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Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy Research Paper


There is quite a large number of philosophic works and theories on the connection between the human will and the intellect and their collaboration. Some philosophers sincerely believe that everything is either presupposed by nature and higher laws or is implemented in the human’s consciousness and controlled by people. Rene Descartes is one of the main ideologists of the free will and the error inclination of the human intellectual knowledge, and his main idea penetrating all the aspects of his philosophic views is that the human error is produced by the intellect when will is a broader and clearer notion.

The differentiation between the will and the intellect has been a subject of various arguments and theories throughout the whole story of philosophy as the fundamental knowledge. The main matter of concern is whether the two notions are equal, or any of them tend to be broader. Rene Descartes, in his theories, goes much deeper than simply opposing the will to the intellect, dividing a human being into the possible bearer of two different ways of thinking: the perceptive and the determined one. Here, seemingly, grasping the information from the imagination and acquiring any kind of worldview is opposed to the power of will, which lets a human being feel emotions, doubt, and denies. It is also noteworthy that Descartes connects both notions to that of the human error and its origins, which consists of the person’s natural capability of being disillusioned. In connection with the mentioned above facts, one of the main topics for Descartes is the understanding of whether people can produce an error based on the will or on the intellect (Jayasekera 2-15).

First of all, it is necessary to distinguish between Descartes’s will and intellect, giving one of the notions a broader meaning. Thus, according to his theoretic conclusions, the notion of will is synonymous with the freedom of thought, given by God to his children. The human will is free and powerful, it is not limited by anything, and if everything in people is created after the image and likeness of the higher power. It is possible to suppose that Descartes sees the will as the perfect gift of God. At this very point, it is very important for Descartes to explain the origins of the human error, as the will presented by the highest power cannot give an error, it is created for another purpose. As a matter of fact, Descartes also notes that the error itself can be produced by a human being, due to a person being absolutely imperfect, compared to God: he explains that people are only created by God, but they are not God himself. As for the intellect, one can avoid erring only if the judgement is not included into the thinking process, as judging belongs to the will, not the intellect (Frogel 93-108).

However, it is rather important to see, how the error can be produced, according to Descartes. If we see the will and the intellect as the God gift, then it is impossible to imagine that any of the components can lead a human being to the wrong decisions or choices. Nevertheless, erring is clearly a human natural aspect, so it ether comes from the will, or from the intellect. Descartes states that the human error arises from the different limit level of the will and the intellect: the will is unlimited, while the intellect has certain borders and limitations (Ragland 210-215). The fact is that, with the ability to perceive the intellect can understand and grasp much, but the free will gives a personality an opportunity to judge, trust, deny, and doubt anything, including the notions and options, which cannot be perceived and understood by the intellect. In simpler words, the intellect gives us an opportunity to perceive and understand some notion, but it cannot reflect the judgment on it. Thus, the judgement is the will domain. When one needs to judge something understood by the intellect, he passes the notion to the will, which is to confirm or contradict the notion. The origin of the human error comes out of the following misbalance: being limited, the intellect passes any perceived concepts to the will for the judgment, but the will does not admit, there is anything beyond one’s perception and understanding, and thus, it can confirm or contradict some things, which cannot be perceived by a human being, due to the limited intellect. Paraphrasing, the human error is born, when a human being tries to make judgment on something, he cannot perceive or fully understand (Lennon 411-427).

Descartes’s rationalism is the phenomenon, which is criticized and doubted even nowadays. The fact is that, the philosopher under discussion admits only one doubtless truth, which consists in the existence of mind and the intellect in a human being, giving much power to the inner experience of the personality, compared to the outer world. All other universal truths and facts, according to Descartes, can be doubted and judged from the point of view of the will. He denies any possibility of the empiric kind of the world perception, constructing a theory that the perception process can be held, based only on the abstract judgement and evaluation. Thus, Descartes also offers a solution for avoiding the human error factor. In his works he states that it is necessary not to pass any kind of perception to the will for the judgement, if one cannot clearly or fully understand this perception, or the perception can be judged from different perspective. In this way, the will does not have to confirm or contradict the doubtful truth, and the human error is avoided (Lyons 131-142). When there is more than one way to perceive and understand the notion, there is seemingly more than one way to judge it. Thus, avoiding the human error can be provided, if the will has no choice and the perception subjected to a judgment is clear and distinct for the human being. In other words, though admitting the possibility of making judgement to everything, Descartes offers a kind of “careful” judgement for avoiding misperception (Patterson 73-108).

Overall, the theories produced by Descartes admit the full coincidence and collaboration of the will and the intellect in forming the personality and the worldview. Nevertheless, Descartes also states that any human being is imperfect by the nature and the human mistake is something natural for people. Moreover, the will being a broader notion gives a person an opportunity to make judgments on the perceptions, produced and understood be the intellect, and the human error can be avoided. The rationalist theory of Descartes gives quite a logical explanation to the human mistake and its avoidance: if the will does not have to judge anything, which is not fully perceived or understood by the intellect, a human being does not err.

Works Cited

Frogel, Shai. “Descartes: Truth and Self-Deception”. Philosophy, vol.91, no.01, 2015, pp. 93-108.

Jayasekera, Marie. “Responsibility in Descartes’s Theory of Judgment”. Ergo, an Open Access Journal of Philosophy, vol.3, no.12, 2016, 2-15

Lennon, Thomas M. “The Will’s Free Choice”. International Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 4, 2016, pp. 411-427.

Lyons, William. “Philosophy of Mind in Our Time”. Modern Believing, vol. 57, no. 2, 2016, pp. 131-142.

Patterson, Sarah. “Descartes on the Errors of the Senses”. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, vol. 78, 2016, pp. 73-108.

Ragland, C. P. The Will to Reason. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2016.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 10). Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/intellect-and-will-in-descartes-philosophy/

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"Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy." IvyPanda, 10 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/intellect-and-will-in-descartes-philosophy/.

1. IvyPanda. "Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy." September 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/intellect-and-will-in-descartes-philosophy/.


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IvyPanda. "Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy." September 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/intellect-and-will-in-descartes-philosophy/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy." September 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/intellect-and-will-in-descartes-philosophy/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Intellect and Will in Descartes’ Philosophy'. 10 September.

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