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Descartes and Free Will

  1. Jan 29, 2007 #1
    So for Descartes the essence of the self is thinking. Thinking propels us towards truth.

    Our free will is unbounded when we exercise judgement based on rationally derived truths. In other words the highest grade of free will occurs when we are basing our decisions on reason alone. Is this what Descartes is getting at?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 29, 2007 #2
    It doesn't seem like that's quite what Descartes was aiming for. You are right that Descartes thinks we should base our decisions on reason, but you seem to run astray on the point of even mentioning free will.

    It's important to remember in the later meditations that Descartes is still trying to vindicate reason, a la giving an argument as to why an evil demon can't exist. He's already given his proof for a benevolent God, which shows that we have the mechanism required to obtain true knowledge. However, it's still possible that we could be deceived about that as well. After all, our knowledge isn't perfect. We fall into error sometimes, in spite of the fact we have a mechanism that appears reliable. What Descartes really needs to do is to give us an explanation as to why people fall into error, even though a benevolent God would've provided us with the mechanism we need for true knowledge.

    Descartes argues that the reason we sometimes fall into error is the result of an interaction between an unbounded free will, and a bounded intellect. There are some cases where we can't use intellect to clearly and distinctly perceive the truth of a proposition. Our free will allows us to assert whatever we want, without regard to the intellect. In those cases, if we assent to a proposition, even though we can't clearly and distinctly perceive it's truth, we misuse our free will, and hence fall into error.

    Also note, that there's still a lot of issues with the Cartesian circle to be resolved that I didn't mention. I'm really just providing a broad overview of Descartes use of free will.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2007
  4. Jan 30, 2007 #3
    Thanks. To clear some things up:

    So we have free will and that is absolute but because free will is unbounded (as oppossed to the intellect which is bounded) we frequently assent to unreasoned judgements and thus fall into error?
  5. Jan 30, 2007 #4
    Yep. That one line summarizes the 4th meditation.
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