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(2009) Topics in early modern philosophy of mind, Dordrecht, Springer.

Sensation in a Malebranchean mind

Alison Simmons

pp. 105-129

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.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-2381-0_5

Full citation:

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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