Throughout Descartes’ Meditations, it is established that Descartes believes it to be impossible that God should ever deceive him, and that all things within him (Descartes) are received from God. As such, Descartes is certain that he has received both the faculty of will and the faculty of intellect from God. In discussion of the will, Descartes writes:
(A)…the will, or freedom of choice…simply consists in our ability to do or not do something (that is, to affirm or deny, to pursue or avoid); or rather it consists simply in the fact that when the intellect puts something forward for affirmation or denial or for pursuit or avoidance, our inclinations are such that we do not feel we are determined by any external force. (CSM 2:40; emphasis added)
Though written as an explication of the will, many philosophers believe the preceding passage to be a description of human freedom. Yet the phrasing of this passage leaves much open to interpretation regarding what Descartes actually means to say about the nature of human freedom. Section one will address this question fully by examining whether Descartes means to imply that human freedom is indifferent or spontaneous.
It is important to get a clear understanding of the will and how it relates to human freedom because, throughout the Fourth Meditation, Descartes speaks of how the will interacts with the intellect. Since both come from God (who is perfect), it seems that both faculties are perfect, and thus there seems to be some issue with fact that human beings ever err. Section two discusses the relationship between the will and the intellect and explores Descartes response to the problem of human error.
Finally, though human beings receive their faculties from God and are created in God’s image, Descartes acknowledges that human beings are imperfect intermediaries between God and nothingness (38). There is then a question as to whether the freedom enjoyed by humans (discussed in section one) applies to the divine. Section three seeks to answer this question by examining Descartes account of divine freedom.
Section One: Descartes on Human Freedom: Indifference or Spontaneity?
Section Two: Descartes on Human Error
Section Three: Descartes on Divine Freedom