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Ceteris Paribus Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Westfälische Wilhelms Universität, Münster)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary An alleged law of nature—like Newton's law of gravitation—is said to be a ceteris paribus law if it does not hold under certain circumstances but only ‘when other things are equal’. Typical examples are: ‘provided the supply remains constant, the price of a product increases with growing demand, ceteris paribus’, ‘all bodies fall with the same speed, ceteris paribus’, ‘haemoglobin binds O2, ceteris paribus’. There is, however, an inherent tension in the notion of a ceteris paribus law: on the one hand, laws are said to be strict universal regularities, on the other hand, the proviso clause seems to allow for certain exceptions. Moreover, in the current debate on ceteris paribus laws fervent opponents to the whole idea of law statements with proviso clauses point out that no good sense can be made of a statement like ‘All Fs are Gs, ceteris paribus’. Such a phrase, so they say, is either tautologous like ‘All Fs are Gs, unless not’ or it stands for a proposition like ‘All Fs which are also… are Gs’ the gap of which we are unable to close. Many of those who argue in favour of the idea of ceteris paribus laws, however, not only claim that a proper analysis of what the proviso clause is supposed to mean can be given but even that all laws are of ceteris paribus character.
Key works There's a special Erkenntnis Volume on Ceteris paribus Laws which set the agenda for many years: Earman et al 2002 A follow-up volume is currently under review. Watch this space!
Introductions Hüttemann et al 2011
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  1. Alexander Bird (2004). Antidotes All the Way Down? Theoria 19 (3):259-269.
    This paper concerns the relationship between dispositions and ceteris paribus laws. Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple (subjunctive or counterfactual) conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these (...)
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  2. Alexander Bird (2004). Antidotes All the Way Down? Theoria 19 (3):259–69.
    Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple (subjunctive or counterfactual) conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these phenomena are easy to demonstrate at the macro-level. But do they (...)
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  3. David Braddon-Mitchell (2001). Lossy Laws. Noûs 35 (2):260–277.
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  4. John Canfield & Keith Lehrer (1961). A Note on Prediction and Deduction. Philosophy of Science 28 (2):204-208.
    This paper argues against the deductive reconstruction of scientific prediction, that is, against the view that in prediction the predicted event follows deductively from the laws and initial conditions that are the basis of the prediction. The major argument of the paper is intended to show that the deductive reconstruction is an inaccurate reconstruction of actual scientific procedure. Our reason for maintaining that it is inaccurate is that if the deductive reconstruction were an accurate reconstruction, then scientific prediction would be (...)
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  5. Martin Carrier (1998). In Defense of Psychological Laws. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 12 (3):217 – 232.
    Abstract It is argued that psychological explanations involve psychological generalizations that exhibit the same features as laws of physics. On the basis of the ?systematic theory of lawhood?, characteristic features of laws of nature are elaborated. Investigating some examples of explanations taken from cognitive psychology shows that these features can also be identified in psychological generalizations. Particular attention is devoted to the notion of ?ccteris?paribus laws?. It is argued that laws of psychology are indeed ceteris?paribus laws. However, this feature does (...)
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  6. N. Cartwright (1995). Ceteris Paribus Laws and Socio-Economic Machines. The Monist 78 (3):276-294.
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  7. Nancy Cartwright (2002). In Favor of Laws That Are Not Ceteris Paribus After All. Erkenntnis 57 (3):425Ð439.
    Opponents of ceteris paribus laws are apt to complain that the laws are vague and untestable. Indeed, claims to this effect are made by Earman, Roberts and Smith in this volume. I argue that these kinds of claims rely on too narrow a view about what kinds of concepts we can and do regularly use in successful sciences and on too optimistic a view about the extent of application of even our most successful non-ceteris paribus laws. When it comes to (...)
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  8. Nancy Cartwright (1999). The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science. Cambridge University Press.
    It is often supposed that the spectacular successes of our modern mathematical sciences support a lofty vision of a world completely ordered by one single elegant theory. In this book Nancy Cartwright argues to the contrary. When we draw our image of the world from the way modern science works - as empiricism teaches us we should - we end up with a world where some features are precisely ordered, others are given to rough regularity and still others behave in (...)
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  9. Nancy Cartwright (1997). Models: The Blueprints for Laws. Philosophy of Science 64 (4):303.
