Freedom of Will and the Nature of Good

Freedom of Will and the Nature of Good

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Descartes accepts that man has the freedom of will (will). He argues that knowing that man has free will comes before “cogito ergo sum” and in this sense is the primary data for mentality. Because without primary data, he might not have resorted to such hyperbolic skepticism before he discovered the cogito.

The primacy of freedom of choice in the will, then, allowed him to choose to go through a conscious process of doubt. Therefore, the act of acting freely is the most fundamental and most important intellectual mode for man. The realization of this freedom is also an innate idea. “We humans, exercising our freedom of will, become masters of our own actions and therefore deserve praise or reproach.” Descartes then establishes a provisional ethics for himself in his Discourse on Method and sets some rules on this path:

Submit to the laws and customs of the nation, religious belief, and family tradition, and avoid extremism in behavior.
Stick to the convictions you hold and be firm in the course of action you have chosen;
Adapt yourself and your passions to your environment and your fortunes and resist them; and
Carefully choose the life pursuit that will be best for you (cited in Sahakian, 1997: 127).

Descartes’ ethics is based on four practical principles: 1. Submit to the laws, customs, and religious beliefs of the nation. 2. Stick to your convictions and be firm in your chosen course of action. 3. Adapt yourself and your passions to your environment and your fortune. 4. Carefully choose the life pursuit that will be best for you.

Descartes did not develop a systematic moral teaching on these principles. He has determined moral principles as a guide for himself on his personal life path. The effects of Aristotle and Stoics can be clearly seen in the content of the principles. Nevertheless, in The Passions of the Soul, he sought to construct a more or less Aristotelian moral theory.

Emotion (passion) analysis is linked to the interaction theory: it proposes that emotion is stimulated in the soul by the body. Consequently, what corresponds to emotion in the soul is an action in the body. In the general sense of the word, affects and perceptions are the same thing. “For the most part, we can call all the types of perception or forms of knowledge that we have in us as affects of someone. Because it is often not our soul that makes them as they are; the soul always takes them from what is represented by them (Copleston, 1996: 143). For Descartes, emotions-passions are generally good in nature, but they can be abused and allowed to go to extremes; then they should be checked.

They are generally dependent on physiological conditions and are stimulated by them. Therefore, in order to control them, it will be necessary to change the physical causes. Changing causes does not mean directly eliminating them. It is necessary to try to control the spiritual turmoil that occurs while the causes continue, and to be able to change the way of action that the body is inclined to perform. It is in this sense to try to control emotions or passions: for example, if anger causes us to raise our hand to strike, we can often stop it by force of will. If fear warns our legs to run away, our willpower can prevent them from such a movement. According to Descartes, the way to control passions indirectly is to introduce designs that are usually tied to what we want to live and are opposed to what we don’t want to realize.


It is this desire that is important to be controlled, since the passions can lead us to all kinds of actions through the desire they evoke. So when is desire good and when is it bad? According to Descartes, desire is good when it follows true information; It’s bad when it’s built on an illusion.

So what is the knowledge that makes the request good? Here we need to be able to distinguish precisely what is dependent on us from what is not dependent on us. People often fail to do this, and some negativities occur. Events beyond our control are determined by God. They must be obeyed. We need to be able to distinguish between the good and the bad in those within our power. “And following virtue consists in doing the actions we judge to be best.” Because what we have is truly virtue and wisdom. This condition gives us the highest happiness. What we don’t quite have are honor, wealth and health. Complete happiness depends on the realization of these two categories together. The conditions for realizing these are the rules given in the Discourse on Method. By slightly modifying the first rule, it rightly replaces tradition with knowledge.

Accordingly, the first rule; “It is making every effort to know what one should and should not do in all life events. The second is to have a firm and constant determination to carry out all the commandments of reason without being deceived by passion or impulse, and the third rule is to be in one’s hands.