Du Châtelet, self-motion, and freedom

The essay "On Freedom" and Chapter 13 of Du Châtelet's Institutions Manuscript

There is an ongoing scholarly debate about Du Châtelet’s views on liberty and free will in her handwritten essay “On Freedom,” which was initially intended to be part of her longer Institutions de physique. See for example Aaron Wells’s History of Philosophy Quarterly paper from 2022, arguing for an incompatibilist reading of Du Châtelet.

“On Freedom” was probably written around the same time as some of the earlier parts of the Paris Manuscript of the Institutions de physique. This means that some discussions in the manuscript, which is gradually being published online by the Center, may shed light on Du Châtelet’s theory of freedom. One example that has not yet been discussed in the secondary literature is a discussion of the “self-moving power of animate creatures” as a type of “internal moving force” that is similar to gravitational attraction. We know from her correspondence during the period that Du Châtelet worried about how freedom, if it’s understood as a force, can be fit into a deterministic physical universe. This passage from the thirteenth chapter of the manuscript, a transcription of which will appear soon on the Center website, provides an interesting new perspective on the question.

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