The Free Will in Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes Essay

The Free Will in Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes Essay

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The Free Will in Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes


In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes takes the reader through a methodological exercise in philosophical enquiry. After stripping the intellect of all doubtful and false beliefs, he re-examines the nature and structure of being in an attempt to secure a universally valid epistemology free from skepticism. Hoping for the successful reconciliation of science and theology, Descartes works to reconstruct a new foundation of absolute and certain truth to act as a catalyst for future scientific research by “showing that a mathematical [rational-objective] physics of the world is attainable by creatures with our intellectual capacities and faculties” (Shand 1994, p. 84).

Descartes’ conception of absolute and limitless “freedom,” which he ascribed to humanity, is every bit as unique and radical as the existential notion of freedom present to the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. However, the claim of boundless freedom within the writings of Descartes seems even more remarkable in light of the fact that he proposed the philosophical method within the theological strictures of Catholicism. With Cartesian study primarily focused on the significance of human consciousness and the sum res cogitans, rarely does one find exclusive attention devoted to the paramount importance of the free will in Descartes’ overall project.

This essay investigates the theory of the free will as expressed in the Fourth Meditation and analyzes Descartes’ contention that we are “infinitely” free and ultimately responsible for the choices we make. In arguing that the use of the free will is essential in determining the veracity of all ideas one comes upon, clear and distinct or othe...

... middle of paper ...

...ilosophy is somewhat problematic and
often referred to as the Cartesian Circle. “We cannot, without certainty,” declares
John Shand, “prove God’s existence by means of propositions and arguments whose truth
and validity depend upon assuming God’s existence” (Shand :1994, p 87).

4 Although Descartes states explicitly in the Synopsis of the Six Meditations that he is
not concerned with judging things which pertain to faith or the conduct of life, and
is instead focused exclusively on errors that occur when judging the true and the
false; he is nonetheless doing theodicy. Descartes is asking in essence: “How could
God, who is in possession of all perfection, including omni-benevolence, allow humans
to fall into error (do evil) so readily?” Descartes’ reply: “Error (evil) has nothing
to do with God and everything to do with us.”

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