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Anti-Realism about Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary Some argue that laws of nature don't exist or even that the concept of a law of nature is flawed.These claims can go into at least two directions: through and through anti-realist / empiricist positions as, for example, found in Van Fraassen's Laws and Symmetry; or positions which, like Mumford's in his Laws in Nature, reduce laws to other metaphysically robust entities like causal powers.
Key works Two anti-realist views come from Van Fraassen 1989 and Mumford 2004, although their approaches are very different (see Summary above).
Introductions There are no introductions specifically on this subject but see the general entry "Laws of Nature" and references there.
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  1. A. J. Aver (1999). What is a Law of Nature? In Michael Tooley (ed.), Laws of Nature, Causation, and Supervenience. Garland Pub.. 1--52.
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  2. Yury V. Balashov (1992). On the Evolution of Natural Laws. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (3):343-370.
    's argumentation in favour of essential invariability of the fundamental laws of nature is critically examined. It is contended that within the realist framework Poincareé's arguments lose their apodictical force. In this sense the assumption of inconstancy of even the fundamental laws of nature is methodologically legitimate.
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  3. Clint Ballinger (2007). Initial Conditions and the 'Open Systems' Argument Against Laws of Nature. Metaphysica 9 (1):17-31.
    This article attacks “open systems” arguments that because constant conjunctions are not generally observed in the real world of open systems we should be highly skeptical that universal laws exist. This work differs from other critiques of open system arguments against laws of nature by not focusing on laws themselves, but rather on the inference from open systems. We argue that open system arguments fail for two related reasons; 1) because they cannot account for the “systems” central to their argument (...)
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  4. Ruben Berrios, Anti-Realism and Aesthetic Cognition.
    Ruben Berrios Queen’s University Belfast Anti-realism and Aesthetic Cognition Abstract At the core of the debate between scientific realism and anti-realism is the question of the relation between scientific theory and the world. The realist possesses a mimetic conception of the relation between theory and reality. For the realist, scientific theories represent reality. The anti-realist, in contrast, seeks to understand the relations between theory and world in non-mimetic terms. We will examine Cartwright’s simulacrum account of explanation in order to illuminate (...)
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  5. Rachael Briggs (2009). The Big Bad Bug Bites Anti-Realists About Chance. Synthese 167 (1):81--92.
    David Lewis’s ‘Humean Supervenience’ (henceforth ‘HS’) combines realism about laws, chances, and dispositions with a sparse ontology according to which everything supervenes on the overall spatiotemporal distribution of non-dispositional properties (Lewis 1986a, Philosophical papers: Volume II, pp. ix–xvii, New York: Oxford Univesity Press, 1994, Mind 103:473–490). HS faces a serious problem—a “big bad bug” (Lewis 1986a, p. xiv): it contradicts the Principal Principle, a seemingly obvious norm of rational credence. Two authors have tried to rescue Lewis’s ontology from the ‘big (...)
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  6. Nancy Cartwright (1983). How the Laws of Physics Lie. Oxford University Press.
    In this sequence of philosophical essays about natural science, the author argues that fundamental explanatory laws, the deepest and most admired successes of modern physics, do not in fact describe regularities that exist in nature. Cartwright draws from many real-life examples to propound a novel distinction: that theoretical entities, and the complex and localized laws that describe them, can be interpreted realistically, but the simple unifying laws of basic theory cannot.
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  7. Review author[S.]: John Earman (1993). In Defense of Laws: Reflections on Bas Van Fraassen's Laws and Symmetry. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (2):413-419.
  8. Bas C. Van Fraassen (1993). Armstrong, Cartwright, and Earman on Laws and Symmetry. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (2):431 - 444.
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  9. John Halpin (2013). Briggs on Antirealist Accounts of Scientific Law. Synthese 190 (16):3439–3449.
    Rachel Briggs’ critique of “antirealist” accounts of scientific law— including my own perspectivalist best-system account—is part of a project meant to show that Humean conceptions of scientific law are more problematic than has been commonly realized. Indeed, her argument provides a new challenge to the Humean, a thoroughly epistemic version of David Lewis’ “big, bad bug” for Humeanism. Still, I will argue, the antirealist (perspectivalist and expressivist) accounts she criticizes have the resources to withstand the challenge and come out stronger (...)
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  10. Peter Lipton, From Metaphysics to Method.
