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Laws of Nature

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary To discover the laws of nature is often said to be the main task of the natural sciences. Yet, what that is, a law of nature, is controversial and people are guided by two different intuitions when they aim to characterise what a law of nature is. Some have the feeling that natural laws govern the events in the world: what a law says must happen (or, what a law forbids can’t happen). This intuition might partially originate in our actual day-to-day experiences when we feel resistance against some of our actions. Some goals are not merely difficult to achieve, they are impossible: we cannot, unaided, jump 10m high. In concert with the facts about our current body mass, leg muscles, and the earth’s gravitational field, the laws of nature prohibit this kind of leap. For other people, laws have more of a descriptive character: the laws are (merely) accurate reports of what regularly happens or is universally the case. This intuition comes from the observation that nature seems to be uniform. Alleged laws like Boyle's law (which says that for a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional (pV=k)) or Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence (E=mc2)) record these universal regularities. Those who hold the first intuition (that the laws necessitate what happens and prohibit what does not happen) do not think the second intuition is wrong. In fact, if, what the laws say, must happen, then it also does happen and we get the regularities for free. The necessities in nature supposedly produce the regularities and thus explain why they are there. Yet, those who subscribe to some kind of regularity view deny that laws necessitate anything because they usually agree with David Hume that the postulation of necessity in nature is suspect.
Key works The most important Humean view comes from David Lewis: Lewis 1973  (esp. pp73), Lewis 1999  (esp. papers 8-55 and 224-247). Armstrong, Tooley, and Dretske give expression to necessitating views of lawhood in: Armstrong 1983Tooley 1997Dretske 1977. Latest works on laws, relying, for example, on counterfactuals or on dispositions, come, respectively, from: Lange 2009Bird 2007
Introductions The best introduction is Psillos 2002 even if the book does not have "Laws" in its title. (Read it also if you are looking for an intro to causation or explanation!)
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Subcategories:History/traditions: Laws of Nature
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  1. Joshua Alexander (2004). Marc Lange: Natural Laws in Scientific Practice. [REVIEW] Philosophy of Science 71 (2):222-224.
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  2. Alan Chalmers (1993). So the Laws of Physics Needn't Lie. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (2):196 – 205.
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  3. Joseph T. Clune (1936). Laws of Life. New Scholasticism 10 (3):290-292.
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  4. L. Jonathan Cohen (1980). The Problem of Natural Laws. In D. H. Mellor (ed.), Prospects for Pragmatism. Cambridge University Press. 211--228.
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  5. John D. Collier, Timeless Laws in a Changing World: Reconciling Physics and Biology.
    Keywords: cosmology, laws, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, information, time, evolution ABSTRACT A major goal of science is to discover laws that underlie all regular phenomena. This goal is best satisfied by eternal principles that leave fundamental properties unchanged and unchangeable. Science has been forced to accept that some processes, especially biological processes, are inherently time oriented. It can either forgo the ideal of universal principles, and account for temporality through specific boundary conditions, or else incorporate the sources of change directly into fundamental (...)
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  6. Christopher Miles Coope (2007). New Natural Laws for Old. [REVIEW] Philosophical Quarterly 57 (226):117-122.
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  7. Christopher Miles Coope (2007). Review: New Natural Laws for Old. [REVIEW] Philosophical Quarterly 57 (226):117 - 122.
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  8. Michael Corrado (1975). The Nature of Necessity. International Philosophical Quarterly 15 (2):231-234.
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  9. D. Costantini & U. Garibaldi (1996). Predictive Laws of Association in Statistics and Physics. Erkenntnis 45 (2-3):399 - 422.
    In the present paper we face the problem of estimating cell probabilities in the case of a two-dimensional contingency table from a predictive point of view. The solution is given by a double stochastic process. The first subprocess, the unobservable one, is supposed to be exchangeable and invariant. For the second subprocess, the observable one, we suppose it is independent conditional on the first one.
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  10. Charles B. Cross (2002). Armstrong and the Problem of Converse Relations. Erkenntnis 56 (2):215 - 227.