    In this paper the claim that laws of nature are to be understood as claims about what necessarily or reliably happens is disputed. Laws can characterize what happens in a reliable way, but they do not do this easily. We do not have laws for everything occurring in the world, but only for those situations where what happens in nature is represented by a model: models are blueprints for nomological machines, which in turn give rise to laws. An example from (...)
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  10. Nancy Cartwright (1989). Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement. Oxford University Press.
    Ever since David Hume, empiricists have barred powers and capacities from nature. In this book Cartwright argues that capacities are essential in our scientific world, and, contrary to empiricist orthodoxy, that they can meet sufficiently strict demands for testability. Econometrics is one discipline where probabilities are used to measure causal capacities, and the technology of modern physics provides several examples of testing capacities (such as lasers). Cartwright concludes by applying the lessons of the book about capacities and probabilities to the (...)
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  11. 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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  12. Alan Chalmers (1996). Cartwright on Fundamental Laws: A Response to Clarke. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1):150 – 152.
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  13. Gabriele Contessa (2013). Dispositions and Interferences. Philosophical Studies 165 (2):401-419.
    The Simple Counterfactual Analysis (SCA) was once considered the most promising analysis of disposition ascriptions. According to SCA, disposition ascriptions are to be analyzed in terms of counterfactual conditionals. In the last few decades, however, SCA has become the target of a battery of counterexamples. In all counterexamples, something seems to be interfering with a certain object’s having or not having a certain disposition thus making the truth-values of the disposition ascription and of its associated counterfactual come apart. Intuitively, however, (...)
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  14. Richard Corry (2011). Can Dispositional Essences Ground the Laws of Nature? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (2):263 - 275.
    A dispositional property is a tendency, or potency, to manifest some characteristic behaviour in some appropriate context. The mainstream view in the twentieth century was that such properties are to be explained in terms of more fundamental non-dispositional properties, together with the laws of nature. In the last few decades, however, a rival view has become popular, according to which some properties are essentially dispositional in nature, and the laws of nature are to be explained in terms of these fundamental (...)
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  15. Alice Drewery (2001). Dispositions and Ceteris Paribus Laws. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (4):723-733.
    This paper discusses the relationship between dispositions and laws and the prospects for any analysis of talk of laws in terms of talk of dispositions. Recent attempts at such a reduction have often been motivated by the desire to give an account of ceteris paribus laws and in this they have had some success. However, such accounts differ as to whether they view dispositions as properties fundamentally of individuals or of kinds. I argue that if dispositions are properties of individuals, (...)
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  16. Travis Dumsday (2013). Laws of Nature Don't Have Ceteris Paribus Clauses, They Are Ceteris Paribus Clauses. Ratio 26 (2):134-147.
    Laws of nature are properly (if controversially) conceived as abstract entities playing a governing role in the physical universe. Dispositionalists typically hold that laws of nature are not real, or at least are not fundamental, and that regularities in the physical universe are grounded in the causal powers of objects. By contrast, I argue that dispositionalism implies nomic realism: since at least some dispositions have ceteris paribus clauses incorporating uninstantiated universals, and these ceteris paribus clauses help to determine their dispositions' (...)
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  17. John Earman (2004). Laws, Symmetry, and Symmetry Breaking: Invariance, Conservation Principles, and Objectivity. Philosophy of Science 71 (5):1227--1241.
    Given its importance in modern physics, philosophers of science have paid surprisingly little attention to the subject of symmetries and invariances, and they have largely neglected the subtopic of symmetry breaking. I illustrate how the topic of laws and symmetries brings into fruitful interaction technical issues in physics and mathematics with both methodological issues in philosophy of science, such as the status of laws of physics, and metaphysical issues, such as the nature of objectivity.
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  18. John Earman & John Roberts (1999). "Ceteris Paribus", There Is No Problem of Provisos. Synthese 118 (3):439 - 478.
    Much of the literature on "ceteris paribus" laws is based on a misguided egalitarianism about the sciences. For example, it is commonly held that the special sciences are riddled with ceteris paribus laws; from this many commentators conclude that if the special sciences are not to be accorded a second class status, it must be ceteris paribus all the way down to fundamental physics. We argue that the (purported) laws of fundamental physics are not hedged by ceteris paribus clauses and (...)
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  19. John Earman, John T. Roberts & Sheldon Smith (2002). Ceteris Paribus Lost. Erkenntnis 57 (3):281-301.
    Many have claimed that ceteris paribus (CP) laws are a quite legitimate feature of scientific theories, some even going so far as to claim that laws of all scientific theories currently on offer are merely CP. We argue here that one of the common props of such a thesis, that there are numerous examples of CP laws in physics, is false. Moreover, besides the absence of genuine examples from physics, we suggest that otherwise unproblematic claims are rendered untestable by the (...)
