Occasionalism Now!

Being the kind of person who, rather than using my own mind, prefers to follow authority, I thought it was time to revisit the great seventeenth-century philosopher and Oratorian Nicolas Malebranche’s list of eleven reasons why we prefer to follow authority, rather than to use our own minds:

First, the natural laziness of men, who do not want to take the trouble to meditate.Second, the lack of a capacity for meditating, into which we have fallen for lack of application to it during youth, when the fibres of the brain were capable of all kinds of inflections.

Third, our lack of love for abstract truths, which are the foundation of everything we can know in this lower world.

Fourth, the satisfaction one receives from the knowledge of probabilities, which are very agreeable and very moving, because they are founded upon sensible notions.

Fifth, the stupid vanity that makes us hope to be esteemed as scholars, for we call scholars those who have read the most.

Sixth, because we imagine without reason that the ancients were more enlightened than we can be, and that there is nothing to do at which they have not already succeeded.

Seventh, becuase a false respect mixed with a stupid curiosity makes us admire those things farthest removed from us, the oldest things, those from the farthest or most unknown countries, and even the most obscure books.

Eighth, when we esteem a new opinion, or a contemporary author, it seems their glory effaces our own because we are too near to it; but we have no comparable fear of the honour rendered to the ancients.

Ninth, truth and novelty cannot be found together in things of the faith. Because men do not wish to make the distinction between truths that depend upon reason and those that depend upon tradition, they do not consider that one should learn them in completely different ways. They confused novelty with error and antiquity with truth.

Ten, we are in an age when the knowledge of ancient opinions is still in vogue, and hardly anyone who uses his mind can be placed above evil customs by the strength of his reason.

Eleven, because men act only for interest, and this is what causes even those who have disabused themselves and recognise the vanity of such studies nevertheless to continue applying themselves to them; because honours, dignities, and even benefices are attached to them, and those who excel in such studies always have more of these than those who are unaware of them.

Lightly adapted and abridged from Nicolas Malebranche, The Search after Truth, translated by Thomas M. Lennon and Paul J. Olscamp, Ohio State University Press, 1980, pp.138-9.

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