Proto-Humean Strains in Leibniz’s Analysis of Causal Relation
My aim in the present paper is to challenge an established doctrine according to which Leibniz conceives of causation – in sharp contrast to Hume – in terms of a sort of the so-called hypothetical necessity, to the effect that causation involves a hypothetical necessitation a parte rei explicable in terms of purely conceptual connections. I argue that as far as one can tell from the direct textual evidence, Leibniz's concept of causation can be interpreted as coming surprisingly close to an essentially Humean view according to which far from implying any necessities a parte rei, conceptual connections impose necessity only on our thought while in reality causation involves only regularities in the conjunction of contiguous objects. Then I try to reconcile this claim with the well-documented fact that within the larger framework of Leibniz's theory of truth and his principle of suffi cient reason, Leibniz was indeed committed to a 'necessitarian' position – in the sense that every item in the actual world is, after all, a matter of hypothetical necessity in rebus (or nearly so) – and that he was prepared to integrate causes into this larger picture. My point will be that the apparent confl ict between these two views is due to our failure to distinguish the analytic task concerning causation from various explanatory tasks in which causation is involved.