Leibniz’s argument against Descartes’s conservation principle in the Brevis demonstratio (1686) has traditionally been read as passing from the premise that motive force must be conserved to the conclusion that motive force is not identical to quantity of motion and, finally, that quantity of motion is not conserved. In a lesser-known draft of the same year, Christiaan Huygens claimed that Descartes had in fact never held the view that Leibniz was attacking. Huygens is right as far as the traditional reading is concerned. However, if the Brevis demonstratio is seen, as it should be, in the context of Leibniz’s attempt to ground mechanics in the foundational metaphysical axiom of the equivalence of full cause and entire effect, then Huygens’s objections can be answered. Leibniz may have committed Descartes to the foundational axiom because of the Traité de la méchanique, which was available to Leibniz at that time. Leibniz had used the equivalence of full cause and entire effect both in discovering the conservation of vis viva earlier and in various arguments for it later. Thus, the Brevis demonstratio should be viewed with Leibniz’s broader foundational mission in mind.
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