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  20. Mehmet Elgin (2006). There May Be Strict Empirical Laws in Biology, After All. Biology and Philosophy 21 (1):119-134.
    This paper consists of four parts. Part 1 is an introduction. Part 2 evaluates arguments for the claim that there are no strict empirical laws in biology. I argue that there are two types of arguments for this claim and they are as follows: (1) Biological properties are multiply realized and they require complex processes. For this reason, it is almost impossible to formulate strict empirical laws in biology. (2) Generalizations in biology hold contingently but laws go beyond describing contingencies, (...)
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  21. Mehmet Elgin & Elliott Sober (2002). Cartwright on Explanation and Idealization. Erkenntnis 57 (3):441 - 450.
    Nancy Cartwright (1983, 1999) argues that (1) the fundamental laws of physics are true when and only when appropriate ceteris paribus modifiers are attached and that (2) ceteris paribus modifiers describe conditions that are almost never satisfied. She concludes that when the fundamental laws of physics are true, they don't apply in the real world, but only in highly idealized counterfactual situations. In this paper, we argue that (1) and (2) together with an assumption about contraposition entail the opposite conclusion (...)
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  22. Michael Esfeld, Comment on David Papineau, Can Any Sciences Be Special?
    David Papineau, Jerry Fodor and many others wonder how the conjunction of the following three positions can be true: 1) Special science laws: There are lawlike generalizations in the special sciences. These sciences trade in kinds that are such that statements about salient, reliable correlations that are projectible and that support counterfactuals apply to the tokens coming under these kinds. 2) Non-reductionism: The laws of some of the special sciences cannot be reduced to physical laws. 3) Physicalism: Everything there is (...)
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  23. J. Fodor (1989). Making Mind Matter More. Philosophical Topics 17 (11):59-79.
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  24. Jerry A. Fodor (1991). You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time, Everything Else Being Equal: Hedged Laws and Psychological Explanation. Mind 100 (397):19-34.
  25. Danny Frederick, Ceteris-Paribus Law-Statements Are Testable.
    It is often contended that statements of laws of nature are ceteris-paribus in some, or even in all, of the sciences. It is often objected that ceteris-paribus law-statements are vacuous or untestable. I show that such objections are mistaken and depend upon confusions between vacuity, untestability and ad hoc immunity to rejection, and between verifiability and falsifiability. I highlight some of those confusions in opponents of ceteris-paribus law-statements, such as John Earman, John Roberts and Sheldon Smith. I suggest that such (...)
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  26. Ronald N. Giere (1999). Science Without Laws. University of Chicago Press.
    Debate over the nature of science has recently moved from the halls of academia into the public sphere, where it has taken shape as the "science wars." At issue is the question of whether scientific knowledge is objective and universal or socially mediated, whether scientific truths are independent of human values and beliefs. Ronald Giere is a philosopher of science who has been at the forefront of this debate from its inception, and Science without Laws offers a much-needed mediating perspective (...)
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  27. Peter Gildenhuys (2010). Causal Equations Without Ceteris Paribus Clauses. Philosophy of Science 77 (4):608-632.
    Some writers have urged that evolutionary theory produces generalizations that hold only ceteris paribus, that is, provided “everything else is equal.” Others have claimed that all laws in the special sciences, or even all laws in science generally, hold only ceteris paribus. However, if we lack a way to determine when everything else really is equal, hedging generalizations with the phrase ceteris paribus renders those generalizations vacuous. I propose a solution to this problem for the case of causal equations from (...)
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  28. Clark Glymour (2002). A Semantics and Methodology for Ceteris Paribus Hypotheses. Erkenntnis 57 (3):395-405.
    Taking seriously the arguments of Earman, Roberts and Smith that ceteris paribus laws have no semantics and cannot be tested, I suggest that ceteris paribus claims have a kind of formal pragmatics, and that at least some of them can be verified or refuted in the limit.
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  29. B. Gnassounou & M. Kistler (eds.) (2007). Dispositions in Philosophy and Science. Ashgate.
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  30. David Gruender (1984). The Bounds of Law: Universality in Science. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1984:95 - 101.
