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Descartes on Degrees of Freedom: A Close Look at a Key Text

27 July 2013


In an influential article, Anthony Kenny charged that (a) the view of freedom in Descartes’ “1645 letter to Mesland” is incoherent, and (b) that this incoherence was present in Descartes’ thought from the beginning. Against (b), I argue that such incoherence would rather support Gilson’s suspicions that the 1645 letter is dishonest. Against (a), I offer a close reading of the letter, showing that Kenny’s objection seems plausible only if we misconstrue a key ambiguity in the text. I close by defending Descartes against some related worries of my own about the degrees of Cartesian freedom. I conclude that there is really no good reason to deny that Descartes’ view in the 1645 letter is both internally coherent and a genuine explication of the Meditations’ account of freedom.


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