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Laws as Relations between Universals

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary The idea that laws of nature do not connect just any kind of properties -- for example the property of being an object that the pope possesses or the property of looking red to a bull -- is old. Laws of nature, so the intuition, say something about the regular co-occurrence of real properties and not just any made up classes of things. One way to put this is to say that laws hold between universals, another to say that they hold between perfectly natural properties.
Key works David Armstrong has written key works on both universals and laws of nature and also their relation: Armstrong 1982Armstrong 1978Armstrong 1983.
Introductions Armstrong 2010
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  1. D. M. Armstrong (1999). Comment on Smart. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 171--172.
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  2. D. M. Armstrong (1997). Singular Causation and Laws of Nature. In John Earman & John Norton (eds.), The Cosmos of Science. University of Pittsburgh Press. 498--511.
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  3. D. M. Armstrong (1996). Comments on Lierse. In P. Riggs (ed.), Natural Kinds, Laws of Nature and Scientific Methodology. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 227--228.
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  4. D. M. Armstrong (1983). What is a Law of Nature? Cambridge University Press.
    This is a study of a crucial and controversial topic in metaphysics and the philosophy of science: the status of the laws of nature. D. M. Armstrong works out clearly and in comprehensive detail a largely original view that laws are relations between properties or universals. The theory is continuous with the views on universals and more generally with the scientific realism that Professor Armstrong has advanced in earlier publications. He begins here by mounting an attack on the orthodox and (...)
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  5. D. M. Armstrong (1982). Laws of Nature as Relations Between Universals and as Universals. Philosophical Topics 13 (1):7-24.
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  6. David M. Armstrong (1999). Reply to Ellis. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 43--48.
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  7. David M. Armstrong (1999). The Open Door: Counterfactual Versus Singularist Theories of Causation. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 175--185.
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  8. Alexander Bird (2011). Lange and Laws, Kinds, and Counterfactuals. In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & Matthew H. Slater (eds.), Carving Nature at its Joints. MIT Press.
    In this paper I examine and question Marc Lange’s account of laws, and his claim that the law delineating the range of natural kinds of fundamental particle has a lesser grade of necessity that the laws connecting the fundamental properties of those kinds with their derived properties.
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  9. Alexander Bird (2005). The Ultimate Argument Against Armstrong's Contingent Necessitation View of Laws. Analysis 65 (286):147-55.
    I show that Armstrong’s view of laws as second-order contingent relations of ‘necessitation’ among categorical properties faces a dilemma. The necessitation relation confers a relation of extensional inclusion (‘constant conjunction’) on its relata. It does so either necessarily or contingently. If necessarily, it is not a categorical relation (in the relevant sense). If contingently, then an explanation is required of how it confers extensional inclusion. That explanation will need to appeal to a third-order relation between necessitation and extensional inclusion. The (...)
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  10. John Bolender (2006). Nomic Universals and Particular Causal Relations: Which Are Basic and Which Are Derived? Philosophia 34 (4):405-410.
    Armstrong holds that a law of nature is a certain sort of structural universal which, in turn, fixes causal relations between particular states of affairs. His claim that these nomic structural universals explain causal relations commits him to saying that such universals are irreducible, not supervenient upon the particular causal relations they fix. However, Armstrong also wants to avoid Plato’s view that a universal can exist without being instantiated, a view which he regards as incompatible with naturalism. This construal of (...)
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  11. John W. Carroll (1987). Ontology and the Laws of Nature. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 65 (3):261 – 276.
    An argument for realism (i.E., The ontological thesis that there exist universals) has emerged in the writings of david armstrong, Fred dretske, And michael tooley. These authors have persuasively argued against traditional reductive accounts of laws and nature. The failure of traditional reductive accounts leads all three authors to opt for a non-Traditional reductive account of laws which requires the existence of universals. In other words, These authors have opted for accounts of laws which (together with the fact that there (...)
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  12. Armstrong David (1996). Comments on Lierse. In P. Riggs (ed.), Natural Kinds, Laws of Nature and Scientific Methodology. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 227.
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  13. Fred I. Dretske (1977). Laws of Nature. Philosophy of Science 44 (2):248-268.
    It is a traditional empiricist doctrine that natural laws are universal truths. In order to overcome the obvious difficulties with this equation most empiricists qualify it by proposing to equate laws with universal truths that play a certain role, or have a certain function, within the larger scientific enterprise. This view is examined in detail and rejected; it fails to account for a variety of features that laws are acknowledged to have. An alternative view is advanced in which laws are (...)
