- Occasionalism: From Metaphysics to Science ed. by Matteo Favaretti Camposampiero, Mariangela Priarolo, and Emanuela Scribano
This volume consists of papers originally presented at the international conference "Occasionalism: History and Problems," held in Venice in 2015; it contains twelve chapters, nine of which are in English, three in French. In their introduction, the editors describe occasionalism as a theory that was viewed by Medieval Christian philosophers as a "dangerous and treacherous" threat (7), only later to be "proudly asserted" in the post-Descartes era (9). This raises the question of to what degree this transition should be seen as a result of interpretations of the commitments of Cartesian metaphysics, particularly with regard to questions concerning mind-body interaction. Many scholars have pointed out that to view the acceptance of occasionalism as an ad hoc solution to explain interaction between an immaterial soul and a physically extended body ignores the numerous philosophers who adopted occasionalism to cover other varieties—and in some cases, all varieties—of interaction in a world consisting only of minds and bodies. As the editors observe, "occasionalism now appears less and less a cheap solution to the mind-problem and more and more a family of theories on causality, which share the fundamental claim that God is the only real causal agent" (12).
This said, one cannot entirely separate the increased acceptance of occasionalism in the early modern period from ties to Cartesian philosophy, including issues that arise from substance dualism. (On this point, see the chapter of the present volume by Sandrine Roux.) If the rise in popularity of occasionalism is not tied to Cartesian metaphysics, there is the question of just why there was such a proliferation of occasionalists in the years after Descartes's death. Indeed, this collection seeks to address this two-fold question: what reasons did early modern philosophers have for embracing occasionalism (to the varying degrees that they did), and what was going on at the time philosophically/historically that led many to adopt the theory then? As it is not uncommon for volumes consisting of conference contributions to address its theme to varying degrees, I will highlight some of the chapters that more closely relate to the editors explicitly stated goal for the collection.
Tad Schmaltz, Sukjae Lee, and Andrea Sangiacomo each examine the relation between divine conservation, specifically when it is understood as a matter of continuous creation, and occasionalism. The question is whether the former entails the latter, for if continuous creation is really a matter of continuous re-creation, it could be argued that God, in recreating bodies in their locations and minds with their thoughts at each consecutive instant, must be posited as the only true cause at work in the world. Did any early modern occasionalists accept occasionalism because they saw it as following from continuous creation? Schmaltz answers in the negative with regard to both Malebranche and La Forge. Lee claims that while Malebranche takes continuous creation as a matter of divine maintenance rather than a literal recreation, even so understood, the doctrine does play a part in his occasionalism. Sangiacomo makes the argument that in addition to the three traditional positions regarding any putative human causal contributions to effects in the world—namely, occasionalism at one extreme, mere conservation at the other, and concurrentism somewhere in the middle—there is a fourth option offered by Pierre-Sylvain Régis, one that at once denies (against the Thomists) that secondary causes are per se causes and (against the occasionalists) that only per se causes can be true causes.
Contributions by Mariangela Priarolo and Nicholas Jolley highlight the changing understanding of the concept of "law" in the early modern period and the role that this [End Page 404] new conception played in Malebranche's formulation of occasionalism. According to Priarolo, Malebranche takes laws to be both rules for the behavior of bodies (Descartes) and instruments of God's providence (Aquinas), while Jolley leaves it as an open question as to whether...