Descartes and Leibniz on Human Free-Will and the Ability to Do Otherwise

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36 (3):387-414 (2006)
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Abstract

Both Descartes and Leibniz are on record as maintaining that acting freely requires that the agent ‘could have done otherwise.’ However, it is not clear how they could maintain this, given their other metaphysical commitments. In Leibniz's case, the arguments connected with this are well-rehearsed: it is argued, for example, that Leibnizian doctrines such as the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the thesis that God must will the best possible world preclude that the human could ever do other than she did. The question of whether Descartes can maintain that the agent is able to do otherwise in the face of his wider metaphysical commitments has received comparatively little attention. However, Chappell has recently noted that Descartes's thesis that God is the ‘total cause’ of everything seems to preclude the possibility of human freedom.

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Cecilia Lim
National University of Singapore

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