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  14. Brian Ellis (1999). Response to David Armstrong. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 39--43.
  15. John Forge (1999). Laws of Nature as Relations Between Quantities? In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 111--124.
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  16. Steven Louis Goldman (1987). What is a Law of Nature? (D. M. Armstrong). [REVIEW] History of European Ideas 8 (1):97-97.
  17. Toby Handfield (2005). Armstrong and the Modal Inversion of Dispositions. Philosophical Quarterly 55 (220):452–461.
    D. M. Armstrong has objected that the Dispositionalist theory of laws and properties is modally inverted, for it entails that properties are constituted by relations to non-actual possibilia. I contend that, if this objection succeeds against Dispositionalism, then Armstrong's nomic necessitation relation is also modally inverted. This shows that at least one of Armstrong's reasons for preferring a nomic necessitation theory is specious.
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  18. Tyler Hildebrand (2013). Can Primitive Laws Explain? Philosophers' Imprint 13 (15):1-15.
    One reason to posit governing laws is to explain the uniformity of nature. Explanatory power can be purchased by accepting new primitives, and scientists invoke laws in their explanations without providing any supporting metaphysics. For these reasons, one might suspect that we can treat laws as wholly unanalyzable primitives. (John Carroll’s *Laws of Nature* (1994) and Tim Maudlin’s *The Metaphysics Within Physics* (2007) offer recent defenses of primitivism about laws.) Whatever defects primitive laws might have, explanatory weakness should not be (...)
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  19. Tyler Hildebrand (2013). Tooley's Account of the Necessary Connection Between Law and Regularity. Philosophical Studies 166 (1):33-43.
    Fred Dretske, Michael Tooley, and David Armstrong accept a theory of governing laws of nature according to which laws are atomic states of affairs that necessitate corresponding natural regularities. Some philosophers object to the Dretske/Tooley/Armstrong theory on the grounds that there is no illuminating account of the necessary connection between governing law and natural regularity. In response, Michael Tooley has provided a reductive account of this necessary connection in his book Causation (1987). In this essay, I discuss an improved version (...)
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  20. Herbert Hochberg (1981). Natural Necessity and Laws of Nature. Philosophy of Science 48 (3):386-399.
    The paper considers recent proposals by Armstrong, Dretske, and Tooley that revive the view that statements of laws of nature are grounded by the existence of higher order facts relating universals. Several objections to such a view are raised and an alternative analysis, recognizing general facts, is considered. Such an alternative is shown to meet a number of the objections raised against the appeal to higher order facts and it is also related to views of Hume and Wittgenstein. Further objections (...)
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  21. Max Kistler (2005). Necessary Laws. In Jan Faye, Paul Needham, Uwe Scheffler & Max Urchs (eds.), Nature’s Principles. Springer. 201-227.
    In the first part of this paper, I argue against the view that laws of nature are contingent, by attacking a necessary condition for its truth within the framework of a conception of laws as relations between universals. I try to show that there is no independent reason to think that universals have an essence independent of their nomological properties. However, such a non-qualitative essence is required to make sense of the idea that different laws link the same universals in (...)
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  22. Duncan Maclean (2012). Armstrong and van Fraassen on Probabilistic Laws of Nature. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 42 (1):1-13.
    In What is a Law of Nature? (1983) David Armstrong promotes a theory of laws according to which laws of nature are contingent relations of necessitation between universals. The metaphysics Armstrong develops uses deterministic causal laws as paradigmatic cases of laws, but he thinks his metaphysics explicates other sorts of laws too, including probabilistic laws, like that of the half-life of radium being 1602 years. Bas van Fraassen (1987) gives seven arguments for why Armstrong’s theory of laws is incapable of (...)
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  23. D. H. Mellor (1990). Laws, Chances and Properties. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 4 (2):159 – 170.
    Abstract The paper develops a unified account of both deterministic and indeterministic laws of nature which inherits the merits but not the defects of the best existing accounts. As in Armstrong's account, laws are embodied in facts about universals; but not in higher?order relations between them, and the necessity of laws is not primitive but results from their containing chances of 0 or 1. As in the Ramsey?Lewis account, law statements would be the general axioms and theorems of the simplest (...)
