Arnold Geulincx

From New World Encyclopedia

Arnold Geulincx (1624 - 1669), sometimes known by the pseudonym Philaretus, was a Flemish philosopher and logician. Known primarily for "occasionalism," an interpretation of Cartesian mind-body dualism. Geulincx argued that God directly intervenes in the interaction between mind and body, and changes in mind or body are mere occasions of God's intervention.

Geulincx served as professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium, for 12 years, and later professor at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. Geulincx wrote all his works in Latin, and died before his principal books, namely Ethica and Metaphysica, were published. Despite professional and political pressure to do otherwise, he devoted a considerable amount of his time to Descartes' philosophy, though he had no reservations about reaching different conclusions. While still regarded as a minor figure by most historians of philosophy, there is a growing interest in his philosophy due to the first major translation of one of his works appearing in 2006.


Arnold Geulincx was born at baptized at Antwerp in 1624, the son of a moderately well-off messenger. It is likely that his early education was a traditional one conducted by Augustine friars. In 1641, the same year of the first publication of Descartes' landmark Meditations on First Philosophy, Geulincx began studies at the University of Louvain. His two years of study there were formally centered on traditional Aristotlean logic, metaphysics, and physics. Nevertheless, the university was not entirely strict on excluding other schools of thought, so Geulincx was exposed to Epicureanism, Stoicism, and, most importantly, Cartesianism.

After obtaining the degree of Licentiate in Arts in 1643, Geulincx studied theology, but began teaching philosophy in 1646. He did well at the university, but was deprived of his office in 1658, for reasons likely relating to a proposed position at the cathedral at Aix and his marriage to his cousin, Susanna Strickers. Moving to Leiden, he acquired the degree of Doctor of Medicine (although he appeared to have little intention of practicing medicine). The university at Leiden allowed him to teach in a limited capacity, but formally discouraged anything other than orthodox scholasticism, for Geulincx's reputation as an advocate of the new philosophy was well-known. Despite the restrictions on his teaching, it is significant that the university allowed a non-traditional thinker to have an official position at all. In 1665, he was promoted to the position of professor extra ordinem. Throughout this time, Geulincx was at work on his treatises on logic, metaphysics, and ethics, but his death by the plague in 1669 meant that most of these were published posthumously.


One of the major differences between contemporary logic and Aristotlean logic is that the former is thoroughly compositional—that is, it specifies logical elements that can be combined into more complex forms. The advantage of compositionality is that it allows greater logical power with fewer principles (in contrast to, for instance, the way that students of Aristotle's logic were simply required to memorize a list of valid argument forms). Geulincx was one of the first philosophers to began pushing towards a compositional logic. He claimed that a denial such as "It's not raining" is composed of an affirmation ("It's raining") and a negation. Geulincx also saw this as having consequences for what one would today consider the philosophy of propositional attitudes; specifically, that believing a denial requires all the conceptual apparatus required for believing the affirmation it has as a constituent.

Another noteworthy aspect of Geulincx's views on logic is his analysis of what it is for some claim to follow from another claim or set of claims. In most contemporary discussions, this is said to happen when it is not possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false. A main advantage of this definition is the way that it ties intuitions about the inferential structure of an argument to intuitions about the possibility of truth and falsity. One disadvantage is that it commits one to saying that (for example) "Cats are dogs, therefore squares have four sides" is a valid argument—since the conclusion is a necessary truth, it can be said to "follow from" the obviously false conclusion.

In light of such considerations, some philosophers have advanced an analysis of "following from" that relies not so much on one's intuitions concerning possible truth and falsity as on our intuitions concerning what it is for some claim to be "contained" in another. Geulincx was one of the earliest logicians to state such a view. This view rules out the above absurd example, for, intuitively, no statement about squares is contained in the statement about cats being dogs.

One of the mostly hotly debated issues in the wake of Descartes' mature philosophy was his view that the mind and body, despite being fundamentally different substances, are able to causally interact. Descartes' own position appears to be that one can deny neither the distinctness of the mind and body, nor the fact that they are in constant interaction, so one must simply live with a lack of understanding of how this interaction is possible. In a manner analogous with that of his contemporary, Malebranche, Geulincx argued against this on the basis of what he regarded as a basic metaphysical principle: That people are capable of bringing about an effect only if they understand how this effect is produced. Since one lack any understanding of how a mental substance could affect a physical one, he is not capable of producing any change in physical substances. This leaves God as the sole causal power in the universe. Against Descartes, Geulincx held that an understanding of the principles of the physical world, however clear and distinct, can never rise above a series of hypotheses (this view being very much in keeping with the awakening of the scientific enlightenment).

Given his view of God as the sole causal power, it is unsurprising that Geulincx's principles of ethical assessment are primarily concerned with intentions rather than actions. For example, it is fundamentally a matter of God's will whether one's arm reaches out and steals a wallet sitting on a table. Nevertheless, it is in one's power to intend to steal a wallet or not. If one's intentions are good, then one has not sinned. Of course, God's running of the world generally lines up good intentions with good actions, but this is a fact external to ethical evaluation.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chappell, V. C. 1992. Cartesian Philosophers. Essays on Early Modern Philosophers, v. 3. New York: Garland. ISBN 081530577X
  • Geulincx, A., S. Beckett, M. Wilson, J. A. v. Ruler, & A. Uhlmann. 2006. Ethics. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9004154671
  • Geulincx, A. 1891–3. Opera Philosophica, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Land, J.P.N. 1891. "Arnold Geulincx and his works," Mind 16, 223-242.
  • Verbeek, Theo. 1998. "Geulincx, Arnold," In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.

External links

All links retrieved August 15, 2023.

General philosophy sources


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