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Henry More and Nicolas Malebranche's Critiques of Spinoza



Henry More and Nicolas Malebranche, each in his own way, drew a distinction between two kinds of extension, the one indivisible and the other divisible. Spinoza also drew a comparable distinction, explaining that, insofar as extended substance was conceived intellectually, it would be grasped as indivisible, whereas, when it was instead depicted in the imagination, it would be seen as divisible. But, whereas for Spinoza these were just different views on one and the same extended substance, More and Malebranche's two kinds of extension were supposed to be really distinct from one another. Consequently, neither of them could identify Spinoza's substance with both of his own non-identical kinds; and so they faced a choice over which one they would associate it with. The intriguing thing is that here they diverged. More felt that Spinoza's substance was actually divisible, and consequently material. Malebranche felt that it was actually indivisible, and consequently ideal and divine. In each case, they felt that the other kind of extension—whichever that might be—was simply absent from Spinoza's system. This article explores this divergence between More and Malebranche's interpretations of Spinoza's metaphysics, and it seeks an explanation for it in their own respective epistemologies.