Workshop: Early Modern Laws of Nature: Secular and Divine


This one-day workshop will examine the theological debates that influenced the birth and development of the notion of laws of nature from the sixteenth century until the critical Kant. It is widely accepted that the laws of nature were born as a theological justification of the order found in nature by sixteenth and seventeenth centuries natural philosophers and theologians. It is also widely recognised, however, that by the mid-eighteenth century the laws of nature were assumed to guide and explain the workings of the natural world without any reference to the divine. The laws of nature, therefore, moved from being essentially tied in their beginnings to the nature of God, to becoming a secular concept by the midst of the so called scientific revolution. The goal of this event will be to uncover the philosophical and theological concepts at stake both at the birth and later development of the laws of nature, seeking a greater understanding of the transition from being a theological notion to becoming a non-theological notion. 

The workshop is co-organised by the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, University of Oxford (Dr Ignacio Silva), and the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen (Dr Andrea Sangiacomo). The workshop will host Prof Eric Watkins (University of San Diego) and Prof Sophie Roux (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) as keynote speakers, and offers up-to five slots for shorter presentations.

Accepted short papers cover a range of issues, including the theological underpinnings of the laws of nature in the philosophies of nature of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Cartesian and Scholastic understandings of the laws of nature, and secular discourses on the laws of nature by the mid-eighteenth century.

Participation at the workshop is free of charge, but prior registration is needed. To register, please contact: by 23 June.

This workshop is possible due to a grant from the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, and it is part of the activities of the NWO-Veni Project “Occasionalism and the secularization of early modern science” run by Dr Andrea Sangiacomo.


09.30-10.10: Ignacio Silva (Oxford, UK)
Pre-Cartesian Discussions on the Laws of Nature and the Real Presence

10.10-10.50: Nazif Muhtaroglu (Bogazici, Turkey)
The Islamic Background of Descartes’s Laws of Nature

10.50-11.00: Coffee Break

11.00-11.40: Nathan Rockwood (Virginia Tech, US)
A Cartesian View of Natural Necessity

11.40-12.20: Marine Picon (ENS Lyon, France)
Potentia Absoluta, Potentia Ordinata and the Laws of Nature in Leibniz

12.20-13.30: Keynote Sophie Roux (ENS Paris, France)
Laws of Nature: Words, Concepts, Things

13.30-14.30: Lunch Break

14.30-15.10: Sergio H. Orozco-Echeverri (Edinburgh, UK)
Laws of Nature, Secondary Causation and Providence in Newton and Barrow

15.10-15.50: Jonathan Head (Keele, UK)
Kant on God and the Laws of Nature in the 1750s

15.50-16.30: Andrea Sangiacomo (Groningen, Netherlands)
Sine Qua Non Causation: The Legacy of Occasionalism in Kant’s New Elucidation

16.30-16.50: Coffee Break

16.50-18.00: Keynote Eric Watkins (San Diego, US)
Kant on Laws

18.30-21.00: Dinner

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