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  24. Ilkka Niiniluoto (1978). Dretske on Laws of Nature. Philosophy of Science 45 (3):431-439.
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  25. Joan Pag (2002). The Dretske-Tooley-Armstrong Theory of Natural Laws and the Inference Problem. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (3):227 – 243.
    In this article I intend to show that the inference problem, one of the main objections raised against the anti-Humean theory of natural laws defended by Dretske, Tooley and Armstrong ("DTA theory" for short), can be successfully answered. First, I argue that a proper solution should meet two essential requirements that the proposals made by the DTA theorists do not satisfy. Then I state a solution to the inference problem that assumes a local immanentistic view of universals, a partial definition (...)
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  26. Alexander Pruss, Recombinations, Alien Properties and Laws of Nature Alexander R. Pruss March 16, 2002.
    A recombinationist like the earlier Armstrong (1989) claims that logically possible worlds are recombinations of items found in the actual world, with some items reduplicated if need be and others deleted. An immediate consequence of this is that if an..
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  27. Bradley Rives (2014). Laws, the Inference Problem, and Uninstantiated Universals. Southern Journal of Philosophy 52 (4):496-520.
    The difficulties facing Humean regularity accounts of laws have led some philosophers to a theory that takes laws to be necessitation relations between universals. In this paper I evaluate David Armstrong's version of this theory by considering two of its key elements: its solution to the so-called “Inference Problem” and its denial of uninstantiated universals. After considering some potential problems with each of these elements on their own, I argue that Armstrong's solution to the Inference Problem and his denial of (...)
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  28. Susan Schneider (2007). What is the Significance of the Intuition That Laws of Nature Govern? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (2):307 – 324.
    Recently, proponents of Humean Supervenience have challenged the plausibility of the intuition that the laws of nature 'govern', or guide, the evolution of events in the universe. Certain influential thought experiments authored by John Carroll, Michael Tooley, and others, rely strongly on such intuitions. These thought experiments are generally regarded as playing a central role in the lawhood debate, suggesting that the Mill-Ramsey-Lewis view of the laws of nature, and the related doctrine of the Humean Supervenience of laws, are false. (...)
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  29. Susan Schneider (2001). Alien Individuals, Alien Universals, and Armstrong's Combinatorial Theory of Possibility. Southern Journal of Philosophy 39 (4):575-593.
    Armstrong's combinatorialism, in his own words, is the following project: "My central metaphysical hypothesis is that all there is is the world of space and time. It is this world which is to supply the actual elements for the totality of combinations. So what is proposed is a Naturalistic form of a combinatorial theory."2 Armstrong calls his central hypothesis "Naturalism." He intends his well−known theory of universals to satisfy this thesis. He now attempts to give a naturalistic theory of modality.
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  30. Markus Schrenk (2011). Interfering with Nomological Necessity. Philosophical Quarterly 61 (244):577-597.
    Since causal processes can be prevented and interfered with, law-governed causation is a challenge for necessitarian theories of laws of nature. To show that there is a problematic friction between necessity and interference, I focus on David Armstrong's theory; with one proviso, his lawmaker, nomological necessity, is supposed to be instantiated as the causation of the law's second relatum whenever its first relatum is instantiated. His proviso is supposed to handle interference cases, but fails to do so. In order to (...)
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  31. Markus Schrenk (2005). The Bookkeeper and the Lumberjack. Metaphysical Vs. Nomological Necessity. In G. Abel (ed.), Kreativität. XX. Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie. Sektionsbeiträge Band 1. Universitätsverlag der Technischen Universität.
    The striking difference between the orthodox nomological necessitation view of laws and the claims made recently by Scientific Essentialism is that on the latter interpretation laws are metaphysically necessary while they are contingent on the basis of the former. This shift is usually perceived as an upgrading: essentialism makes the laws as robust as possible. The aim of my paper—in which I contrast Brian Ellis’s Scientific Essentialism and David Armstrong’s theory of nomological necessity—is threefold. (1) I first underline the familiar (...)
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  32. Aaron Segal (forthcoming). Half-Hearted Humeanism. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics.
