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Project topic for Philosophy department



1.1       Background to the Study

The idea and the Question about the nature of causal effect occupy a central position in most philosophical dispensations. The prominence of this topic in seventeenth and eighteenth-century thought can, in large measure, be traced to a specific historical problem: the need to reconcile an emerging scientific view of the natural world - mechanistic physics - with traditional beliefs about the relations between God and his creation. Occasionalism is neither a recent concept in philosophical thought; however it was reawakened in the seventeenth century as a response to the problem of mind-body interaction. Philosophers have long sought to know the relations that exist between the mind and the body, the body and body etc.

Consequently, the interactions that occur between the mind and bodies have been the major concern of causal philosophies. Prepositions such as Cartesian as well as Augustinian Occassionalism all arose in a bid to tender explanations for this profound question. A combination of Cartesian method and Augustinian ideologies was to become the foundation of Malebranche's occasionalism. Like the Oratorian Fathers who taught him, Malebranche saw no contradiction between questions of theology and science. The method was elucidated upon by Malebranche in his doctrine of Occasionalism. To the philosopher it is essentially a doctrine of causality, maintaining that all created objects, including humans, are causally impotent, and merely provide the "occasions" for God, the only true cause, to act. Such a doctrine immediately raises important philosophical questions, particularly as to the role played by humans within an Occassionalist Universe.

  • Statement of the Problem

In order to fully comprehend the mechanics of this universe and its everyday functioning, scholars have offered different ideas as to why various activities occur in the universe. They have tendered reasons why certain effects are occasioned by certain actions and what or who is responsible or causes these things to occur in the universe. Malebranche has offered reasons to support his assertions as to how a cause is related to an effect. With reference to Malebranche’s Causation theory of Occassionalism, numerous scholars are in confusion as regards explaining cause and effect given its claim that natural substances lack any causal efficacy. They are skeptical as to how Occassionalism can be compatible with human free-will. However, the research attempts to know why scholars were confused with Nicholas’s theory of Occassionalism and how successful the theory stands. If humans are causally ineffective, then they cannot be considered the cause of their actions or even choices. They are reduced to puppets, and puppets have no freedom if everything they do is caused by a higher authority.

But the doctrine is not only of interest to the philosopher, for it raises questions important to the theologian as well. If we are not free to cause our actions, then we cannot be held morally responsible for them. And without this freedom there is no question of moral reprehensibility.

  • Aim and Objectives of the Study

The study is aimed atappraising Nicholas Malebranche’s notion of Occassionalism. The study objectives include the following:

  • To investigate the notion of occassionalism
  • To know the basis of Malebranche’s concept of Occassionalism
  • To analyze the existing criticisms against Malebranche’s occassionalism.
  • And to expose the weakness and strength of the his understanding of occasssionalism

1.4       Methodology

  • This study is a qualitative research design. The study adopts Historical and evaluative methods. The Historical method traced the notion or concept of Occassionalism from ancient times to the time of Malebranche. Evaluative method helped in highlighting the strength and weakness of Nicholas Malebranche’s theory of Occassionalism. Data used in this research were sourced from books, journal articles, encyclopedias and the internet.
  • Scope of the Study
  • This research/study is limited intellectually to Nicholas Malebranche’s notion of Occassionalism. The study does not cover all of Malebranche’s philosophy but, is selective of his ideas relating to Occassionalism. Of immediate importance is Malebranche’s Vision of God, his conception of morality and causation.

1.6       Significance of the Study

The significance of the theory of causation as a philosophical tool in analyzing the relations between cause and effect is noteworthy in many ways. This is because, theologically, the findings would be useful in understanding the role of free will in human actions, and also who bears the responsibility for evil in the universe, legally, it would aid the social control mechanism in determining why criminals commit crime, and who bears criminal responsibility in particular cases.

Claims by causal philosophers are directly relevant to the focus of this research because of the centrality of Causation to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. In particular, Descartes’ method of conceiving the world as constituted by its instantaneous state, reducing forces to the tendencies to move possessed by bodies at each instant, is arguably one of the crucial moments in the establishment of modern physics, this is because, in its further development in the hands of scientists such as Newton and Leibniz it paved the way for the concept of instantaneous velocity and the creation of the calculus (Arthur: 2).

The idea that these moments are discrete time atoms, moreover, and not point-like modalities in the continuum, is of great topical relevance: time atomism is very much alive issue in the context of modern theories of Quantum Gravity, and has been suggested both in the context of the String Theoretic and Loop Quantum Gravity approaches, (2).The knowledge of the causal relations that exists between an object and its effects can serve as a useful tool for theologians, political leaders, policy makers, the populace, religious leaders, and international organizations that are committed to promoting good relations amongst persons in the country.

1.7       Clarification of Terms


Causality: this term has been defined by Francisco Suárez as a principle pouring being into something else. God creates concrete objects with causal powers, the power to cause behavior of certain kinds (www.wikipedea/causality.ed).

Occassionalism: This is a principle which state that, causal power is divine causal power. God causes every change that occurs. Malebranche holds that “all there is of being in the world, all there is that’s good, that’s true, that’s existent, all has its cause in the will of God, doesn’t exist except because God wills it.” So there is nothing but God that is a genuine cause (450). 

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