Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Thomas M. Lennon


My dissertation is motivated by the apparent inconsistency between occasionalism, the view that God is the only real cause, and human freedom in the system of the 17th century French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche. Malebranche was aware of the tension in his view, and proposed that there were two realms in the world - the physical where God alone is a causal agent, and the moral where human freedom is situated. Most commentators on Malebranche's work have noted the obvious problem and deemed his philosophical system a failure. I show, to the contrary, that Malebranche's occasionalism and his commitment to human freedom can, in fact, be maintained. To see this one needs to focus on Malebranche's “volitional intentionality” - his view that volitions always have as their object either a particular thing in the physical realm or God while simultaneously being motivated by the pleasure that the perceived object is thought to produce. The perception consists of an idea, and we are driven by pleasure at the sight of an object. Volitions are thus intentional because they are directed towards the pleasurably perceived object.

My analysis of Malebranche's volitional intentionality sheds light on his polemic with François Lamy, who thought that Malebranche's writing indicated a sympathy with Quietism - the doctrine of love held by a group of religious mystics whose central tenet was that to be pure, love must be utterly disinterested. By focusing on volitional intentionality, one can diagnose Lamy's mistake in treating Malebranche's system as sympathetic to Quietism.

In the final section I argue that Malebranche's volitional intentionality influenced John Locke. A close reading of Locke's chapter 'Of Power' in the various editions of his


Essay Concerning Human Understanding reveals that Locke held that the necessary conditions for volition were perception and pleasure. With this new perspective, I solve several interpretative problems in Locke's view - whether his view is one of intellectualism, where error and sin result from ignorance and not a depraved will (I answer yes), whether his view supports undetermined volitions (I answer no), and whether his view of human freedom is consistent from the first edition of his Essay through four subsequent editions (I answer yes).



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