Sensation in a Malebranchean mind
My topic is Malebranche's theory of mind and, as my title suggests, the place of sensation within it. My aim, however, is not simply to recount a long forgotten, and rather weird, account of the human mind. My aim is to explore the roles that intentionality and consciousness play in conceptions of the mind, and Malebranche provides a particularly nice case study. That is in part because his theory of mind as a whole is so strange from our point of view. (We see all things in God?!?) In thinking through such a theory, nothing can be taken for granted, and that helps to raise questions about the mind that often go unasked. It is also a good case study because recent commentators have made a rather striking claim about Malebranche's place in the history of theorizing about the mind: Malebranche, they claim, was the first (and perhaps only) philosopher in the early modern period to break decisively with the view that intentionality is a mark of the mental.1 A striking claim, if true. I think it is untrue. To see why requires turning over a number of rocks that, I hope, reveal what is strikingly novel, and thought-provoking, about Malebranche's unusual account of the mind.Why highlight sensation? In defending the claim that Malebranche rejects intentionality as a mark of the mental, commentators point to his treatment of sensation. Malebranche, they claim, draws a sharp distinction between sensation and perception: sensation is a decidedly non-intentional mental state (a mere sensation, if you will) while perception is an intentional mental state.2 I think this is wrong as a reading of Malebranche's account of sensation, and, more generally, wrong as a reading of the place of intentionality in his theory of mind. Malebranche is not interested in denying that intentionality is a mark of the mental. He is out to change our understanding of the nature of intentionality. I'm not the first to point out that Malebranche has a different conception of intentionality from many of his contemporaries,3 but I think that commentators have not fully appreciated its consequences for the nature of Malebranchean sensation, or, consequently, for the scope of intentionality in the Malebranchean mind.
Simmons, A. (2009)., Sensation in a Malebranchean mind, in J. Miller (ed.), Topics in early modern philosophy of mind, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 105-129.
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