Descartes’s Ethics

In Janet Broughton & John Carriero (eds.), A companion to Descartes. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 445-463 (2008)
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I begin my discussion by considering how to relate Descartes’s more general concern with the conduct of life to the metaphysics and epistemology in the foreground of his philosophical project. I then turn to the texts in which Descartes offers his developed ethical thought and present the case for Descartes as a virtue ethicist. My argument emerges from seeing that Descartes’s conception of virtue and the good owes much to Stoic ethics, a school of thought which saw a significant revival in the seventeenth century. It does, however, deviate from classical Stoicism in critical ways. Towards the end of my discussion, I return to the question of the relation between Descartes’s ethics and his metaphysics and epistemology, and I suggest that the Discourse on the Method for Rightly Conducting Reason and the Meditations on First Philosophy are invested with the virtue ethical considerations of moral education and the regulation of the passions, respectively.



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Lisa Shapiro
McGill University

Citations of this work

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