Offering an original perspective on the central project of Descartes' Meditations, this book argues that Descartes' free will theodicy is crucial to his refutation of skepticism. A common thread runs through Descartes' radical First Meditation doubts, his Fourth Meditation discussion of error, and his pious reconciliation of providence and freedom: each involves a clash of perspectives-thinking of God seems to force conclusions diametrically opposed to those we reach when thinking only of ourselves. Descartes fears that a skeptic could exploit this (...) clash of perspectives to argue that Reason is not trustworthy because self-contradictory. To refute the skeptic and vindicate the consistency of Reason, it is not enough for Descartes to demonstrate that our Creator is perfect; he must also show that our errors cannot prove God's imperfection. To do this, Descartes invokes the idea that we err freely. However, prospects initially seem dim for this free will theodicy, because Descartes appears to lack any consistent or coherent understanding of human freedom. In an extremely in-depth analysis spanning four chapters, Ragland argues that despite initial appearances, Descartes consistently offered a coherent understanding of human freedom: for Descartes, freedom is most fundamentally the ability to do the right thing. Since we often do wrong, actual humans must therefore be able to do otherwise-our actions cannot be causally determined by God or our psychology. But freedom is in principle compatible with determinism: while leaving us free, God could have determined us to always do the good. Though this conception of freedom is both consistent and suitable to Descartes' purposes, when he attempts to reconcile it with divine providence, Descartes's strategy fails, running afoul of his infamous doctrine that God created the eternal truths. (shrink)
In two recent papers, Michael Della Rocca accuses Descartes of reasoning circularly in the Fourth Meditation. This alleged new circle is distinct from, and more vicious than, the traditional Cartesian Circle arising in the Third Meditation. We explain Della Rocca’s reasons for this accusation, showing that his argument is invalid.
: The principle of alternative possibilities (PAP) says that doing something freely implies being able to do otherwise. I show that Descartes consistently believed not only in PAP, but also in clear and distinct determinism (CDD), which claims that we sometimes cannot but judge true what we clearly perceive. Because Descartes thinks judgment is always a free act, PAP and CDD seem contradictory, but Descartes consistently resolved this apparent contradiction by distinguishing between two senses of 'could have done otherwise.' In (...) one sense alternative possibilities are necessary for freedom and in another they are not. I discuss three possible interpretations of the two senses. (shrink)
In Metaphysical Themes, Robert Pasnau interprets Thomas Hobbes as an anti-realist about all accidents in general. In opposition to Pasnau, we argue that Hobbes is a realist about some accidents (e.g., motion and magnitude). Section One presents Pasnau’s position on Hobbes; namely, that Hobbes is an unqualified anti-realist of the eliminativist sort. Section Two offers reasons to reject Pasnau’s interpretation. Hobbes explains that magnitude is mind-independent, and he offers an account of perception in terms of motion (understood as a mind-independent (...) feature of body). Therefore, it seems incorrect to call Hobbes an anti-realist about all accidents. Section Three considers Pasnau’s hypothetical response: he might claim that for Hobbes, motion reduces to body and does not exist in its own right. Section Four notes that reductionism about all accidents does not entail anti-realism about all accidents. Even granting Pasnau’s anticipated response, his anti-realist reading does not follow. Contra Pasnau, Hobbes is best understood as claiming that motion and magnitude exist mind-independently. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
The principle of alternative possibilities says that doing something freely implies being able to do otherwise. I show that Descartes consistently believed not only in PAP, but also in clear and distinct determinism, which claims that we sometimes cannot but judge true what we clearly perceive. Because Descartes thinks judgment is always a free act, PAP and CDD seem contradictory, but Descartes consistently resolved this apparent contradiction by distinguishing between two senses of 'could have done otherwise.' In one sense alternative (...) possibilities are necessary for freedom and in another they are not. I discuss three possible interpretations of the two senses. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Alvin Plantinga defends occasionalism against an important moral objection: if God is the sole direct cause of all the suffering that results from immoral human choices, this causal role is difficult to reconcile with God’s perfect goodness. Plantinga argues that this problem is no worse for occasionalism than for any of the competing views of divine causality; in particular, there is no morally relevant difference between God directly causing suffering and God indirectly causing it. First, we (...) examine Plantinga’s moral parity argument in detail and offer a critical evaluation of it. Then we provide a positive argument, based on the doctrine of doing and allowing, to show why there is a morally relevant difference between God’s direct and indirect causation of suffering. (shrink)
God’s providence appears to threaten the existence of human freedom. This paper examines why Descartes considered this threat merelyapparent. Section one argues that Descartes did not reconcile providence and freedom by adopting a compatibilist conception of freedom. Sections two and three argue that for Descartes, God’s superior knowledge allows God to providentially arrange free choices without causally determining them. Descartes’ position thus strongly resembles the “middle knowledge” solution of the Jesuits. Section four examines the problematic relationship between this solution and (...) the creation of the eternal truths, arguing that Descartes’ position depends on his unique understanding of divine simplicity. (shrink)
We offer a novel interpretation of the argumentative role that Meditation IV plays within the whole of the Meditations. This new interpretation clarifies several otherwise head-scratching claims that Descartes makes about Meditation IV, and it fully exonerates the Fourth Meditation from either raising or exacerbating Descartes’ circularity problems.
In the Fourth Meditation, Descartes asks: 'If God is no deceiver, why do we sometimes err?' Descartes's answer (despite initial appearances) is both systematic and necessary for his epistemological project. Two atheistic arguments from error purport to show that reason both proves and disproves God's existence. Descartes must block them to escape scepticism. He offers a mixed theodicy: the value of free will justifies God in allowing our actual errors, and the perfection of the universe may justify God in making (...) us able to err. Though internally coherent, Descartes's theodicy conflicts with his view of divine providence. (shrink)
According to “hard” compatibilists, we can be responsible for our actions not only when they are determined by mindless natural causes, but also when some agent other than ourselves intentionally determines us to act as we do. “Soft” compatibilists consider freedom compatible with merely natural determinism, but not with intentional determinism (e.g., theological determinism). Because he believes there is no relevant difference (NRD) between a naturally determined agent and a relevantly similar intentionally determined agent, John Martin Fischer is a hard (...) compatibilist. However, he argues for “historical” compatibilism by appealing to the intuition that certain manipulated agents are not responsible. By considering a new type of manipulation case, I show that Fischer’s appeal to ordinary intuitions about manipulation conflicts with NRD, so that he must choose between the two. The closing section explains why I think going “soft” is Fischer’s better option. (shrink)
In this stimulating book, six leading philosophers--Karl-Otto Apel, Robert Brandom, Karsten Harries, Martha Nussbaum, Barry Stroud, and Allen Wood--consider the nature of philosophy. Although each of them has a unique perspective, they all seem to agree that philosophy seeks to uncover hidden assumptions and concepts in order to expose them to critical scrutiny. It is thus entirely fitting that philosophers should examine their own assumptions about the nature of their discipline. As they delve into the nature of philosophy, the authors (...) address many fascinating subjects: what makes philosophy different from natural science, religion, and other branches of the humanities; whether philosophy can contribute to political transformation, and if so, how; whether there can ever be an "end of philosophy"; and more. The editors' introduction ties together the contributors' diverse perspectives by noting common themes, similarities, and differences. (shrink)