    In A World of States of Affairs(Cambridge University Press, 1997) David Armstrong offers acomprehensive metaphysics based on the thesis that the world consistsof states of affairs. Among the entities postulated by Armstrong's theory are relations, including non-symmetrical relations, and whileArmstrong does not agree with Russell that all relations have adirection or definite order among their places, he does explicitlyacknowledge that the slots of a non-symmetrical relation have adefinite order or direction. I first show that non-symmetricalrelations pose a problem for Armstrong's (...)
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  11. Robert C. Cummins (2000). "How Does It Work" Versus "What Are the Laws?": Two Conceptions of Psychological Explanation. In F. Keil & Robert A. Wilson (eds.), Explanation and Cognition, 117-145. MIT Press.
    In the beginning, there was the DN (Deductive Nomological) model of explanation, articulated by Hempel and Oppenheim (1948). According to DN, scientific explanation is subsumption under natural law. Individual events are explained by deducing them from laws together with initial conditions (or boundary conditions), and laws are explained by deriving them from other more fundamental laws, as, for example, the simple pendulum law is derived from Newton's laws of motion.
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  12. Chris Daly (1994). Laws and Coincidences Contrasted. Analysis 54 (2):98 - 104.
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  13. James Danaher (2011). The Laws of Thought. The Philosopher 92 (1).
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  14. Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws.
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  15. Filippo Del Lucchese (2008). Nature and Laws. International Studies in Philosophy 40 (2):61-76.
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  16. Jon Dorling (1978). On Explanations in Physics: Sketch of an Alternative to Hempel's Account of the Explanation of Laws. Philosophy of Science 45 (1):136-140.
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  17. John J. Doyle (1953). The Laws of Thought. New Scholasticism 27 (2):235-237.
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  18. Alice Drewery (2000). Laws, Regularities and Exceptions. Ratio 13 (1):1–12.
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  19. Margaret Drummond (1912). Real Kinds" and "General Laws. Mind 21 (81):150-152.
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  20. E. T. Dunn (1956). Invalidating Laws. Thought 31 (4):634-635.
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  21. George Dunne (1945). Inner Laws of Society. Modern Schoolman 23 (1):50-51.
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  22. Dorothy Edgington (1990). Explanation, Causation and Laws. Critica 22 (66):55 - 73.
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  23. Frederick S. Ellett Jr & David P. Ericson (1985). Causal Laws and Laws of Association. Noûs 19 (4):537 - 549.
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  24. Brian Ellis (2005). Marc Lange on Essentialism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):75 – 79.
    For scientific essentialists, the only logical possibilities of existence are the real (or metaphysical) ones, and such possibilities, they say, are relative to worlds. They are not a priori, and they cannot just be invented. Rather, they are discoverable only by the a posteriori methods of science. There are, however, many philosophers who think that real possibilities are knowable a priori, or that they can just be invented. Marc Lange [Lange 2004] thinks that they can be invented, and tries to (...)
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  25. Nicholas Everitt (1991). Strawson on Laws and Regularities. Analysis 51 (4):206 - 208.
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  26. Evan Fales (1993). Are Causal Laws Contingent? In John Bacon, Keith Campbell & Lloyd Reinhardt (eds.), Ontology, Causality and Mind: Essays in Honour of D.M. Armstrong. Cambridge Up.
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  27. Robert Farrell (1979). HARRE, R. & MADDEN, E. H., "Causal Powers: A Theory of Natural Necessity". [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 57:114.
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  28. James H. Fetzer (1985). How the Laws of Physics Lie. Philosophical Books 26 (2):120-124.
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  29. Milton Fisk (1974). Nature and Necessity an Essay in Physical Ontology. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
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  30. John Forge (1986). David Armstrong on Functional Laws. Philosophy of Science 53 (4):584-587.
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  31. A. Garcia de la Sienra (1998). The Modal Laws of Economics. Philosophia Reformata 63 (2):182-205.
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  32. Austin Gerig (2011). Universal Laws and Economic Phenomena. Complexity 17 (1):9-12.
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  33. Donald Gillies (2006). Laws and Models in Science. Erkenntnis 65 (3):427-432.
