Res Philosophica

Volume 92, Issue 1, January 2015

The 11th Robert J. Henle Conference

Lex Newman
Pages 61-91

Attention, Voluntarism, and Liberty in Descartes's Account of Judgment

This essay addresses two main aspects of Descartes’s views on the mind’s voluntary control over judgment. First, I argue that in his view, the mind’s control over judgment is indirect: rather than believing things directly at will, the mind’s voluntary control is exercised by directing its attention to reasons—the reasons then doing the work of determining either assent, dissent, or suspension. Second, I argue that the foregoing indirect voluntarism account undermines an influential line of argument purporting to show that Descartes holds a compatibilist account of the mind’s liberty in its judgment formation. On the broader interpretation that emerges, Descartes assigns a more significant role to attention in proper judgment formation than has generally been acknowledged.