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The key claim of this talk will be that the conception of nature as being governed by natural laws is thoroughly modern. It arose mostly in the natural philosophy of Rene Descartes and was meant to replace natural powers as principles of change and of connection among distinct existences. This new conception of laws of nature required the re-constitution the concept of natural law. According to the late Medieaval tradition, exemplified in the writings of Francisco Suarez, laws require rational agency: a law is something that has to be obeyed (executed) and this can only be satisfied by rational creatures. Given the fact that there is natural necessity, based on the interaction of powers, talk of laws governing the behavior natural bodies was, at best, metaphorical and its proper content concerned natural necessities which were grounded in the natural inclinations of things imparted on them by the Author of nature. It will be argued that this conception of power-based natural necessity was replaced by a law-based conception of natural necessity in the work of Descartes. The Cartesian conception of laws as ‘particular and secondary causes’ of worldly phenomena will be analysed and explored.


Stathis Psillos is Professor of Philosophy of Science and Metaphysics at the University of Athens, Greece and a member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario (where he held the Rotman Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science between 2013 and 2015). He is the author or editor of seven books and of more than 140 papers and reviews in learned journals and edited collections, mainly on scientific realism, causation, explanation and the history of philosophy of science. He is member of the Academy of Europe and of the International Academy of Philosophy of Science. He is a former president of the European Philosophy of Science Association (EPSA) and former editor of Metascience (2009-2014).



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Image credit: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., David and Goliath stained glass from St Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh. (License)

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