Volume 51, Issue 2, June 2011
Sum Res Volans
The Centrality of Willing for Descartes
This paper challenges the standard interpretation of Descartes’s view that the essence of the mind is thinking. Most commentators take the essence of the mind to be constituted by thoughts as objects of awareness. By contrast, the position defended here is that willing is as much part of the essence of the Cartesian meditating mind as awareness. Willing is not just a type of thought, but whenever thinking occurs it invariably involves both awareness and willing. To substantiate the claim that Descartes could not separate willing from the one meditating, the paper examines the role of the will at all the key junctures of the Meditations: the cogito, the clarity and distinctness of some of our ideas, the arguments for God’s existence, and the propensity to believe that our ideas of sensible things come
from those things.