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My work on Malebranche has focused on how the senses contribute to the preservation of the body by representing the world relative to the body. Malebranche’s account of the senses is part of a larger story about the embodied mind, according to which every mental state that arises from the body is ultimately for the body. The imagination and passions, which like the senses arise from the body, function to keep us alive. Scholars have not yet paid much attention to Malebranche’s account of how the imagination and passions contribute to survival, however. I am currently developing a systematic reading of Malebranche’s approach to the embodied mind that takes the senses, imagination, and passions into account.

Forthcoming. British Journal of the History of Philosophy.

Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) holds that the senses, imagination, and passions aim at survival and the satisfaction of the body’s needs, rather than truth or the good of the mind. Each of these faculties makes a distinctive and, indeed, an indispensable contribution to the preservation of life. Commentators have largely focused on how the senses keep us alive. By comparison, the imagination and passions have been neglected. In this paper, I reconstruct Malebranche’s account of how the imagination contributes to the preservation of the body by compensating for the limitations of the senses. First, the imagination represents non-actual states of affairs, such as probable or possible future states. Second, the imagination forges new and often helpful associations based on past experiences. Third, the imagination (mis)represents that objects will cause pleasure and pain, thereby imbuing them with emotional significance they would otherwise lack. Together, these features flesh out Malebranche’s view that the imagination is necessary for the preservation of life.

2021. Philosophers' Imprint 21(10): 1-23.

Do the senses represent causation? Many commentators read Nicolas Malebranche as anticipating David Hume’s negative answer to this question. I disagree with this assessment. When a yellow billiard ball strikes a red billiard ball, Malebranche holds that we see the yellow ball as causing the red ball to move. Given Malebranche’s occasionalism, he insists that the visual experience of causal interaction is illusory. Nevertheless, Malebranche holds that the senses represent finite things as causally efficacious. This experience of creaturely causality explains why Aristotelian philosophers and others struggle to recognize occasionalism’s truth.

2020. Journal of the American Philosophical Association 6(2): 206-224. 

Malebranche holds that visual experience represents the size of objects relative to the perceiver's body and does not represent objects as having intrinsic or nonrelational spatial magnitudes. I argue that Malebranche's case for this body-relative thesis is more sophisticated than other commentators—most notably, Atherton and Simmons —have presented it. Malebranche's central argument relies on the possibility of perceptual variation with respect to size. He uses two thought experiments to show that perceivers of different sizes—namely, miniature people, giants, and typical human beings—can experience the very same objects as having radically different sizes. Malebranche argues that there is no principled reason to privilege one of these ways of experiencing size over the others and, more specifically, that all three kinds of perceivers experience size veridically. From the possibility of this kind of veridical perceptual variation, Malebranche infers that visual experience represents only body-relative size.

2020. Cambridge Core Blog.

An accessible introduction to Malebranche's view that we only ever see the sizes of things relative to our own bodies.

2020. Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy IX: 37-73.

Malebranche holds that sensory experience represents the world from the body’s point of view. I argue that Malebranche gives a systematic analysis of this bodily perspective in terms of the claim that the five familiar external senses and bodily awareness represent nothing but relations to the body. Experiencing size relative to one's body is one example of this thesis. In this paper, I try to show that all aspects of sensory experience---including both its primary and secondary quality aspects---are amenable to the body-relative analysis.

2018. Ergo 5(19): 507-539.

Malebranche holds that the feeling of having a body comes in three main varieties. A perceiver sensorily experiences herself (1) as causally connected to her body, in so far as the senses represent the body as causing her sensory experiences and as uniquely responsive to her will, (2) as materially connected to her body, in so far as the senses represent the perceiver as a material being wrapped up with the body, and (3) as perspectivally connected to her body, in so far as the external senses represent the world from the body’s perspective. In addition to distinguishing these varieties of embodied experience, I explain why the perceiver experiences her connection to the body in these ways. Although Malebranche often casts the experience of embodiment in a negative light, his considered view is that this experience contributes to our survival and salvation.

2016. In Subjectivity and Selfhood in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy, edited by Jari Kaukua and Tomas Ekenberg, 219-234. Dordrecht: Springer.

Although Descartes and Malebranche argue that we are immaterial thinking things, they also maintain that each of us stands in a unique experiential relation to a single human body, such that we feel as though this body belongs to us and is part of ourselves. This paper examines Descartes’s and Malebranche’s accounts of this feeling. They hold that our experience of being embodied is grounded in affective bodily sensations that feel good or bad: namely, sensations of pleasure and pain, hunger and thirst, and so on. These bodily sensations ground our experiential identification with the body because they represent the body’s needs and interests as though they were own, such that we experience an important aspect of our well-being as consisting in the preservation of the body. According to these Cartesians, then, we feel embodied in part because we experience ourselves as having a bodily good.

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