    Many contemporary philosophers endorse the Humean-Lewisian Denial of Absolutely Necessary Connections (‘DANC’). Among those philosophers, many deny all or part of the Humean-Lewisian package of views about causation and laws. I argue that they maintain an inconsistent set of views. DANC entails that (1) causal properties and relations are, with a few possible exceptions, always extrinsic to their bearers, (2) nomic properties and relations are, with a few possible exceptions, always extrinsic to their bearers, and (3) causal and nomic properties (...)
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  33. Theodore Sider (1992). Tooley's Solution to the Inference Problem. Philosophical Studies 67 (3):261 - 275.
    In response to various shortcomings of regularity theories of natural law, some philosophers of a realist bent have recently been drawn to the view that a law of nature is a relation between universals. Heading this group are Michael Tooley and D. M. Armstrong.
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  34. Benjamin Smart, A Critique of Humean and Anti-Humean Metaphysics of Cause and Law.
    This book is written by someone who holds that physics and the metaphysics of cause and law broadly strive to achieve a common goal: to undstand what our physical system is constituted by, and both how, and why it evolves in the way that it does. It seems to me that the primary tools of the scientist are empirical evidence, mathematics, and although this is perhaps less appreciated, imagination - these are fundamental to any great scientific breakthrough. For us, the (...)
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  35. Benjamin Smart & Stephen Barker (2012). The Ultimate Argument Against Dispositional Monist Accounts of Laws. Analysis 72 (4):714-723.
    Alexander Bird argues that David Armstrong’s necessitarian conception of physical modality and laws of nature generates a vicious regress with respect to necessitation. We show that precisely the same regress afflicts Bird’s dispositional-monist theory, and indeed, related views, such as that of Mumford and Anjum. We argue that dispositional monism is basically Armstrongian necessitarianism modified to allow for a thesis about property identity.
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  36. Richard Swinburne (2006). Relations Between Universals,or Divine Laws? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (2):179 – 189.
    Armstrong's theory of laws of nature as relations between universals gives an initially plausible account of why the causal powers of substances are bound together only in certain ways, so that the world is a very regular place. But its resulting theory of causation cannot account for intentional causation, since this involves an agent trying to do something, and trying is causing. This kind of causation is thus a state of an agent and does not involve the operation of a (...)
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  37. Richard Swinburne (2004). The Argument From Laws of Nature Reassessed. In M. Ruse & W. Dembski (eds.), Debating Design: From Darwin to Dna. Cambridge Univ Pr.
    I analyze different accounts of laws of nature: the Hume-Lewis regularity account, the Armstrong-Tooley relations between universals account, and my preferred account in terms of the powers and liabilities of individual substances. On any account it is most unlikely a priori that a universe would be governed by simple laws of nature. But if there is a God, it is quite probable that he will choose to create free agents of limited power, and to put them in a universe governed (...)
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  38. Chris Swoyer (1982). The Nature of Natural Laws. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 60 (3):203 – 223.
    That laws of nature play a vital role in explanation, prediction, and inductive inference is far clearer than the nature of the laws themselves. My hope here is to shed some light on the nature of natural laws by developing and defending the view that they involve genuine relations between properties. Such a position is suggested by Plato, and more recent versions have been sketched by several writers.~ But I am not happy with any of these accounts, not so much (...)
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  39. Martin Tweedale (1982). Universals and Laws of Nature. Philosophical Topics 13 (1):25-44.
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  40. Peter Vallentyne (1988). Explicating Lawhood. Philosophy of Science 55 (4):598-613.
    D. M. Armstrong, Michael Tooley, and Fred Dretske have recently proposed a new realist account of laws of nature, according to which laws of nature are objective relations between universals. After criticizing this account, I develop an alternative realist account, according to which (1) the nomic structure of a world is a relation between initial world-histories and world-histories, and (2) a law of nature is a fact that holds solely in virtue of nomic structure (and not, for example, in virtue (...)
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  41. Kadri Vihvelin (1990). Freedom, Necessity, and Laws of Nature as Relations Between Universals. Australasian Journal of Philosophy (December) 371 (December):371-381.
  42. James Woodward (1992). Realism About Laws. Erkenntnis 36 (2):181-218.
    This paper explores the idea that laws express relationships between properties or universals as defended in Michael Tooley's recent book Causation: A Realist Approach. I suggest that the most plausible version of realism will take a different form than that advocated by Tooley. According to this alternative, laws are grounded in facts about the capacities and powers of particular systems, rather than facts about relations between universals. The notion of lawfulness is linked to the notion of invariance, rather than to (...)
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