The Free Will in Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes

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The Free Will in Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes

I

In Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes takes the reader through a methodological exercise in philosophical enquiry. After stripping the intellect of all doubtful and false beliefs, he re-examines the nature and structure of being in an attempt to secure a universally valid epistemology free from skepticism. Hoping for the successful reconciliation of science and theology, Descartes works to reconstruct a new foundation of absolute and certain truth to act as a catalyst for future scientific research by “showing that a mathematical [rational-objective] physics of the world is attainable by creatures with our intellectual capacities and faculties” (Shand 1994, p.
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II

The will, at its most basic, consists in saying “yes” or “no” to ideas or propositions. Descartes adopts the position that the free will is independent of the deterministic and fundamental laws that govern matter. Human behavior is neither dictated by mechanical compulsion, nor persuaded or coerced by God, nor influenced by any external force to act in a predetermined manner. Descartes, in a bold stroke, proclaims the divine grace of God along with natural knowledge actually increases and strengthens human freedom, as opposed to restricting its effectiveness.

As a thinking entity, Descartes is a consciousness mind aware of the potential to engage in various modes of existence. To the numerous operations of “thought” he includes doubting, understanding, affirming, denying, willing, refusing, imagining, and sensing. As varied and manifold as these operations appear, they are but expressions of two principal types of conscious activity, to which Descartes eventually traces the nature of error. Thinking and reasoning, together with all belief in general, depend upon the operation of the twin faculties “knowing” and “choosing,” or the free will. Garrett Thompson writes:

Descartes divides all thoughts into two kinds: ideas