Ideas and Self‐Knowledge
Malebranche is sometimes classified as a Cartesian, but on the issue of self‐knowledge he departs radically from Descartes; Malebranche completely rejects the thesis that the mind is better known than the body. On this issue at least, he belongs, not with Descartes or the other ‘rationalists’, but with the ‘empiricists’ Gassendi, Locke, and perhaps even Hume. Not surprisingly, Malebranche's position on self‐knowledge was subjected to vehement criticism from a Cartesian standpoint; in On True and False Ideas, Arnauld singled out Malebranche's denial that we have an idea of our mind as one of the main targets of his polemic. Among other criticisms, Arnauld argued cogently that, on Malebranche's view, it is difficult to see how we can have knowledge of such vital truths about the mind as its freedom and immortality, yet Arnauld failed to come to grips with Malebranche's central claims. Arguably, Malebranche had more insight into the weaknesses of Descartes's philosophy of mind and for this reason alone Malebranche's discussion of self‐knowledge is an important contribution to the subject.
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