problem is not in reporting verbatim what someone said, but in testing our understanding of it when we put it into our own words. When we translate someone else's ideas into our sentences, it often provokes the reply: "That's not what I said or meant... " (if the original author is still alive, and is interested in correcting our commentary). This in turn tends to stimulate a further effort on the part of the 'Journal of theHistoryofPhilosophy31 (1993): 31-47. Subsequent page references to this article are given in parentheses. [499] 500 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:3 JULY ~995 commentator to put the point in a different way. The commentator and original author often find intractable difficulties in agreeing on what was said in the work which is subject to commentary. Otherwise, how could we understand the complexity of the Jansenist dispute about what was, or was not, included in Auguainus? Even such a lengthy book was short enough to be checked line by line to decide unambiguously whether it contained the allegedly heretical words which were attributed to its author. The problem was not in finding particular marks on a page, but in accepting or rejecting alternative readings of the same words. However, that is only the first source of problems. If we think we understand some author and also disagree with what they said, we are likely to express our disagreement by identifying their position with some other author with whom, we anticipate, they do not agree. We might say: "Your position is the same as the Pelagians," or some other appropriate (and relevantly provocative) claim about the equivalence of two theories. This is likely to get the reply: "I certainly do not endorse the Pelagian (or generally: the x-ian) view." How is the commentator supposed to react to these replies? It concedes too privileged a position to authors--as commentators on the meaning or implications of their own text--if we have to say: "They say they do not agree with x and that's the end of it"; or, in response to the first type of reply: "They say that is not what they meant, and they ought to know." That is why we still find commentators saying that Mill, despite what he says about himself, is not a genuine utilitarian; that Newton, despite his famous hypotheses non fingo, did in fact construct and use many hypotheses; or that Descartes, despite his explicit statements...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 499-504
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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