The Search after Moral Certainty. The Origins of Malebranche’s Project of a Science of Ethics and its Development in his Treatise On Ethics
Abstract. Inspired by the Cartesian plan to construct a universal system of science based on certain knowledge, the Oratorian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) attempts to found a “science” of ethics which could serve to liberate practical knowledge from the restrictions of uncertainty and relativity in which it was confined. In applying to ethics the criteria established by Cartesian epistemology, the author highlights the necessity to study the stable and immutable principles of morality, from which could emerge, through rational arguments, a whole system of moral values.
This project, first announced in the Search after Truth is developed in the Treatise on Ethics, in which Malebranche’s vision comes to life as an original theory. His strictly rationalist and intellectualist approach – focusing on the challenge of rational knowledge of moral truths – converges with a Christian and theocentric conception, true to the strong apologetic requirements that direct the author’s thinking. In this text, using the form of philosophical reasoning, Malebranche proposes and demonstrates as certain the principles of religion ultimately achieving a philosophical definition of Christian virtue and its rational justification.
Keywords: Malebranche, Descartes, Epistemological Cartesianism, Ethical Rationalism, Moral Certitude, Vision in God, Virtue