Descartes on Necessity and the Laws of Nature


  • Nathan Rockwood Brigham Young University



This paper is on Descartes’ account of modality and, in particular, his account of the necessity of the laws of nature. He famously argues that the necessity of the “eternal truths” of logic and mathematics depends on God’s will. Here I suggest he has the same view about the necessity of the laws of nature. Further, I argue, this is a plausible theory of laws. For philosophers often talk about something being nomologically or physically necessary because of the laws of nature, but this necessity is thought to be metaphysically contingent. However, they struggle to explain how the laws could be genuinely necessary while being metaphysically contingent. The chief advantage of Descartes view, I argue, is that God’s will can plausibly explain both the necessity of the laws (because God made them necessary) and the contingency of the laws (because God could have done otherwise). So, Descartes’ theistic account of laws provides a plausible explanation, perhaps the best explanation, of the contingent-necessity of laws of nature.