    Giving attention both to the history of modern science and to current work in the natural sciences, the importance of requiring that natural laws be treated as universal with respect to space and time is discussed critically. It is concluded that the view that such a requirement be taken as a definitional criterion characterizing laws of nature--or science itself--is not justified, and that the deductive advantages of universality can be preserved with local laws using scope limitations or sortal (...)
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  31. Marcello Guarini (2000). Horgan and Tienson on Ceteris Paribus Laws. Philosophy of Science 67 (2):301-315.
    Terence Horgan and John Tienson claim that folk psychological laws are different in kind from basic physical laws in at least two ways: first, physical laws do not possess the kind of ceteris paribus qualifications possessed by folk psychological laws, which means the two types of laws have different logical forms; and second, applied physical laws are best thought of as being about an idealized world and folk psychological laws about the actual world. I argue that Horgan and Tienson have (...)
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  32. Ned Hall (2005). Causation and Ceteris Paribus Laws. The Harvard Review of Philosophy 13 (1):80-99.
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  33. Jens Harbecke (2013). On the Distinction Between Law Schemata and Causal Laws. Acta Analytica 28 (4):423-434.
    The paper argues against the widely accepted assumption that the causal laws of (completed) physics, in contrast to those of the special sciences, are essentially strict. This claim played an important role already in debates about the anomalousness of the mental, and it currently experiences a renaissance in various discussions about mental causation, projectability of special science laws, and the nature of physical laws. By illustrating the distinction with some paradigmatic physical laws, the paper demonstrates that only law schemata are (...)
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  34. D. M. Hausman (1992). The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    This book offers a comprehensive overview of the structure, strategy and methods of assessment of orthodox theoretical economics.
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  35. Carl Gustav Hempel (1988). Provisos: A Philosophical Problem Concerning the Inferential Function of Scientific Laws. In A. Grünbaum & W. Salmon (eds.), The Limits of Deductivism. University of California Press, Berkeley, Ca. 19Ð36.
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  36. Carl Hoefer (2003). For Fundamentalism. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1401--1412.
    In this paper I defend fundamental physical laws from the arguments mounted by Nancy Cartwright in her (1999) book The Dappled World (and other publications). I argue, positively, that we have a good deal of evidence for mathematical laws—not just causal capacities—underlying many natural phenomena. I also argue, negatively, that Cartwright's main arguments unfairly demand that a fundamentalist be a strong reductionist.
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  37. Andreas Hüttemann (forthcoming). Ceteris Paribus Laws in Physics. Erkenntnis:1-14.
    Earman and Roberts (in Synthese 118:439–478, 1999) claim that there is neither a persuasive account of the truth-conditions of ceteris paribus laws, nor of how such laws can be confirmed or disconfirmed. I will give an account of the truth conditions of ceteris paribus laws in physics in terms of dispositions. It will meet the objections standardly raised against such an account. Furthermore I will elucidate how ceteris paribus laws can be tested in physics. The essential point is that physics (...)
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  38. Andreas Hüttemann (2012). Ceteris-paribus-Gesetze in der Physik. In Michael Esfeld (ed.), Philosophie der Physik.
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  39. Andreas Hüttemann (1998). Laws and Dispositions. Philosophy of Science 65 (1):121-135.
    Laws are supposed to tell us how physical systems actually behave. The analysis of an important part of physical practice--abstraction--shows, however, that laws describe the behavior of physical systems under very special circumstances, namely when they are isolated. Nevertheless, laws are applied in cases of non-isolation as well. This practice requires an explanation. It is argued that one has to assume that physical systems have dispositions. I take these to be innocuous from an empiricist's standpoint because they can--at least in (...)
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  40. Andreas Hüttemann & Alexander Reutlinger (forthcoming). Against the Statistical Account of Special Science Laws. In Vassilios Karakostas & Dennis Dieks (eds.), Recent Progress in Philosophy of Science: Perspectives and Foundational Problems. The Third European Philosophy of Science Association Proceedings. Springer.
    John Earman and John T. Roberts advocate a challenging and radical claim regarding the semantics of laws in the special sciences: the statistical account. According to this account, a typical special science law “asserts a certain precisely defined statistical relation among well-defined variables” (Earman and Roberts 1999) and this statistical relation does not require being hedged by ceteris paribus conditions. In this paper, we raise two objections against the attempt to cash out the content of special science generalizations in statistical (...)
