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Necessitarianism about Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Westfälische Wilhelms Universität, Münster)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary Necessitarians about laws believe 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. It might also have an inference to the best explanation at its heart: unless we assume some kind of nomological or metaphysical necessity in the world we cannot explain what a law of nature is.
Key works Orthodox necessitarian accounts are Armstrong's, Tooley's, Dretske's and Swoyer's: Armstrong 1983, Tooley 1997Dretske 1977Swoyer 1982. Necessity finds also its way into the analysis of laws within dispositional essentialist views: Bird 2007, Ellis 2001.
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  1. Erik Anderson (2005). How General is Generalized Scientific Essentialism? Synthese 144 (3):373 - 379.
    I look at a recent argument offered in defense of a doctrine which I will call generalized scientific essentialism. This is the doctrine according to which, not only are some facts about substance composition metaphysically necessary, but, in addition, some facts about substance behavior are metaphysically necessary. More specifically, so goes the argument, not only is water necessarily composed of H2O and salt is necessarily composed of NaCl, but, in addition, salt necessarily dissolves in water. If this argument is sound, (...)
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  2. D. M. Armstrong (1999). Comment on Ellis. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 35--38.
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  3. David M. Armstrong (2007). &Quot;how Do Particulars Stand to Universals?&Quot;. In Dean W. Zimmerman (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaphysics. Oup Oxford.
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  4. S. Barker & B. Smart (2012). The Ultimate Argument Against Dispositional Monist Accounts of Laws. Analysis 72 (4):714-722.
    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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  5. Helen Beebee (2009). John Foster the Divine Lawmaker. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (2):453-457.
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  6. Helen Beebee (2004). Review: Ellis, Scientific Essentialism; The Philosophy of Nature. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (450).
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  7. Helen Beebee (2002). Contingent Laws Rule: Reply to Bird. Analysis 62 (3):252–255.
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  8. Michael Bertrand (2009). God Might Be Responsible for Physical Evil. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 87 (3):513 – 515.
    Alexander Bird has a two-part argument to the effect that God could only have created a world without physical evil by changing either the laws or the initial conditions of the universe, and that no such world would be at all like ours: so God is not responsible for physical evil. I argue that both parts of his argument fail.
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  9. John Bigelow (1999). Scientific Ellisianism. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 45--59.
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  10. John Bigelow, Brian Ellis & Caroline Lierse (1992). The World as One of a Kind: Natural Necessity and Laws of Nature. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (3):371-388.
  11. 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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  12. Alexander Bird (2008). Review of Alexander Bird, Nature's Metaphysics: Laws and Properties. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2008 (6).
    This is a rewarding book. In terms of area, it has one foot firmly planted in metaphysics and the other just as firmly set in the philosophy of science. Nature's Metaphysics is distinctive for its thorough and detailed defense of fundamental, natural properties as essentially dispositional and for its description of how these dispositional properties are thus suited to sustain the laws of nature as (metaphysically) necessary truths.
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  13. 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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  14. Alexander Bird (2005). Unexpected a Posteriori Necessary Laws of Nature. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):533 – 548.
    In this paper I argue that it is not a priori that all the laws of nature are contingent. I assume that the fundamental laws are contingent and show that some non-trivial, a posteriori, non-basic laws may nonetheless be necessary in the sense of having no counterinstances in any possible world. I consider a law LS (such as 'salt dissolves in water') that concerns a substance S. Kripke's arguments concerning constitution show that the existence of S requires that a certain (...)
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  15. Alexander Bird (2005). Laws and Essences. Ratio 18 (4):437–461.
    Those who favour an ontology based on dispositions are thereby able to provide a dispositional essentialist account of the laws of nature. In part 1 of this paper I sketch the dispositional essentialist conception of properties and the concomitant account of laws. In part 2, I characterise various claims about the modal character of properties that fall under the heading ‘quidditism’ and which are consequences of the categoricalist view of properties, which is the alternative to the dispositional essentialist view. I (...)
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  16. Alexander Bird (2004). Strong Necessitarianism: The Nomological Identity of Possible Worlds. Ratio 17 (3):256–276.
    Dispositional essentialism, a plausible view about the natures of (sparse or natural) properties, yields a satisfying explanation of the nature of laws also. The resulting necessitarian conception of laws comes in a weaker version, which allows differences between possible worlds as regards which laws hold in those worlds and a stronger version that does not. The main aim of this paper is to articulate what is involved in accepting the stronger version, most especially the consequence that all possible properties exist (...)
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  17. 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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  18. Alexander Bird (2002). On Whether Some Laws Are Necessary. Analysis 62 (3):257–270.
    In 'Necessarily, salt dissolves in water' (Analysis 61 (2001)), I argued that because the laws required for the existence of salt entail the laws that ensure dissolving in water, there is no possible world in which salt exists but fails to dissolve in water. In this paper I respond to criticisms from Helen Beebee and Stathis Psillos (Analysis 62 (2002)). I also introduce the 'down-and-up' structure, generalising the case. Whether or not this structure is instantiated is a matter for a (...)
