Essay on Descartes Free Will

Essay on Descartes Free Will

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In Meditations on First Philosophy Descartes attempts to explain the cause of errors in human beings. Descartes says that error occurs “since the will extends further than the intellect” (Descartes p.39). That’s because our intellect is something that is finite; it is limited to the perception of only certain things. Whereas our will, ability to choose is not limited; it is has an infinite capacity. Therefore we sometimes attempt to will things which we do not have a complete understanding of. Descartes’ argument, as I will briefly describe, is quite sound, if you agree to all his conditions (being that the intellect is limited and the will infinite). I am not, as of yet, sure if I necessarily agree to the later of his two conditions. I will strive to evaluate different discernments of what will is, and if it is truly free. Then apply it to his argument. But first let me explain Descartes’ argument on the causation of errors.
Descartes’ discussion begins in saying that “errors depend on the simultaneous concurrence of two causes: the faculty of knowing that is in me and the faculty of choosing” (Descartes p.38). I will first tackle the faculty of knowing, or intellect. Descartes says that it merely perceives and understands ideas, which can later have judgment passed on them (see Descartes p.38). The intellect is limited and finite because it can occur in different degrees. While some people have a simple understanding of a language others have a mastery of its grammar and syntax. But no one can have a mastery of all the mysteries of the universe.
Then there is the faculty of choosing, as Descartes calls it, or rather the will. Descartes says that he “experience[s] that it is limited by no boundaries whatever” (Descartes p.38). It is seen as infinite because unlike the intellect is does to adhere to different grades. It exists merely as a matter of being able to do or not to do something; to affirm or deny something proposed by one’s intellect (see Descartes p.38). In some cases one’s will is unable to make such a decision, Descartes says, not because of a fault in the will but rather because the intellect is lacking complete knowledge of the situation (see Descartes p.39). It is here that one should be indifferent to passing judgment. If in such a instance indifference is not the outcome an error is most likely to occur.
Descartes says that this error will...

... middle of paper ...

...eople have no other choice. For instance if a person is held at gun point and told to do something he may very well be passing a false judgment on something he has total knowledge of and in turn acting in error. From the other side of the argument Descartes says that to prevent himself from ever erring he must follow his feeling of indifference and stick with it instead of attempting to affirm or deny something (see Descartes p.41). But I must also add to this argument that society does place constraints on things to prevent people from committing errors. Therefore it is not entirely internal. So I will conclude with saying that I have no choice but to say, from my reasoning, that in Meditation on First Philosophy Descartes speaks of a very ideal situation which would, in that state, hold true. But in the practical world one’s perception cannot be so narrow because there are many facets that contribute to what we can do and why we can do them.

Works Cited

Descartes, Rene. (1993). Meditations on First Philosophy . translated by Donald A. Cress.
Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Corp.

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