Cartesian Aseity in the Third Meditation

Landon McBrayer


The notion that something can exist a se (of/through itself) is central to Descartes’s overall metaphysics of causation.  In the Meditations, divine aseity plays the role of explaining not only God’s existence but ultimately the existence of everything else apart from God.  Yet in the Meditations proper, as well as in the early Replies, Descartes does little to clarify (much less defend) exactly what his view of divine aseity is and how it might differ from the sort of aseity commonly posited by the Scholastics.   Despite Descartes’s later attempts to assuage this worry and clarify his position, the positive aseity charge has not gone away. (For example, John Carriero, in his recent lengthy commentary on the Meditations, repeats the charge in his analysis of the Third Meditation.) Here I shall argue that the charge is unjustified on all counts.  Baldly stated, Descartes’s notion of aseity is no different (with one slight but important qualification) than the negative sense of aseity endorsed by his Scholastic predecessors - especially Aquinas.  Understanding this not only helps in clarifying the overall picture of Cartesian causality but also aids in seeing how commentaries on the Meditations, old and new, have obscured it.


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The Journal of Analytic Theology is a publication of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame.

ISSN 2330-2380 (online)