Agency and Attention in Malebranche’s Theory of Cognition

Deborah Brown

in Emotion and Cognitive Life in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199579914
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745959 | DOI:
Agency and Attention in Malebranche’s Theory of Cognition

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In his treatment of the passions and their influence on thought and action, Malebranche demonstrates a sensitivity to the problem of reconciling freedom and agency with the general passivity of our nature. In response to this problem, Malebranche reconceives the process by which we are able to gain mastery over our passions, not in terms of an over-arching will that serves to directly influence our judgments and actions, but in terms of a process that exploits endogenous sources of attentional control. Paramount in this endeavor is the ability we have to manipulate wonder in useful ways. This paper explores the connection between attention and agency in Malebranche's psychology and the special functions he assigns the passion of wonder in the process by which we may gain dominion over ourselves.

Keywords: Malebranche; agency; attention; passions; freedom; will; wonder; self-mastery

Chapter.  9461 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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