    The stimulating programme of The Dappled World is metaphysics in the service of methodology. To say that the world is dappled is to say that the laws of nature only apply to certain regions. A central argument for this claim is epistemic. Although the laws, especially laws of physics, are typically thought of as universal, in fact we have only managed to construct precise quantitative models for a very limited range of cases, most of which lie within the artificially simplified (...)
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  11. Dan Mcarthur (2006). Contra Cartwright: Structural Realism, Ontological Pluralism and Fundamentalism About Laws. Synthese 151 (2):233 - 255.
    In this paper I argue against Nancy Cartwright’s claim that we ought to abandon what she calls “fundamentalism” about the laws of nature and adopt instead her “dappled world” hypothesis. According to Cartwright we ought to abandon the notion that fundamental laws (even potentially) apply universally, instead we should consider the law-like statements of science to apply in highly qualified ways within narrow, non-overlapping and ontologically diverse domains, including the laws of fundamental physics. For Cartwright, “laws” are just locally applicable (...)
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  12. Stephen Mumford (2005). Laws and Lawlessness. Synthese 144 (3):397?413.
    I develop a metaphysical position that is both lawless and anti-Humean. The position is called realist lawlessness and contrasts with both Humean lawlessness and nomological realism – the claim that there are laws in nature. While the Humean view also allows no laws, realist lawlessness is not Humean because it accepts some necessary connections in nature between distinct properties. Realism about laws, on the other hand, faces a central dilemma. Either laws govern the behaviour of properties from the outside or (...)
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  13. Stephen Mumford (1998). Laws of Nature Outlawed. Dialectica 52 (2):83–101.
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  14. Paul Needham (1991). Duhem and Cartwright on the Truth of Laws. Synthese 89 (1):89 - 109.
    Nancy Cartwright has drawn attention to how explanations are actually given in mathematical sciences. She argues that these procedures support an antirealist thesis that fundamental explanatory laws are not true. Moreover, she claims to be be essentially following Duhem's line of thought in developing this thesis. Without wishing to detract from the importance of her observations, it is suggested that they do not necessarily require the antirealist thesis. The antirealist interpretation of Duhem is also disputed. It is argued that Duhemian (...)
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  15. L. A. Paul, Limited Realism: Cartwright on Natures and Laws.
    A leaf falls to the ground, wafting lazily on the afternoon breeze. Clouds move across the sky, and birds sing. Are these events governed by universal laws of nature, laws that apply everywhere without exception, subsuming events such as the falling of the leaf, the movement of the clouds and the singing of the birds? Are such laws part of a small set of fundamental laws, or descended from such a set, which govern everything there is in the world?
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  16. David Spurrett (2001). Cartwright on Laws and Composition. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 15 (3):253 – 268.
    Cartwright attempts to argue from an analysis of the composition of forces, and more generally the composition of laws, to the conclusion that laws must be regarded as false. A response to Cartwright is developed which contends that properly understood composition poses no threat to the truth of laws, even though agreeing with Cartwright that laws do not satisfy the "facticity" requirement. My analysis draws especially on the work of Creary, Bhaskar, Mill, and points towards a general rejection of Cartwright's (...)
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  17. Paul Teller (2004). The Law‐Idealization. Philosophy of Science 71 (5):730-741.
    There are few, perhaps no known, exact, true, general laws. Some of the work of generalization is carried by ceteris paribus generalizations. I suggest that many models continue such work in more complex form, with the idea of ceteris paribus conditions thought of as extended to more general conditions of application. I use the term regularity guide to refer collectively to cp‐generalizations and such regularity‐purveying models. Laws in the traditional sense can then be thought of as idealizations, which idealize away (...)
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  18. Bas C. van Fraassen (1993). Armstrong, Cartwright, and Earman on Laws and Symmetry. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53:431--44.
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  19. Bas C. Van Fraassen (1989). Laws and Symmetry. Oxford University Press.
    Metaphysicians speak of laws of nature in terms of necessity and universality; scientists, in terms of symmetry and invariance. In this book van Fraassen argues that no metaphysical account of laws can succeed. He analyzes and rejects the arguments that there are laws of nature, or that we must believe there are, and argues that we should disregard the idea of law as an adequate clue to science. After exploring what this means for general epistemology, the author develops the empiricist (...)
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  20. Review author[S.]: Bas C. van Fraassen (1993). Armstrong, Cartwright, and Earman on Laws and Symmetry. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (2):431-444.
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  21. Torsten Wilholt (2012). Conventionalism: Poincaré, Duhem, Reichenbach. In James R. Brown (ed.), Philosophy of Science: The Key Thinkers. Continuum Books. 32.
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