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  19. Alexander Bird (2001). Necessarily, Salt Dissolves in Water. Analysis 61 (4):267–274.
    In this paper I aim to show that a certain law of nature, namely that common salt (sodium chloride) dissolves in water, is metaphysically necessary. The importance of this result is that it conflicts with a widely shared intuition that the laws of nature (most if not all) are contingent. There have been debates over whether some laws, such as Newton’s second law, might be definitional of their key terms and hence necessary. But the law that salt dissolves in water (...)
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  20. Simon Bostock (2003). Are All Possible Laws Actual Laws? Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81 (4):517 – 533.
    Suppose it is a law that all Fs are G. Does the law hold in all possible worlds? According to Necessitarianism, it holds in at least all those worlds containing F-ness. I argue that the Necessitarian must also take the law to hold in all those possible worlds which do not contain F-ness. Accepting the principle that a law can only hold in a world if it has some ontological grounding in that world, I argue that Necessitarianism is committed to (...)
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  21. Simon Bostock (2001). The Necessity of Natural Laws. Dissertation, University of Sheffield
    I argue that the best explanation of law-like regularity is that properties are universals and that universals are irreducibly dispositional entities.
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  22. Darren Bradley (2013). Functionalism and The Independence Problems. Noûs 47 (1):545-557.
    The independence problems for functionalism stem from the worry that if functional properties are defined in terms of their causes and effects then such functional properties seem to be too intimately connected to these purported causes and effects. I distinguish three different ways the independence problems can be filled out – in terms of necessary connections, analytic connections and vacuous explanations. I argue that none of these present serious problems. Instead, they bring out some important and over-looked features of functionalism.
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  23. Raymond D. Bradley, Are the Laws of Nature Necessary or Contingent?
    To answer the question, we need first to consider the notion of necessity and the related notion of contingency. These are so-called "modal" notions. Other modal notions include those of possibility, impossibility, non-necessity, and noncontingency. All play a crucial role in philosophical thinking about matters to do with logic, metaphysics, morality, law, etc. This is because none of these modal notions is univocal in meaning. There are, so to speak, different "species" of the generic notions of necessity, contingency, possibility, and (...)
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  24. 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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  25. Anjan Chakravartty (2003). The Dispositional Essentialist View of Properties and Laws. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11 (4):393 – 413.
    One view of the nature of properties has been crystallized in recent debate by an identity thesis proposed by Shoemaker. The general idea is that there is for behaviour. Well-known criticisms of this approach, however, remain unanswered, and the details of its connections to laws nothing more to being a particular causal property than conferring certain dispositions of nature and the precise ontology of causal properties stand in need of development. This paper examines and defends a dispositional essentialist account of (...)
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  26. L. Clapp (2002). Scientific Essentialism. Philosophical Review 111 (4):589-594.
    Scientific Essentialism defends the view that the fundamental laws of nature depend on the essential properties of the things on which they are said to operate, and are therefore not independent of them. These laws are not imposed upon the world by God, the forces of nature, or anything else, but rather are immanent in the world. Ellis argues that ours is a dynamic world consisting of more or less transient objects that are constantly interacting with each other, and whose (...)
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  27. Carol E. Cleland (1995). Laws of Nature. Review of Metaphysics 49 (2):406-408.
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  28. Robin Collins (2009). God and the Laws of Nature. Philo 12 (2):142-171.
    This paper argues that theism and related axiarchic hypotheses provide the only promising solution to the problems of cosmic coincidence and induction raised by necessitarians against the regularity view of the laws of nature. Hence, it is argued, the fundamental order of the world provides significant support for theism and these related hypotheses.
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  29. 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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  30. Gregor Damschen, Robert Schnepf & Karsten Stueber (eds.) (2009). Debating Dispositions. Issues in Metaphysics, Epistemology and Philosophy of Mind. de Gruyter.
    The contributions of this volume analyze the ancient foundations of the discussion about disposition, examine the problem of disposition within the context of ...
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  31. 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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  32. Alice Drewery (2005). Essentialism and the Necessity of the Laws of Nature. Synthese 144 (3):381-396.
    In this paper I discuss and evaluate different arguments for the view that the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary. I conclude that essentialist arguments from the nature of natural kinds fail to establish that essences are ontologically more basic than laws, and fail to offer an a priori argument for the necessity of all causal laws. Similar considerations carry across to the argument from the dispositionalist view of properties, which may end up placing unreasonable constraints on property identity across (...)
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  33. Steven M. Duncan, Causal Necessity and the Future: Two Views.
    In this paper I offer an alternative to the standard, mechanistic/fatalistic account of causal necessity, one compatible with the existence of laws of nature but not deterministic in the way this is usually understood.
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  34. B. D. Ellis (2002). The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism. Acumen.
