Divine Decrees and Human Choices: Grotius on the Law of Fate and Punishment

In: Grotiana

Hugo Grotius’s Philosophorum sententiae de fato et de eo quod in nostra est potestate (from hereafter: psf) has, so far, received little scholarly attention, even though it provides us with an interesting insight into Grotius’s philosophical interests (and the intellectual debates that these interests were reacting to). This text, published posthumously in 1648 (Paris and Amsterdam) by Grotius’s wife, Maria van Reigensberg, contains translations of texts from various philosophers on the question of fate.

The aim of this article is to 1) place the debate on fate, in which Grotius was actively involved throughout all his life and career, in the wider context of the theological and philosophical debates on free will and divine foreknowledge; 2) acknowledge the importance played by Grotius’s psf, a gnomological collection of philosophical sources ranging from Pythagorean philosophers to early patristic authors all providing different, although converging arguments in favor of the existence of free will; and 3) suggest that debates on fate are distinctively linked by Grotius with those on the importance of law and punishment as a guarantee of order. This “legalistic” interpretation of fate ultimately allows Grotius to reconcile divine decrees with human liberty.