Hobbes’s De Corpore on Modalities and Its Contemporary Critiques

In: Hobbes Studies

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.

  • 2

    John Wallis, Elenchus Geometriae Hobbianae. Sive, Geometricorum, quae in ipsius Elementis Philosophiae, a Thoma Hobbes Malmesburiensi proferuntur, Refutatio (Oxford: for John Crook, 1655). The comment on chapter 46 of Leviathan by John Wilkins and Seth Ward in the Appendix to their Vindiciae Academiarum (Oxford: for Thomas Robinson, 1654) already suggested that Hobbes was not “so great a Geometrician” as he claimed to be (p. 57). A careful study of the controversy Wallis-Hobbes is provided in D.M. Jesseph, Squaring the Circle. The War between Hobbes and Wallis (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1999).

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  • 34

    Hintikka, “Gaps in The Great Chain of Being”, 4.

  • 49

    Moranus, Animadversiones, 12.

  • 55

    Seth Ward, In Thomae Hobbii philosophiam Exercitatio epistolica (Oxford: for Richard Davis, 1656). Ward criticizes Hobbes’s doctrine of necessity in section ii, chapter 3 (Exercitatio epistolica, 82–91).

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  • 56

    Ward, Exercitatio epistolica, 82.

  • 59

    Ward, Exercitatio epistolica, 83.

  • 63

    Ward, Exercitatio epistolica, 87.

  • 64

     See Ward, Exercitatio epistolica, 88.

  • 65

    Ward, Exercitatio epistolica, 89.

  • 67

    Ward, Exercitatio epistolica, 90.

  • 74

    Hobbes, Of Libertie and Necessitie, 46.

  • 82

    Leibniz, Textes inédits, 267; A vi 3, 587.

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