Meditations on the will: A critical exposition and analysis of Rene Descartes' theory of the will

James Matthew Petrik, Marquette University


This dissertation is an attempt to construct a coherent account of Rene Descartes' theory of the will from the remarks on the will scattered throughout his works. Although his treatment of the topic is fragmentary (spread throughout the Cartesian corpus), and cursory (an extended treatment is nowhere to be found), Descartes' assorted comments on the will can be reconstructed into an account that is both consistent and penetrating. The most distinctive features of the reconstructed theory are: (1) the will is not a distinct faculty, but merely the extension of the class of volitions, (2) the will is necessitated by the contents of consciousness and (3) judgment and is an act of the will. With regard to the first point, it is argued that a good deal of the criticism that Descartes' theory has received stems from inaccurately attributing a faculty model of the soul to him. In addition, an attempt is made to reconcile the non-faculty model of the soul with the account of error found in the Fourth Meditation. In explaining the second aforementioned feature of Descartes' theory, it is argued--against commentators such as Anthony Kenny, Margaret Wilson and Peter Schouls--that he held that all free action is necessitated by some set of psychological states. Finally, regarding the third distinctive feature of Descartes' theory, the claim that judgment is an act of the will is defended on the basis of the fact that one's judgments can have an impact upon one's behavior and web of beliefs.

Recommended Citation

Petrik, James Matthew, "Meditations on the will: A critical exposition and analysis of Rene Descartes' theory of the will" (1990). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9107788.