Jan 25, 2018 in Book Review

Dialogues on Metaphysics by Nicolas Malebranche

The book Dialogues on Metaphysics by Nicolas Malebranche was first published in 1688, immediately became popular, and as a result, was translated into English and several other foreign languages. At that period, Malebranche was the most popular metaphysician in the Europe. The theory he provided was discussed all around and often provoked harsh debates. In his work, Nikolas Malebranche presents his ideas as a statement and tries to avoid discussion. Nevertheless, he stresses that the main tool is our mind. No matter, what is going around, the understanding depends on our perception and senses and influence our body.

The truth is what we see or this is rather what we feel: the inner confidence of here being?

In addition, everyone influences the truth and the influence is often connected to the truth as a reason. According to Nicolas Malebranche, universal reason is an inner truth - the voice of reason – that is in charge, dictating what I say to you and what you are willing to learn through me (Malebranche, 1997). Nevertheless, everyone has its own truth, according to the perception of the world. Only one thing is common for everyone: the only way to learn the truth means to experience it. In this process, clever minds are as closed to the truth as stupid minds are, the only difference being that ordinarily the stupid mind respects the truth whereas the clever mind regards it as of no account (Malebranche, 1997).

As the result arises, question whether truth and reality are supplementing each other or one of them does not correspond to another. If they supplement each other, there is no difference whether it is light or darkness outside. According to the book Dialogues on Metaphysics, in the first dialog Theodore mentioned that darkness affects our senses as well as light (Malebranche, 1997). If this is the truth, there is no need to claim that there is cold and warm. Nothing of this exists, until we believe in their existence.

For this reason, what is an ability to think; the claim I am or the process of thinking?

If to approach this statement from the perspective of the state I am, than am I a thing that is an absolute thinker and lost between the triangle of a body, a mind and a man. Body cannot think by itself, as a man cannot live without mind. So, who am I are my decisions, wishes, desires, disappointments, wins and losses and since they are certainly mine, it follows that this I that thinks, my very substance, is not a body (Malebranche, 1997).

In this case, it is good to understand that there is a difference between to be and being. The first one considers the state, which often requires attention the one who is speaking and the antagonist. Even if there is nobody around, that does not mean that, you are alone. In such moments we can be involved in even sincere conversations, rather if we spoke to a friend of our, so my mind - what thinks, wills, and reasons in me—is not material or corporeal (Malebranche, 1997). At some point of development the state of to be can dramatically change into the process of being and often is compared to reality. The process of the being in closely connected to the body. Malebranche mentions in his book, that it seems to me that what feels the pain of a jab is my finger, what desires is my heart, what reasons is my brain (Malebranche, 1997). This feeling is closely connected to the inner sense.

The shape can change a little bat but the idea stays the same

Moreover, the development has a shape of spiral circle. Such structure helps to trace the stages of development. If there is a dramatically fast growth, there will be a fast collapse. However, roundness is not a being or substance but a state (Malebranche, 1997). Until decisions are not made, everything is possible. However, every decision we have done, influences our now. In the line of the cause and consequences, we are often moving on the same circles making the same conclusions, forgetting that there is nothing similar with the previous situation and with people, we have met before. All we need to understand and accept that all the different ways of being extended - consist in spatial relations (Malebranche, 1997).

However, if we see one thing, this does not mean, that we see it in the same way. The same is with the wishes. They are determined within time, but still reflect our being and are sort of identification of our ego. To add, the process of wish reminds the circle: attention takes you to it, makes it present to you, and even shapes it (Malebranche, 1997). In the process of processing the desires, we involve thoughts. This ability is based on the previous experiences, background knowledge and imagination. If the process was not successful we try to make remake of the process. However, the worst thing in this is that we lost energy and, at some point, believe in the reality. Moreover, actually, the main thing is to understand on which stage mistake was made. If so, the main problem lies in the inability to be attentive enough, to oneself mind and body. As soon as something goes wrong, they send signals.

Our task is to learn, how to recognize them and, not less important, how to cope with them

In order to clarify his idea Malebranche speaks about reflection, as a tool. He emphasis that it has one of the leading role in the understanding of the simple processes of the human body and mind correlation. In addition, he  explains to the opponent what he means. Resistance is often not, what we see. On the other hand, this is something we cannot touch and feel. The visible factors are factual, while reasons lie behind unconscious consciousness. That is why he tries to figure out whether idea is the factor or unconscious consciousness resistance of reality. As a result, it goes further, out of the mind and influences the indeterminate space. The idea in this space is ultimately circle shaped and very sensible at the same time. Again, shape and meaning are influencing each other, though are determined by time and within the time. In support of this, Malebranche in his book mentioned the following: The idea of an infinite extension must necessarily have a great deal of reality, because you cannot take all of it in: whatever movement you give your mind, you cannot take your thought right through it (Malebranche, 1997).

However, the mind can often play a cruel game with us

Aristes stress in this case on the inability of the infinite mind to finite mind to see anything that is infinite (Malebranche, 1997). In my opinion, this means that our mind can be multifunctional, but the achieved results will not satisfy our being. If try to concentrate on few thing achievements will be magnificent. In such situation, there is no end, because we did not determine the end from the beginning. So, the idea becomes the material extension.    

From the perspective of the materials we have studied during the course, this book reflects the main key points of the study. It can be considerate as a tool for those who make first steps for “Introduction to Philosophy”.  It includes simply explained basis of epistemology theory of knowledge. For those who are interested in the subject and want to go deeper into it, it suits as well. The dialogs have such structure that you can easily come back to the question you are interested in.

As a fact, there are passages, when the author tries to talk about philosophy and religion. Such kinds of dialogues are provided as statements, in order not to confuse the reader, but give the confidence that everything difficult has simplicity into it. This simplicity is easier to follow and to implement. Moreover, if simple things have connections they are valuable for the self-understanding.

Despite the fact that this book was first published in 1688, it is relevant for the future

However, there is one important thing: the reader should choose it on own will. For some readers it can be a source of inspiration for further improvements or even changes and rethinking of live values. Nevertheless, in the wide range of the literature provided today, this masterpiece could easily be lost. There are few reasons for this. One of them is that, about this work know only those, who dedicated their lives to philosophy and it studies. The second is that, almost all nowadays so cold philosophical literature gained ideas from the past. As the result, it is hard to trace where there is a truth or where there is a lie.

Another advantage of this book is that the author had experienced all the sayings and believes on himself. However, if to say about those who are reading books for self-developing, their main aim will be to find and understand the key points, while people interested in the theory will try to get deeper and to gain more from the reading. However, this is not the reason to claim, that if the carpenter will be interested in the subject he should not make a research. On the other hand, it is hard to find such person, because the study of such kind of works demands the basic knowledge in the subject itself. As a result, it can have readers from different social origin.


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