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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. 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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  2. Charles E. Hooper (1923). The Laws of Thought. Philosophical Review 32 (5):531-535.
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  3. 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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  4. Steven Horst, Laws, Mind and Freedom.
    Since the seventeenth century, our understanding of the natural world has been one of phenomena that behave in accordance with natural laws. While other elements of the early modern scientific worldview may be rejected or at least held in question—the metaphor of the world as a great machine, the narrowly mechanist assumption that all physical interactions must be contact interactions, the idea that matter might actually be obeying rules laid down by its Divine Author – the notion of natural law (...)
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  5. Peter Van Inwagen (1979). Laws and Counterfactuals. Noûs 13 (4):439 - 453.
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  6. Gürol Irzik (1991). Armstrong's Account of Probabilistic Laws. Analysis 51 (4):214 - 217.
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  7. L. Jaeger (2003). Marc Lange, Natural Laws in Scientific Practice. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (3):313-314.
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  8. E. Kaeser (1977). Physical Laws, Physical Entities and Ontology. Dialectica 31 (3‐4):273-299.
    SummaryWe investigate the way physical laws objectively refer to the entities they are about. Laws of mathematical physics do not refer directly to the “real world” but to an ideal specific domain of objects, which we term “scope”. In order to find out which real objects physical laws deal with, reference to the scope is not sufficient. We need in addition the search for domains to which laws apply — i. e. “empirical domains”— in order to establish their reference to (...)
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  9. Andreas Kamlah (1973). Invarianzgesetze Und Zeitmetrik. Journal for General Philosophy of Science 4 (2):224-260.
    Modern Philosophy of Science has not yet recognized the significance of physical invariance principles for science and daily life. In this paper we investigate as a simple example, how time independence or time translational invariance of natural laws determines the time scale. We start with informal definitions of the invariance of concepts and laws. We then ask if time independence is an essential feature of natural laws or if time dependent laws are plausible without loss of predictive relevance. In section (...)
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  10. Amy Karofsky (2011). The Ultimate Argument Against Armstrong's Contingent Necessitation View of Laws. Metaphilosophy 42 (5):723-733.
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  11. M. Kistler (2010). Nature's Metaphysics -- Laws and Properties , by Alexander Bird. Mind 119 (473):188-193.
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  12. Max Kistler, Powers, Laws, and Necessity.
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  13. Max Kistler (2004). Are Combinatorialism and Nomological Realism Compatible? In Jean-Maurice Monnoyer (ed.), La Structure Du Monde. Vrin, Paris.
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  14. Gunther Klotz (1990). The Laws of History and the Laws of Drama: Barrie Stavis' "The Raw Edge of Victory". Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 2 (2):203-216.
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  15. R. Knight (1931). PAULHAN, F. -The Laws of Feeling. [REVIEW] Mind 40:254.
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  16. F. W. Kolbe (1879). X. On the Primeval Laws of the Vowels and Their Bearing on Universal Etymology. Transactions of the South African Philosophical Society 2 (2):69-78.
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  17. Hilary Kornblith (1992). The Laws of Thought. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52 (4):895-911.
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  18. Arnold Koslow (2004). Laws and Possibilities. Philosophy of Science 71 (5):719-729.
    The initial part of this paper explores and rejects three standard views of how scientific laws might be systematically connected with physical necessity or possibility. The first concerns laws and their consequences, the second concerns the so‐called counterfactual connection, and the third concerns a possible worlds construction of physical necessity. The remaining part introduces a neglected notion of possibility, and, with the aid of some examples, illustrates the special way in which laws reduce or narrow down possibilities.
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  19. Władysław Krajewski (1986). Czy prawa fizyki są prawdziwe? (N. Cartwright, \"How the Laws of Physics Lie\", New York 1983). Studia Filozoficzne 246 (5).
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  20. Leonard I. Krimerman (1965). Laws and Counterfactuals. Philosophical Studies 16 (3):40 - 44.
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  21. Richard Kuhns (1987). Governing of the Self: Laws and Freedom. In Robert Stern (ed.), Theories of the Unconscious and Theories of the Self. Analytic Press. 48.
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  22. Kuipers, Theo A. F., Reductions of Laws and Concepts.
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  23. Agnieszka Kulacka (2010). On the Nature of Statistical Language Laws. In Piotr Stalmaszczyk (ed.), Philosophy of Language and Linguistics. Ontos Verlag. 151.
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  24. Henry E. Kyburg Jr (1985). The Confirmation of Quantitative Laws. Philosophy of Science 52 (1):1-22.
