I am concerned to argue that the analogy Descartes employs to explain how God and humans are both substances does real work elsewhere in his philosophy. This is part of a wider project that Matt is also interested in to make sense of created-in-the-image-of-God talk. In particular, I am interested in making sense of the ways in which God and humans are free. My thesis is that the ways in which God and humans are free is explained by the sense in which God and humans are substances. In particular, I want to make sense of Descartes’s claim that God and created things do not share essences; if they do, they do so in an analogical, non-univocal sense (CSM II.291-2).
One interesting feature of this remark is that it is situated in a text that is talking about free will. So it would seem that Descartes thought that there was some relation between these essences and free will in the Divine and human cases. What I want to suggest is that, if we take Descartes’s account of substance seriously, we get an account of why God and created creatures do not share essences and why what freedom consists in in the Divine and human cases is the way that it is.
In the paper, I am concerned primarily with God’s freedom and the highest grade of human freedom. In my last post, I talked about part of an argument for why God’s freedom consists in what Ragland calls liberty of non-motivational indifference (Ragland 2006, 382). In this post, I want to talk about the highest grade of human freedom and how I see Descartes’s account of secondary substance as relating to it. Spoiler alert: I think that the account of this highest grade of human freedom flows naturally from Descartes’s account of what sort of substances humans are.
The highest grade of human freedom involves responsiveness to clear and distinct perceptions. I will have another post about lesser grades of human freedom and how to extend the explanation I want to offer to those cases. But for now, I want to focus on the highest grade of human freedom. At this point, I’m going to introduce some terminology and then turn to my discussion of the highest grade of human freedom.
First, the terminology. Note that God and humans are substances in only an analogical sense (CSM I.210). Descartes thinks that no essence applies univocally to both God and His creations (CSM I.210). Instead, there can only be an analogy that explains why we think that God and humans have some particular property. God is a primary substance since He depends on nothing for His existence: x is a primary substance iff x depends on nothing for its existence. Humans, meanwhile, are secondary substances since they depend only on God for their existence: x is a secondary substance iff x depends only on God for its existence.
A rather unflattering portrait of Descartes.
Now, the action. The highest grade of human freedom, meanwhile, consists in liberty of spontaneity. x enjoys liberty of spontaneity with respect to an action iff x’s intellect puts forward that action to x’s will and x performs that action without being forced to do so by any external factor. Thus, liberty of spontaneity involves two factors. First, some action must be put forward to x’s will by x’s intellect as good or true, say. Secondly, x must perform that action because of no external factor.
I assume that the intellect is internal to the agent, so determination by the intellect involves determination by no external factor. I realize that this might be problematic, but it seems like the only way to read Descartes such that he turns out consistent.
We have seen that Descartes believes that humans are secondary substances; they depend only on God for their existence. I claim that this dependence is reflected in the highest grade of human freedom.
Consider the case at a level of abstraction. The highest grade of human choice consists in the will’s responsiveness to a property of a proposition, say, that the intellect cognizes. Suppose that it is responding to the clear and distinct perception of the proposition that 2 + 2 = 4. This responsiveness on the part of the will to believe that 2 + 2 = 4 on the basis of the clearly and distinctly perceived truth of that proposition involves a responsiveness to a property that depends on God’s free choice.
God makes it the case that 2 + 2 = 4 has the alethic property of being true, as we saw in my last post. Free human choice, in this case, consists in responsiveness to a property that depends on God. So just as humans depend on God, their free choices depend on responsiveness to a truth that depends on God. The ontological dependence of humans on God is reflected in the ontological dependence of their freest choices: just as they depend on God for their existence, their free choices depend on responsiveness to a truth that depends on God for its existence.
I think the parallelism is interesting, and I think that the account of free choice that we get here is a reflection of Descartes’s account of human substances. Does this seem right to people? Or is it an uninteresting part of Descartes’s view that seems to have nothing to do with substance?
I take it that there are at least two things I might say here; one is stronger than the other. The weaker claim is that there is a reflection of the account of substance in the case of the highest grade of free human choice. The stronger claim is that what the highest grade of free human choice consists in explained by the account of substance that Descartes offers. Does one of these seem more attractive?
Given Descartes’s account of substances, the account of what free will consists in for God and what it consists in for humans follows naturally. The structure of (in)dependence gets reflected in both cases. God depends on nothing and His free choices depend on nothing. Humans depend on God and their free choices—in some sense—depend on God, as well.
I think that there is much to recommend this reading. First, it coheres well with Descartes’s claim that no essence belongs to God and His creatures univocally (CSM II.292). In particular, it coheres very well with his claim that indifference does not belong to both God and humans. Instead, humans are most free when they respond to clear and distinct perceptions; this is what human freedom consists in. But what could explain this difference except the difference in the type of substance that they are? At the very least, it is a very tempting thought that it is the difference in the type of substance that explains why God and created things do not share essences in a univocal sense. Secondly, if that is the case, then the account of substance should be doing some work. I have given a sketch of how the account of substance does this work. So the account makes sense of some Descartes’s remarks.
I look forward to any thoughts any of you folks might have.
Until next time,
Also a portrait of Descartes?