Fly on the Wall—Typical Male?

Nicolas Malebranche and Our Will To Succeed in AU Reality

While writing this I, as a male, note that the gleeful songstress commanding a mop in our kitchen is achieving fantastic things in part because I am not getting in the way of progress.  She implores me to appreciate the consequences of her labours, and, while knowing that she values the earnestness of my efforts to participate, my powers are best deployed elsewhere; that reality is beyond my will to understand.

Clearly, my mind encounters more external controls than I am aware of.  Honestly, if I scrubbed for an hour, I’d not match my wife’s cleanliness. And so, I am inclined by an inner impetus of origin unknown to complete this article that I’ve been working on during fits and snatches of loose time.  Failing to achieve usefulness in one realm I seek to apply myself to another.

Many AU students end up at our school for the same reason; back to school means flight from something else, like baby eaglets pushed, shoved, or in fleeting fearless flight.  So many ideas founder on the rocks of reality; anyone can desire AU success but when you get down to what-have-you-done-for-me-lately reality the rubber sometimes slips off the road, and many would-be distance scholars find themselves wholly not up to the task.  We work with our talents and circumstances and, unlike brick and mortar campuses, we do so in relative isolation.

Think It Through, Think That It’s True

To know our capabilities, then, we surely must first know ourselves.  This is all the more true at AU where we operate untethered from the halls of whine waiting to be received by student service counsellors wandering halls looking for something to do.

Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) concluded, using the theological lingo almost universal in his time, that we each live as a certain “vision in God” (Doney, 140).  His theory of “occasionalism” meant that each thing we see in life was willed by God to begin with; sort of like being in a novel and the dream not being lucid.  It’s pleasant when someone has a plan for you, right?  It only each of us had a quiet Jiminy Cricket academic advisor to help mind our days as we wile away excess tick-tockage when we could be studying our little brains asunder like a miracle appearing from sheer rock.

Malebranche foundered on the separation of ideas from sensations.  How can a mind translate physical reality into ideas?  He concluded, as we might conclude when the ideas in a text book seem too unwieldy to get into our brain by way of our mind, that “created things are in themselves causally in-efficacious and that God is the sole true cause of change in the universe…It is God who creates us and conserves us from moment to moment and who alone acts on us and for us.  Owing our existence and actions as well as our knowledge to God, we are truly united with him.” (Doney, 141)

Fair enough, you might say, but as with many students, secularism holds sway.  So it seems that we are the masters of our destiny.  Yet daily life proves otherwise.  Procrastination and the eternal pull of indolence lead us astray from what our better selves would accomplish on a sunny summer day.  As many a male (myself included) notes, there are countless tasks that, if we are blessed (or micro-lucked, if you wil) that are done around us and that make life so much more comfortable.  Toilet paper out? Whereas a more bachelory self might just, you know, use the roll, who can’t adore fresh plushy tush removal satin available at a moment’s consent.  Whoever does the work that makes out study labour possible is the thoughtful mind behind the curtain that allows the trains (and brains) to keep running on time.  Malebranche, was more about what we can see than about what we can’t.  His was a world where ideas about things didn’t just label or categorize them; “he was concerned not only about ideas of bodies present in sense perception but also about ideas needed, he believed-, to imagine or think about bodies.” (Doney, 141).

The body politic of AU, if we will, is nothing if not derived from the wills of students expressing temerity in the face of outward reality.  After all, without school uniforms, distance students don’t have many social sanctions or benefits physically associated with the donning of their invisible academic thinking caps.

It’s up to us, as always, to be the ground and the decider of our own success.  For Malebranche, typical for his time, this stuff was up to God.  And in our times, regardless of belief, we have to transcend even the most normal of moral inclinations, such as what relaxation time really means on a summer day (spoiler alert: it means study potential, even with dinner in the air!).  If we are to fulfill our destiny we have to seize it as inspiration.  Inspiration is the missing link to our success in the face of adversity.

Malebranche noted that our bodies are notably weak and easily stymied by circumstances and nature; for good things to happen divine intervention was needed.  We’re wired to seek good things in our lives and, if we’ve got the best of intention our AU studies will pull us through to future glory.  “Malebranche held, that we cannot will to be unhappy or desire something that does not appear to us to be a good.  Determinations of the will, occasioned by sensations and thoughts, are not absolutely invincible.  Although we do not initiate particular inclinations, we are immediately aware, by sentiment interieur, of our power to refuse consent” (Doney, 143)

So, when the summer draws us away from our studies, or even to useful distractions, don’t be a typical Malebranche and absolve yourself of responsibility to be the best you possible in pursuit of a good future.  Malebranche believe that a higher power would provide a ladder to enlightenment and so, too, do our AU minds give us the fortitude to continue our study slog this summer.


Doney.  W.  (1967).  ‘Malebranche, Micolas’.  The Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Vols 7 and 8’.  London: Collier Maccmillan Publishers.