UCL Philosophy


Chamberlain: The great guide to the preservation of life: Malebranche on the imagination

13 June 2024

Colin Chamberlain: The great guide to the preservation of life: Malebranche on the imagination (2024), British Journal for 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.