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Adding Substance to the Debate: Descartes on Freedom of the Will

27 July 2013

Abstract

It is widely accepted by commentators that Descartes believed in freedom of the will, but it is fiercely debated whether he accepted a libertarian or compatibilist notion of freedom. With this paper I argue that an examination of Descartes’ conception of ‘substance,’ specifically his distinction between divine substance and created substance, is a fruitful source for the debate regarding Descartes on freedom of the will. I argue that the commentators who read Descartes as a libertarian are forced to focus on passages that emphasize the similarity between God and humans. This is problematic because Descartes is clear that there is a non-univocality between God and humans concerning ‘substance.’ This non-univocality between God and humans puts a strain on the libertarian’s focus. During the course of this argument I examine the passages frequently cited by commentators concerning Cartesian freedom and I make explicit the analogy between Descartes’ view on substance and freedom. The upshot is that Descartes’ considered account of substance is further evidence for the compatibilist reading.


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