The Will to Reason: Theodicy and Freedom in Descartes

Hardcover | April 15, 2016

byC.p. Ragland

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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 whenthinking 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 (in the ThirdMeditation) that our Creator is perfect; he must also show (in the Fourth) 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 consistentor 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 humansmust 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 (or believe the true). Though this conception of freedom isboth 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.

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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 providenc...

C. P. Ragland is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. There he especially enjoys introducing students to philosophy as well as teaching and doing research in the history of modern philosophy and philosophy of religion. With Sarah Heidt, he is co-editor of What is Philosophy (Yale UP, 2001).

other books by C.p. Ragland

Format:HardcoverDimensions:264 pagesPublished:April 15, 2016Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190264454

ISBN - 13:9780190264451

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Table of Contents

AbbreviationsIntroductionNotes to Introduction1. Descartes' Deepest WorryI. The "Deceiving Nature" DoubtII. The Circle and the Two-Level SolutionIII. Descartes' Engagement with SkepticismIV. ConclusionNotes to Chapter One2. The Fourth Meditation TheodicyI. The Problem of ErrorII. Descartes' TheodicyA. Unreality of ErrorB. Descartes' General Strategy (and the Eternal Truths)C. Skeptical Theism?D. The Big PictureE. Free WillF. Possible Error: The Big Picture ReturnsG. The Theodicy SummarizedIII. Does It Prove Too Much?IV. Is It Circular?A. Ought Implies CanB. Assuming the Truth-Rule for Defensive PurposesV. Does It Rest on a Flawed View of Freedom?Notes to Chapter Two3. Freedom and Alternative Possibilities in the MeditationsI. The Definition Of FreedomA. Retraction, Expansion, or Clarification?B. Against RetractionC. Expansion or Clarification?II. Texts that Seem to Favor the Expansion ReadingA. The Explanatory PassageB. The Great Light PassageIII. Pro-Clarification: The Infinite Will and the Image of GodA. Differences Between Divine And Human FreedomB. The Analogy Between Divine And Human FreedomC. Similarities and Differences: Signs Of An Implicit DistinctionIV. ConclusionNotes to Chapter Three4. The Gibieuf Connection And The Later DescartesI. The Gibieuf ConnectionA. Background: Descartes and GibieufB. Agreement About Freedom And IndifferenceC. Explicit Agreement On Human Freedom?D. Implicit Agreement On Human FreedomE. What Agreement With Gibieuf ShowsII. Descartes' Later Texts On FreedomA. Principles Of Philosophy (1644)B. 1644 Letter To MeslandC. The 1645 Letter to MeslandNotes to Chapter Four5. I. The Radical Libertarian Interpretation and the Meaning of CDDII. Attention and The Moderate Libertarian ViewIII. The Compatibilist ReadingIV. ConclusionNotes to Chapter Five6. Is Descartes' View Of Freedom Coherent?I. Degrees Of Freedom: PreliminariesA. An Initial PuzzleB. Motivation and Degrees Of Freedom: Other PhilosophersC. Motivation and Degrees Of Freedom: DescartesII. The 1645 Letter in DetailA. The Meaning of "Elicited"B. Spontaneity: Inversely Proportional to IndifferenceC. Spontaneity: Absolute and RelativeD. Spontaneity and Perversity: Kenny's ObjectionE. Why Kenny's Objection FailsIII. Final WorriesNotes to Chapter Six7. Freedom and Divine ProvidenceI. Introduction: The Problem of Providence and FreedomII. Concurrence And Providence: Scholastic BackgroundA. Aquinas' PictureB. The Jesuit and Dominican Variations on ConcurrenceC. Competing Theories of ProvidenceIII. Descartes' Non-Causal View Of ProvidenceA. Against Supernatural CompatibilismB. Correspondence with Elizabeth: Molinist LeaningsC. Three Objections to the Molinist Interpretation RefutedIV. Providence and The Eternal Truths: A Hybrid ViewA. My Interpretation DefendedB. Why Descartes Would Not Share My WorriesNotes to Chapter SevenConclusion: The Creation Doctrine Strikes AgainBibliography