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Open Access Malebranche’s Neoplatonic Semantic Theory1

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Malebranche’s Neoplatonic Semantic Theory1

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AbstractThis paper argues that Malebranche’s semantics sheds light on his metaphysics and epistemology, and is of interest in its own right. By recasting issues linguistically, it shows that Malebranche assumes a Neoplatonic semantic structure within Descartes’ dualism and Augustine’s theory of illumination, and employs linguistic devices from the Neoplatonic tradition. Viewed semantically, mental states of illumination stand to God and his ideas as predicates stand in Neoplatonic semantics to ideas ordered by a privative relation on “being.” The framework sheds light on interpretive puzzles in Malebranche studies such as the way ideas reside in God’s mind, the notion of resemblance by which bodies imitate their exemplar causes, and the issue of direct vs. indirect perception through a mechanism by which agents can see bodies by “seeing” ideas. Malebranche’s semantics is of interest in its own right because it gives a full (if implausible) account of the mediating relations that determine indirect reference; lays out a correspondence theory of truth for necessary judgments; defines contingent truth as based on an indirect reference relation that is both descriptive and causal but that does not appeal to body-mind causation; and within his theory of perception, works out an account of singular reference in which singular terms carry existential import, refer indirectly via causal relations, but describe their referents only in a general way.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University of Cincinnatijohn.martin@uc.edu

AbstractThis paper argues that Malebranche’s semantics sheds light on his metaphysics and epistemology, and is of interest in its own right. By recasting issues linguistically, it shows that Malebranche assumes a Neoplatonic semantic structure within Descartes’ dualism and Augustine’s theory of illumination, and employs linguistic devices from the Neoplatonic tradition. Viewed semantically, mental states of illumination stand to God and his ideas as predicates stand in Neoplatonic semantics to ideas ordered by a privative relation on “being.” The framework sheds light on interpretive puzzles in Malebranche studies such as the way ideas reside in God’s mind, the notion of resemblance by which bodies imitate their exemplar causes, and the issue of direct vs. indirect perception through a mechanism by which agents can see bodies by “seeing” ideas. Malebranche’s semantics is of interest in its own right because it gives a full (if implausible) account of the mediating relations that determine indirect reference; lays out a correspondence theory of truth for necessary judgments; defines contingent truth as based on an indirect reference relation that is both descriptive and causal but that does not appeal to body-mind causation; and within his theory of perception, works out an account of singular reference in which singular terms carry existential import, refer indirectly via causal relations, but describe their referents only in a general way.

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2014-02-10
2017-11-21

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