“Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) was a Parisian who rejected Scholasticism after attending the Sorbonne. He was ordained an Augustinian priest in 1664; reputedly in the same year, he discovered the posthumously published book by Descartes entitled Traité de l’Homme (Treatise on Man). This contribution tackles physiology. Malebranche subsequently attempted to synthesise St. Augustine and Descartes; he was also known for his occasionalism, a doctrine meaning that God is the only real cause. Malebranche composed the widely read work Recherche de la vérité or The Search after Truth, appearing in 1674/5 (Lennon and Olscamp 1997). See further Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

As a consequence of Recherche, Malebranche “quickly became the most influential Cartesian philosopher, and indeed before Locke the most influential philosopher of any kind in his era, eclipsing even Descartes” (Gaukroger 1995:476). Malebranche was the channel by means of which many later philosophers assimilated Descartes. During the eighteenth century, there evolved a theme of Descartes as the founder of modern philosophy, although not without disagreements and distortions.

Meanwhile, there were critiques of Cartesian philosophy, including those expressed by the panpsychist Spinoza, the materialist Thomas Hobbes, the polymathic rationalist Leibniz, and the “commonsense empiricist” John Locke. In his Ethics, Spinoza rejected the theory of Descartes concerning the pineal gland. The heretical Jew also radically altered the Cartesian perspective on substance, applying a “pantheist” context decoding to a substantial distance between himself and others like Malebranche.

A very hostile critique came from the Roman Catholic camp associated with the Jesuits, who attacked the developing Cartesianism during the 1660s. The Cartesians countered with both satirical and learned writings. In 1662, Catholics at Louvain expressed a condemnation, which may have been instigated by Jesuits. This event is thought to have resulted in the censorship of Descartes at Rome the following year.”

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