    Quantitative laws are more typical of science than are generalizations involving observational predicates, yet much discussion of scientific inference takes the confirmation of a universal generalization by its instances to be typical and paradigmatic. The important difference is that measurement necessarily involves error. It is argued that because of error laws can no more be refuted by observation than they can be verified by observation. Without much background knowledge, tests of a law mainly provide evidence for the distribution of errors (...)
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  25. Alfred Landé (1976). The Laws Behind the Quantum Laws. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 27 (1):43-50.
  26. M. Lange (2009). Nature's Metaphysics: Laws and Properties. Philosophical Review 119 (1):97-99.
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  27. Marc Lange (2009). A Tale of Two Vectors. Dialectica 63 (4):397-431.
    Why do forces compose according to the parallelogram of forces? This question has been controversial; it is one episode in a longstanding, fundamental dispute regarding which facts are not to be explained dynamically. If the parallelogram law is explained statically, then the laws of statics are separate from and “transcend” the laws of dynamics. Alternatively, if the parallelogram law is explained dynamically, then statical laws become mere corollaries to the dynamical laws. I shall attempt to trace the history of this (...)
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  28. Marc Lange (2009). Why Do the Laws Explain Why? In Toby Handfield (ed.), Dispositions and Causes. Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press ;.
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  29. Hilary Lawton (1935). The Foundations of Physical Laws. Thought 10 (3):453-467.
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  30. Charles Lee (1906). Cosmic Ethics, the Application of Natural Laws to Social Problems.
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  31. Isaac Levi (1969). Are Statistical Hypotheses Covering Laws? Synthese 20 (3):297 - 307.
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  32. Barry Loewer, Laws and Properties.
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  33. Peter Long (1952). Natural Laws and So-Called Accidental General Statements. Analysis 13 (1):18 - 23.
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  34. E. J. Lowe (1982). Laws, Dispositions and Sortal Logic. American Philosophical Quarterly 19 (1):41 - 50.
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  35. E. J. Lowe (1980). Sortal Terms and Natural Laws. American Philosophical Quarterly 19 (4):253-60.
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  36. R. Duncan Luce (1971). Similar Systems and Dimensionally Invariant Laws. Philosophy of Science 38 (2):157-169.
    Using H. Whitney's algebra of physical quantities and his definition of a similarity transformation, a family of similar systems (R. L. Causey [3] and [4]) is any maximal collection of subsets of a Cartesian product of dimensions for which every pair of subsets is related by a similarity transformation. We show that such families are characterized by dimensionally invariant laws (in Whitney's sense, [10], not Causey's). Dimensional constants play a crucial role in the formulation of such laws. They are represented (...)
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  37. J. S. MacKenzie (1916). Laws of Thought. Mind 25 (99):289-307.
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  38. Maurice Mandelbaum (1957). Societal Laws. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 8 (31):211-224.
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  39. Robert M. Martin (1986). How Scientific Laws Can Be About Individuals. Dialogue 25 (02):251-.
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  40. Thomas Mautner (1973). Flaws in Laws. Philosophical Review 82 (1):83-98.
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  41. Jeff McMahon, Laws of War.
    in Samantha Besson and John Tasioulas, eds., The Philosophy of International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
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  42. James A. McWilliams (1935). Contingency in Physical Laws. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 11:37-61.
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  43. Wolfgang Metzger (2009). Laws of Seeing. The Mit Press.
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  44. Christopher Miles Coope (2007). New Natural Laws for Old. Philosophical Quarterly 57 (226):117–122.
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  45. Gerard P. Minoque (1946). The Three Fundamental Laws of Thought in Their Metaphysical and Logical Aspects. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 21 (3):83-92.
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  46. Bakewell Morrison (1937). Laws of Life. Thought 12 (1):151-152.
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  47. Stephen Mumford (2009). Laws and Dispositions. In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics. Routledge.
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  48. Stephen Mumford (2007). David Armstrong. Routledge.
    David Armstrong is one of Australia's greatest philosophers. His chief philosophical achievement has been the development of a core metaphysical programme, embracing the topics of universals, laws, modality and facts: a naturalistic metaphysics, consistent with a scientific view of the natural world. It is primarily through his work that Australian philosophy, and Australian metaphysics in particular, enjoys such a high reputation in the rest of the world. In this book Stephen Mumford offers an introduction to the full range of Armstrong's (...)
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  49. Ronald Numbers (2003). Science Without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs. In David C. Lindberg & Ronald L. Numbers (eds.), When Science and Christianity Meet. University of Chicago Press. 266.
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  50. Donald Nute (1981). Causes, Laws, and Law Statements. Synthese 48 (3):347 - 369.
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