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  41. Andreas Hüttemann, Alexander Reutlinger & Gerhard Schurz, Ceteris Paribus Laws. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Laws of nature take center stage in philosophy of science. Laws are usually believed to stand in a tight conceptual relation to many important key concepts such as causation, explanation, confirmation, determinism, counterfactuals etc. Traditionally, philosophers of science have focused on physical laws, which were taken to be at least true, universal statements that support counterfactual claims. But, although this claim about laws might be true with respect to physics, laws in the special sciences (such as biology, psychology, economics etc.) (...)
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  42. Ingvar Johansson (1980). Ceteris Paribus Clauses, Closure Clauses and Falsifiability. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 11 (1):16-22.
    Summary The article argues thatceteris paribus clauses have to be separated from another type of clauses called closure clauses. The former are associated with laws and theories, the latter with test situations of a particular kind. It is also argued that closure clauses, but notceteris paribus clauses, make Popper's falsifiability principle untenable. In that way, it also resolves the quarrel between Popper and Lakatos aboutceteris paribus clauses and falsifiability by saying that both are partly wrong and partly right.
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  43. Geoffrey Joseph (1980). The Many Sciences and the One World. Journal of Philosophy 77 (12):773-791.
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  44. Geert Keil (2005). How the Ceteris Paribus Laws of Physics Lie. In Jan Faye, Paul Needham, Uwe Scheffler & Max Urchs (eds.), Nature’s Principles. Springer. 167--200.
    After a brief survey of the literature on ceteris paribus clauses and ceteris paribus laws (1), the problem of exceptions, which creates the need for cp laws, is discussed (2). It emerges that the so-called skeptical view of laws of nature does not apply to laws of any kind whatever. Only some laws of physics are plagued with exceptions, not the laws (3). Cp clauses promise a remedy, which has to be located among the further reactions to the skeptical view (...)
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  45. Harold Kincaid (1990). Defending Laws in the Social Sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 20 (1):56?83.
    This article defends laws in the social sciences. Arguments against social laws are considered and rejected based on the "open" nature of social theory, the multiple realizability of social predicates, the macro and/or teleological nature of social laws, and the inadequacies of belief-desire psychology. The more serious problem that social laws are usually qualified ceteris paribus is then considered. How the natural sciences handle ceteris paribus laws is discussed and it is argued that such procedures are possible in the social (...)
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  46. Max Kistler (2003). Laws of Nature, Exceptions and Tropes. Philosophia Scientiae 7 (2):189-219.
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  47. A. David Kline & Carl A. Matheson (1986). How the Laws of Physics Don't Even Fib. Psa 1986:33--41.
    The most recent challenge to the covering-law model of explanation (N. Cartwright, How the laws of Physics Lie) charges that the fundamental explanatory laws are not true. In fact explanation and truth are alleged to pull in different directions. We hold that this gets its force from confusing issues about the truth of the laws in the explanation and the precision with which those laws can yield an exact description of the event to be explained. In defending this we look (...)
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  48. Robert Kowalenko (2014). Ceteris Paribus Laws: A Naturalistic Account. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 28 (2):133-155.
    An otherwise lawlike generalisation hedged by a ceteris paribus (CP) clause qualifies as a law of nature, if the CP clause can be substituted with a set of conditions derived from the multivariate regression model used to interpret the empirical data in support of the gen- eralisation. Three studies in human biology that use regression analysis are surveyed, showing that standard objections to cashing out CP clauses in this way—based on alleged vagueness, vacuity, or lack of testability—do not apply. CP (...)
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  49. Robert Kowalenko (2011). The Epistemology of Hedged Laws. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42 (3):445-452.
    Standard objections to the notion of a hedged, or ceteris paribus, law of nature usually boil down to the claim that such laws would be either 1) irredeemably vague, 2) untestable, 3) vacuous, 4) false, or a combination thereof. Using epidemiological studies in nutrition science as an example, I show that this is not true of the hedged law-like generalizations derived from data models used to interpret large and varied sets of empirical observations. Although it may be ‘in principle impossible’ (...)
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  50. Robert Kowalenko (2009). How (Not) to Think About Idealisation and Ceteris Paribus -Laws. Synthese 167 (1):183 - 201.
    Semantic dispositionalism is the theory that a speaker’s meaning something by a given linguistic symbol is determined by her dispositions to use the symbol in a certain way. According to an objection by Saul Kripke, further elaborated in Kusch (2005), semantic dispositionalism involves ceteris paribus-clauses and idealisations, such as unbounded memory, that deviate from standard scientific methodology. I argue that Kusch misrepresents both ceteris paribus-laws and idealisation, neither of which factually approximate the behaviour of agents or the course of events, (...)
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