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Subscriber Login Email Address. Library Card. View: no detail some detail full detail. Chapter 1 Cartesian Explanation. Chapter 2 Sensation: Ideas as Brain Patterns. Chapter 3 Imagination and Memory. Chapter 4 Passions of the Soul.
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Chapter 6 Human Language. Chapter 8 Descartes's Use of the Concept of Substance. Chapter 9 Property Dualism. End Matter References Index. All rights reserved. Powered by: Safari Books Online. In general I would become accustomed to believing that nothing lies entirely within our power except our thoughts, so that after doing our best in dealing with matters external to us, whatever we fail to achieve is absolutely impossible so far as we are concerned [ au regard de nous ].
He then says that only our thoughts are attributable to us:. Descartes thus implies that only what belongs to us—that is, what depends on the soul and only insofar as it depends on the soul —is attributable to us. Descartes later explicitly narrows the category of what depends only on the soul and therefore what is attributable to us from thoughts in general to the operations of the will in particular. The earlier explanation from The Passions of the Soul of what makes volitions actions and perceptions passions showed this: one significant way in which volitions differ from most passions is that volitions depend on the soul alone, whereas most passions also depend on things external to the soul.
In that work he also says,. Of the two sorts of thoughts I have distinguished in the soul, of which the first are its actions—namely its volitions—and the others its passions—taking this word in its most general sense, which comprises all sorts of perceptions—the former are absolutely in its power and can only indirectly be altered by the body, whereas the latter depend absolutely on the actions that produce them and can only indirectly be altered by the soul, except when [the soul] is itself their cause.
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Here Descartes tacitly relies on his explanation of why volitions are mental actions volitions come directly from the soul and seem to depend only on it. Volitions are absolutely in the power of the soul because they are mental actions in this sense: the soul alone causes them, and because they come directly from the soul, the body can only indirectly modify them.
Descartes also says, in his letter to Christina of 20 November ,. The goods of the body and fortune do not depend absolutely upon us; and those of the soul can all be reduced to two heads, the one being to know, and the other to will, what is good. But knowledge is often beyond our powers; and so there remains only our will, which is absolutely within our disposal [ dont nous puissions absolument disposer ].
Descartes here alludes to his dual taxonomy of the mind, knowing intellect and willing will. He then explains that knowledge here, of the good is often beyond our powers. This is because unlike our will, knowledge does not depend on us alone. Here, then, Descartes presents the position I take him to have adopted sometime after his exchange with Pollot:  only willing always depends on us alone and is therefore attributable to us.
I want to underscore the point already mentioned, that Descartes holds that willing is attributable to us not merely in a causal sense but in the stronger sense tied to moral responsibility. My account of mental action provides an explanation of the connection between willing and responsibility that Descartes makes in this text: because volitions are caused by the soul alone and the soul never receives them from anything else, volitions depend on us alone and we should be praised or blamed for them.
In short, we are responsible for our volitions because they depend on us alone.
In addition to conceiving of the human will as the active faculty, Descartes conceives of the human will in a second way, as inextricably tied to human freedom. It is because human beings possess wills that we are free. In his Fourth Meditation explanation of how our errors in judgment come about, he identifies freedom of judgment with the will:.
I notice that [my errors] depend on two concurrent causes, namely on the faculty of knowledge which is in me, and on the faculty of choice or freedom of judgement [ facultate eligendi, sive ab arbitrii libertate ]; that is, they depend on both the intellect and the will simultaneously. Descartes thus conceives of all operations of the will as free.
Since acting freely is identified with acting by means of the will, there are no other free operations of the mind other than volitions, the operations of the will. Descartes expresses this view repeatedly. In the Principles , he says:. In our attempt to doubt everything, we went so far as to make the supposition of some supremely powerful author of our being who was attempting to deceive us in every possible way.
For in spite of that supposition, the freedom which we experienced within us was nonetheless so great as to enable us to abstain from believing whatever was not quite certain or fully examined. For Descartes, our freedom is the basis of our ability to refrain from assenting to what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive. Furthermore, it is because we have the ability to withhold assent about what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive that we are responsible when we do not.
In this way, our responsibility for our errors in judgment stems from the freedom we possess. His aim there is to explain why we, and not God, are responsible for the errors we make in judgment. The problem arises because if God exists, has created us, and is not a deceiver, and yet we make mistakes while properly using the faculties he has given us, God might seem to be at fault.
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This means that neither faculty, as given to us by God, in itself leads to error. Falsity alone does not amount to error for Descartes. Instead, error results when we misuse the will or freedom of judgment by assenting to what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive:. If … I simply refrain from making a judgement where I do not perceive the truth with sufficient clarity and distinctness, then it is clear that I am behaving correctly and avoiding error.
But if in such cases I either affirm or deny, then I am not using my freedom of judgement [ libertate arbitrii ] correctly. If I go for the alternative which is false, then obviously I shall be in error; if I take the other side, then it is by pure chance that I arrive at the truth, and I shall still be at fault [ culpa ] since it is clear by the natural light that the perception of the intellect should always precede the determination of the will. In this incorrect use of freedom of judgement [ liberi arbitrii ] may be found the privation which constitutes the essence of error.
We are responsible for our errors in judgment because our freedom enables us not to make them: whenever we do not clearly and distinctly perceive something, we have the ability to withhold assent. In the Principles , as we have seen, Descartes emphasizes the connection between freedom and withholding assent—specifically, that our freedom allows us to refrain from believing what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive. It is not only our errors for which we are responsible but also more generally, what our wills enable us to do, i.
We thus are also responsible for doing as we should: withholding assent from what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive, and assenting to what we clearly and distinctly perceive. But looking beyond the Fourth Meditation reveals that Descartes makes broader connections between freedom and responsibility.
I have argued that he holds that we are responsible for what our freedom of judgment enables us to do—what we do freely. As I have discussed, our freedom is operative in three kinds of cases relevant to judgment: 1 when we assent to what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive, 2 when we assent to what we clearly and distinctly perceive, and 3 when we withhold our assent from what we do not clearly and distinctly perceive.
I will argue that the two ways Descartes conceives of the will that I have discussed correspond to the two reasons Descartes provides to explain his theory of judgment. Recall the Comments passage:. I saw that over and above perception, which is a prerequisite of judgement, we need affirmation or negation to determine the form of the judgement, and also that we are often free to withhold our assent, even if we perceive the matter in question. Hence I assigned the act of judging itself, which consists simply in assenting i. Descartes says that he assigned judgment to the will because first, judging requires something over and above perception, and second, we are often free to withhold our assent.
The first reason, that judging requires something over and above perception, echoes what Descartes says in the Third Meditation. There, he presents a classification of thought that roughly maps onto his dual taxonomy of the mental faculties:. But others have other forms besides this: as when I will, when I fear, when I affirm, when I deny, I still always apprehend some thing as the subject of my thought, but I also embrace in my thought something more than the likeness of that thing [ sed aliquid etiam amplius quam istius res similitudinem cogitatione complector ]; and of these some are called volitions or affects [ voluntates, sive affectus ], while others are called judgements AT VII 37  , .
The corresponding passage in the French translation of the Meditations supports this suggestion: . AT IXA The view that judgment involves mental action would likely have been one with which Descartes was familiar. This, along with the idea that passive mental states always involve reception, differentiates assent from perception, which Descartes ascribes to the intellect. First, the worry might presuppose that for something to be a mode of will, it must be something we can avoid doing.
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