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Hobbes’s De Corpore on Modalities and Its Contemporary Critiques

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Hobbes considered as unambiguous and unproblematic his demonstration in De Corpore that every effect past, present or future is necessary, since it always requires a sufficient cause that cannot be sufficient without being necessary, so that nothing is possible which will not be actual at some time. Now, this approach to necessity and possibility was received by his contemporary readers as missing its aim. Two immediate criticisms of De Corpore by Moranus and Ward exhibit from this viewpoint an interesting difference as to their common argument that only hypothetical necessity can result from Hobbes’s premises. My essay relates this argumentative difference to the absence (Moranus) or presence (Ward) in the background of the free-will dispute between Hobbes and Bramhall. From there, I examine also different interpretations of the ‘hypothetical necessity-argument’ in the indirect critical reception of De Corpore, when the target is Hobbes’s necessitarianism in the controversy with Bramhall, based on significant material from his De Corpore project. Remarkably, although Leibniz agrees with Bramhall that Hobbes only proves a hypothetical necessity, Leibniz’s understanding of hypothetical necessity is not that of Bramhall. Another striking difference is displayed in the use of the ‘hypothetical necessity-argument’ by More, which as it were blurs the connection of the free-will issue with Hobbes’s general doctrine of causality.

Affiliations: 1: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CRAL, CNRS-EHESS)


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