Imitation and ‘Infinite’ Will: Descartes on the Imago Dei

Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy 8:1-38 (2018)
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This paper investigates Descartes’s understanding of the imago Dei, that it is above all in virtue of the will that we bear the image and likeness of God. I challenge the key assumption of arguments that hold that Descartes’s comparison between the human will and the divine will is problematic—that in his conception of the imago Dei Descartes is alluding to Scholastic conceptions of analogy available to him at the time, which would place particular constraints on the legitimacy of the comparison. I argue instead that Descartes is evoking a different tradition regarding the nature of image and imitation, stemming from Augustine and Aquinas, and thus, that those constraints do not apply. I then argue that Descartes thinks the likeness between the human will and God’s will is that both are infinite in “extent.” This means that human will can “extend itself” not only to things that can be the object of some other will, but to things that can be the object of God’s will. This is notable because Descartes famously thinks that absolutely anything can be the object of God’s will. I explain why this interpretation is not implausible, contrary to first appearances.

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Marie Jayasekera
California State University, Long Beach


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