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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. Sara Albieri (2011). Causes and Laws in the Sciences of Man. Kriterion 52 (124):331-342.
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  2. P. P. Allport (1993). Are the Laws of Physics 'Economical with the Truth'? Synthese 94 (2):245 - 290.
    It has been argued that the fundamental laws of physics are deceitful in that they give the impression of greater unity and coherence in our theories than is actually found to be the case. Causal stories and phenomenological relationships are claimed to provide a more acceptable account of the world, and only theoretical entities — not laws — are considered as perhaps corresponding to real features of the world.This paper examines these claims in the light of the author's own field (...)
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  3. John B. Bacon (1976). The Nature of Necessity. Grazer Philosophische Studien 2:239-246.
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  4. Ted Benton (1981). „Cutler on Laws of Tendency. Radical Philosophy 27:33-35.
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  5. Réjane Bernier (1983). Laws in Biology. Acta Biotheoretica 32 (4):265-288.
  6. Stephan Berry (1999). On the Problem of Laws in Nature and History: A Comparison. History and Theory 38 (4):122–137.
    In the philosophy of science there has traditionally been a tendency to regard physics as the incarnation of science per se. Accordingly, the status of other disciplines is evaluated then with respect to their ability to produce laws resembling those of physics. This view has yielded a considerable bias in the discussion of historical laws. Philosophers as well as historians have tended to discuss such laws mostly with reference to the situation in physics; this often led to either one of (...)
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  7. Gerhard Biller (1979). From Myth to Reflexion. Theses on the Structural Laws Governing the Growth of European Thought. Philosophy and History 12 (2):138-141.
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  8. Ned Block (1995). Reply: Causation and Two Kinds of Laws. In Cynthia Macdonald & Graham Macdonald (eds.), Philosophy of Psychology: Debates on Psychological Explanation. Blackwell. 78--83.
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  9. Alex Blum (1970). Laws and Instantial Statements. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 21 (4):371-378.
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  10. Simon Bostock (2010). Reviews Nature's Metaphysics: Laws and Properties by Alexander Bird Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007. Pp. XIV+231. £35. Philosophy 85 (1):152-157.
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  11. Simon Bostock (2005). Nomic Inversion And The Contingency Of Laws. Philosophical Writings 30 (3).
    According to the Contingency Theory of Laws, if there are possible worlds in which it is a law that all Fs are G, there are also possible F-containing worlds in which it is not. I argue here that the theory is forced to accept the possibility of nomic inversion: i.e. pairs of properties that have their actual nomic roles swapped in some possible world. Such inversions cannot be ruled out on grounds of logical or metaphysical inconsistency, and therefore – since (...)
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  12. Raymond D. Bradley, The Nature and Status of Logic.
    Logic is the science of correct reasoning in any field whatever. But what are the foundations of its laws? Are they, as some have claimed, best viewed as "the laws of thought", laws grounded in facts about human psychology? Do they have their warrant merely in the conventions for linguistic behavior? Are they, as others have claimed, grounded in facts about reality more generally? Or are they, as still others would say, grounded in facts about how this and any other (...)
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  13. Myles Brand & Marshall Swain (1976). Causation and Causal Necessity: Reply to Sanford. Philosophical Studies 29 (6):369 - 379.
    In 'on the analysis of causation' ("synthese", Volume 21, 1970), We argued that any analysis of causation entailing that "a" caused "b" only if "a" is the set of conditions necessary and sufficient for "b" yields a formal contradiction. In 'causal necessity and logical necessity' ("philosophical studies", Volume 28, 1975), David sanford objects to that argument, Concentrating his attack on the notions of causal necessity and total sets of antecedent conditions. We reply in this paper that, Although sanford's objections help (...)
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  14. Richard R. Brockhaus & Gary M. Hochberg (1975). The Generalization Argument Revisited. Philosophical Studies 28 (2):123 - 129.