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  34. Samuel E. Gluck (1955). Do Statistical Laws Have Explanatory Efficacy? Philosophy of Science 22 (1):34-38.
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  35. L. Goddard (1977). The Paradoxes of Confirmation and the Nature of Natural Laws. Philosophical Quarterly 27 (107):97-113.
    It is shown that the paradoxes of confirmation are closely linked to the paradoxes of material implication and that they can be avoided by formulating natural laws in terms of a genuine if-Connective rather than the material conditional. However, Natural laws so expressed are not confirmed by simple conjunctions. The question then is whether the common assumption that simple conjunctions do confirm universal generalizations is correct. The answer given is that it is not. In particular, A confirming proposition of the (...)
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  36. Leonard Goddard (1959). Laws of Thought. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 37 (1):28 – 40.
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  37. George Goe (1967). Laws and Counterfactuals in Nagel: A Reply to Krimerman. Philosophical Studies 18 (1-2):24 - 27.
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  38. Chhanda Gupta (1981). Necessity and Scientific Laws. In Krishna Roy (ed.), Mind, Language, and Necessity. Macmillan India.
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  39. Bruce A. Haddock (1986). The Nature of Social Laws. New Vico Studies 4:183-185.
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  40. I. Hanzel (1999). Nancy Cartwright on Scientific Laws and Scientific Explanation. Filozofia 54 (10):717-730.
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  41. Igor Hanzel (2008). Scientific Laws and Scientific Explanations: A Differentiated Typology. Organon F 15 (3):323-344.
    The paper tries to provide an alternative to C. G. Hempel’s approach to scientific laws and scientific explanation as given in his D-N model. It starts with a brief exposition of the main characteristics of Hempel’s approach to deductive explanations based on universal scientific laws and analyzes the problems and paradoxes inherent in this approach. By way of solution, it analyzes the scientific laws and explanations in classical mechanics and then reconstructs the corresponding models of explanation, as well as the (...)
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  42. Igor Hanzel (2005). Nancy Cartwright and Leszek Nowak on Scientific Laws and Scientific Explanation. In Jan Faye, Paul Needham, Uwe Scheffler & Max Urchs (eds.), Nature's Principles. Springer. 103--135.
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  43. Adrian Heathcote & D. M. Armstrong (1991). Causes and Laws. Noûs 25 (1):63-73.
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  44. Patricia Herron (2011). The Blind Laws of Human Nature. Philosophy Now 86:26-27.
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  45. M. Hesse (1980). A Revised Regularity View of Scientific Laws. In D. H. Mellor (ed.), Science, Belief and Behaviour. Cambridge Up.
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  46. Eric Hiddleston (2001). Causation and Causal Relevance. Dissertation, Cornell University
    I argue against counterfactual theories of causation , develop a pragmatic version of the Covering Law view, and offer a causal theory of counterfactuals. ;The initial idea of CTCs is that event a causes event b if b would not have occurred, if a had not occurred. David Lewis proposes this view as a solution to problems of "effects" and "epiphenomena". I argue that CTCs cannot solve these problems. Covering Law theories can, but only by rejecting traditional Humean accounts of (...)
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  47. C. Hoeckley (2003). Natural Laws in Scientific Practice. By Marc Lange. The European Legacy 8 (2):237-237.
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  48. Paul Henri Thiry Holbach, Denis Diderot & H. D. Robinson (1970). The System of Nature or, Laws of the Moral and Physical World. B. Franklin.
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  49. Charles E. Hooper (1923). The Laws of Thought. Philosophical Review 32 (5):531-535.
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  50. Steven Horst, Laws, Idealization, and the Status of Psychology.
    The SPP is, among other things, a place where we discuss nagging and perennial problems on the bordermarches between philosophy and the sciences. Sometimes problems are nagging and perennial because they are deep and difficult. And sometimes they are merely an artifact, a shadow cast by our own way of formulating the problem. I should like to suggest to you that philosophy of mind suffers badly from being the last refuge of the best philosophy of science of the 1950's, and (...)
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