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Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, Volume VII$
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Daniel Garber and Donald Rutherford

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198748717

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198748717.001.0001

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No, Descartes Is Not a Libertarian

No, Descartes Is Not a Libertarian

(p.47) 2 No, Descartes Is Not a Libertarian
Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy, Volume VII

Thomas M. Lennon

Oxford University Press

C. P. Ragland has recently developed an informed, extensive, and sophisticated libertarian reading of Descartes on the will. The chapter aims to show that the texts he cites do not support his reading with anything like the certainty that he claims for it, and instead they strongly suggest a compatibilist alternative. Moreover, his reading involves a proliferation of exegetical machinery beyond textual warrant, and—fatally—generates, but fails to resolve, a contradiction at a key point in Descartes’s epistemological program. The contradiction is between Descartes’s definition of the will as a ‘two-way’ power of libertarian choice and the principle that assent to clear and distinct perceptions of truth or goodness is thereby constrained, yet free. Ragland’s attempt to resolve the contradiction is based on Descartes’s distinction between two kinds of possibility, absolute and moral.

Keywords:   will, libertarianism, René Descartes, C. P. Ragland, compatibilism

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