    This paper surveys the literature on m singer's book "generalization in ethics", And focuses on a problem not previously discussed: the significance of the "ceteris paribus" clause. Previous literature has pointed out the problem involved in singer's collective use of the term 'everyone', But the precise nature of the difficulty is not made clear until the issue of the ceteris paribus clause is considered. We argue that singer's argument cannot be useful in moral deliberation, Because it is not possible to (...)
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  15. May Brodbeck (1949). Coherence Theory Reconsidered: Professor Werkmeister on Semantics and on the Nature of Empirical Laws. Philosophy of Science 16 (1):75-85.
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  16. Janet Broughton (1987). Necessity and Physical Laws in Descartes's Philosophy. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 68 (3/4):205.
    I argue that although in his earlier work descartes thought of the laws of motion as "eternal truths," he later came to think of them as truths whose necessity is of a different type.
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  17. Harold I. Brown (1988). How the Laws of Physics Lie. International Studies in Philosophy 20 (3):102-103.
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  18. Panayot Butcharov (1975). Nature and Necessity. International Studies in Philosophy 7:205-206.
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  19. Roger Caldwell (2000). The Dappled World. Philosophy Now 28:42-43.
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  20. Norman Campbell (1938). Laws and Theories. Philosophy 13 (51):313 - 320.
    Is there any important distinction between a law and a theory? Some usages suggest that there is. Thus, everyone speaks of Boyle's Law and of the dynamical theory of gases. But the most summary inquiry will show that the distinction is not maintained consistently by individual authors, still less as between different authors; the terms “Newtonian law” and “theory of gravitation” seem to be used indifferently to denote the same proposition.
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  21. J. W. Carroll (2006). Review: Laws in Nature. [REVIEW] Mind 115 (459):780-784.
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  22. John W. Carroll (2005). Natural Laws in Scientific Practice. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (1):240–245.
    This is a review of Marc Lange's _Natural Laws in Scientific Practice.
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  23. Nancy Cartwright, No God, No Laws.
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  24. Alan Chalmers (1993). So the Laws of Physics Needn't Lie. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (2):196 – 205.
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  25. Joseph T. Clune (1936). Laws of Life. New Scholasticism 10 (3):290-292.
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  26. 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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  27. 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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  28. Christopher Miles Coope (2007). New Natural Laws for Old. [REVIEW] Philosophical Quarterly 57 (226):117-122.
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  29. Christopher Miles Coope (2007). Review: New Natural Laws for Old. [REVIEW] Philosophical Quarterly 57 (226):117 - 122.
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  30. Michael Corrado (1975). The Nature of Necessity. International Philosophical Quarterly 15 (2):231-234.
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  31. 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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  32. 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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  33. 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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  34. James Danaher (2011). The Laws of Thought. The Philosopher 92 (1).
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  35. Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws.
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  36. Filippo Del Lucchese (2008). Nature and Laws. International Studies in Philosophy 40 (2):61-76.
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  37. 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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  38. John J. Doyle (1953). The Laws of Thought. New Scholasticism 27 (2):235-237.
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  39. Alice Drewery (2000). Laws, Regularities and Exceptions. Ratio 13 (1):1–12.
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  40. E. T. Dunn (1956). Invalidating Laws. Thought 31 (4):634-635.
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  41. George Dunne (1945). Inner Laws of Society. Modern Schoolman 23 (1):50-51.
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  42. Dorothy Edgington (1990). Explanation, Causation and Laws. Critica 22 (66):55 - 73.
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  43. Frederick S. Ellett Jr & David P. Ericson (1985). Causal Laws and Laws of Association. Noûs 19 (4):537 - 549.
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  44. 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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  45. Nicholas Everitt (1991). Strawson on Laws and Regularities. Analysis 51 (4):206 - 208.
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  46. 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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  47. James H. Fetzer (1985). How the Laws of Physics Lie. Philosophical Books 26 (2):120-124.
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  48. John Forge (1986). David Armstrong on Functional Laws. Philosophy of Science 53 (4):584-587.
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  49. A. Garcia de la Sienra (1998). The Modal Laws of Economics. Philosophia Reformata 63 (2):182-205.
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  50. Austin Gerig (2011). Universal Laws and Economic Phenomena. Complexity 17 (1):9-12.
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