Laws and Powers in the Frame of Nature
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The aim of this paper is to revisit the major arguments of the seventeenth century debate concerning laws and powers. Its primary points are two. First, though the dominant conception of nature was such that there was no room for power in bodies, the very idea that laws govern the behaviour of (bits of) matter in motion brought with it the following issue, which came under sharp focus in the work of Leibniz: how possibly can passive matter, devoid of power, obey laws? Though Leibniz’s answer was to re-introduce powers, two radically different conceptualisations of the relation between laws and powers became available after him. Hume denied powers altogether, whereas Newton thought that to introduce a power is to introduce a law. The second main point will be that though laws were meant to replace powers, the real dilemma ended up being not laws vs powers, but rather necessity vs non-necessity in nature. To exploit, an expression used by Newton, the question was: what is the place of necessity in the frame of nature?