Causation & laws of nature in early modern philosophy (review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (4):524-526 (2010)
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In Causation & Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy, Walter Ott offers us a fascinating account of the development of theories of causation and laws of nature in the early modern period. The central theme of the book traces the development of two approaches to causation in the period: the “top-down analysis” and the “bottom-up analysis.” According to the former approach, the laws of nature are not “fixed by the natures of the objects they govern.” Rather, the content of the laws of nature depends solely on God and the contents of God’s will . The latter approach, on the other hand, holds that the “course of nature is fixed by the properties of created beings” . On this approach, a fire’s burning, for example, is a function of the powers of the fire and the wood, not the will of God. Ott treats Descartes and Malebranche as paradigm cases of the top-down approach, and Locke and Pierre-Sylvain Regis as examples of the bottom-up approach, with Boyle displaying hints of both approaches.Central to Ott’s treatment is situating the early modern debate in the context of the dominant Aristotelian Scholastic position on causation . Ott argues that the Scholastic position was, among other things, a bottom-up view that treated true



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