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Öztürkoğlu, D.

Department of the History of Philosophy

Descartes’ Morale par provision:

A Moral Theory in Progress

A fundamental dispute in the scholarship on Descartes concerns the coherence and continuity of Descartes’ moral theory, as it is difficult to discern if Descartes presented a consistent moral account that did not differ from one work to another. In this sense, Descartes’ initial presentation of a moral code in the Discourse on the Method, which he calls ‘morale par provision,’ constitutes the core of the discussion; since some scholars argue that it is the final theory of Descartes on ethics which was not altered in his later works. However, Descartes’ insistence on the provisionality of this moral code and his discussion of its maxims render it difficult to accept that the provisional moral code was the unchanging basis of his moral theory. In this essay, I will argue that Descartes’ moral theory evolved over time and his early presentation of a moral code in the Discourse should not be taken as his final account.

I will contend that Descartes developed the provisional moral code for fulfilling the utility of living as well as possible until the elaboration of a perfect moral code which offers the moral truth, demonstrating how one should act in any given situation. I will claim that the development of a perfect moral theory, in Descartes’ philosophy, is contingent on progress in metaphysics and physics. I will elucidate that, as Descartes progressed in these two fundamental domains since the presentation of the provisional moral code in 1637, he developed a moral code that became less and less provisional.

Last modified:02 October 2018 2.47 p.m.