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  35. Brian Ellis (1999). Causal Powers and Laws of Nature. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 19--34.
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  36. Brian Ellis (1999). Response to David Armstrong. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 39--43.
  37. Evan Fales (2004). Review of John Foster, The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004 (9).
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  38. Eduardo H. Flichman (1995). Hard and Soft Accidental Uniformities. Philosophy of Science 62 (1):31-43.
    I discuss some aspects of the epistemological distinction between laws of nature and accidental uniformities. In order that the exposition be self-contained I briefly provide a taxonomy proposed in another work for statements that appear in a scientific theory. Once this taxonomy has been presented I attempt to prove two very different types of accidental uniformities: hard and soft. The distinction is fundamental because the latter have frequently been confused with laws of nature. I try to justify why I believe (...)
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  39. John Foster (2004). The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God. Oxford University Press.
    John Foster presents a clear and powerful discussion of a range of topics relating to our understanding of the universe: induction, laws of nature, and the existence of God. He begins by developing a solution to the problem of induction - a solution whose key idea is that the regularities in the workings of nature that have held in our experience hitherto are to be explained by appeal to the controlling influence of laws, as forms of natural necessity. His second (...)
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  40. By Toby Handfield (2004). Counterlegals and Necessary Laws. Philosophical Quarterly 54 (216):402–419.
    Necessitarian accounts of the laws of nature have an apparent difficulty in accounting for counterlegal conditionals because, despite appearing to be substantive, on the necessitarian thesis they are vacuous. I argue that the necessitarian may explain the apparently substantive content of such conditionals by pointing out the presuppositions of counterlegal discourse. The typical presupposition is that a certain conceptual possibility has been realized; namely, that necessitarianism is false. (The idea of conceptual possibility is explicated in terms of recent work in (...)
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  41. Toby Handfield (2010). Dispositions, Manifestations, and Causal Structure. In Anna Marmodoro (ed.), The Metaphysics of Powers: Their Grounding and Their Manifestations. Routledge.
    This paper examines the idea that there might be natural kinds of causal processes, with characteristic diachronic structure, in much the same way that various chemical elements form natural kinds, with characteristic synchronic structure. This claim -- if compatible with empirical science -- has the potential to shed light on a metaphysics of essentially dispositional properties, championed by writers such as Bird and Ellis.
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  42. Toby Handfield (2005). Lange on Essentialism, Counterfactuals, and Explanation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):81 – 85.
    Marc Lange objects to scientific essentialists that they can give no better account of the counterfactual invariance of laws than Humeans. While conceding this point succeeds ad hominem against some essentialists, I show that it does not undermine essentialism in general. Moreover, Lange's alternative account of the relation between laws and counterfactuals is - with minor modification - compatible with essentialism.
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  43. Toby Handfield (2004). Counterlegals and Necessary Laws. Philosophical Quarterly 54 (216):402 - 419.
    Necessitarian accounts of the laws of nature meet an apparent difficulty: for them, counterlegal conditionals, despite appearing to be substantive, seem to come out as vacuous. I argue that the necessitarian may use the presuppositions of counterlegal discourse to explain this. If the typical presupposition that necessitarianism is false is made explicit in counterlegal utterances, we obtain sentences such as 'If it turns out that the laws of nature are contingent, then if the laws had been otherwise, then such and (...)
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  44. Robin Findlay Hendry & Darrell P. Rowbottom (2009). Dispositional Essentialism and the Necessity of Laws. Analysis 69 (4):668-677.
    We argue that the inference from dispositional essentialism about a property (in the broadest sense) to the metaphysical necessity of laws involving it is invalid. Let strict dispositional essentialism be any view according to which any given property’s dispositional character is precisely the same across all possible worlds. Clearly, any version of strict dispositional essentialism rules out worlds with different laws involving that property. Permissive dispositional essentialism is committed to a property’s identity being tied to its dispositional profile or causal (...)
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  45. Charles M. Hermes, Scientific Essentialism and the Lewis/Ramsey Account of Laws of Nature.
    Humean interpretations claim that laws of nature merely summarize events. Non-Humean interpretations claim that laws force events to occur in certain patterns. First, I show that the Lewis/Ramsey account of lawhood, which claims that laws are axioms or theorems of the simplest strongest summary of events, provides the best Humean interpretation of laws. The strongest non-Humean account, the scientific essentialist position, grounds laws of nature in essential non-reducible dispositional properties held by natural kinds. The scientific essentialist account entails that laws (...)
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  46. Stephen C. Hetherington (1983). Tooley's Theory of Laws of Nature. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 13 (1):101 - 106.
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  47. F. G. Holman (1997). Further on Necessity and Laws of Nature. Cogito 11 (3):225-226.
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  48. 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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  49. Max Kistler (2002). The Causal Criterion of Reality and the Necessity of Laws of Nature. Metaphysica 3 (1):57-86.
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  50. William Kneale (1961). Universality and Necessity. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 12 (46):89-102.
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