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Special Science Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (University of Cologne, University of Cologne)
About this topic
Summary Early accounts of what a law of nature is were somewhat guided by a reductionist credo: say what it is to be a fundamental law of nature (as in fundamental physics); all the other laws (and scientific theories) follow from these basic laws anyway so that no special theory for what it is to be a law of chemistry or biology or... has to be given. In recent decades this attitude has changed and accounts of laws in the special sciences (and whether there are such) come into focus which are downright independent of reductionist attitudes. These laws have their own features and, thus, face their very own challenges: for example, they might be about entities that have a very limited space-time habitat (think of biology). Also, many special sciences regularities face exceptions: ravens are black, except for albino ravens. Thus, the topic of special science laws and the topic of ceteris paribus laws are closely related: see philpapers leaf section on cp laws. 
Key works The orthodox starting points for this subject are: Fodor 1974Lange 2000.
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  1. Russ Abbott (2009). The Reductionist Blind Spot. Complexity 14 (5):10-22.
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  2. Marius Backmann & Alexander Reutlinger (2014). Better Best Systems – Too Good To Be True. Dialectica 68 (3):375-390.
    Craig Callender, Jonathan Cohen and Markus Schrenk have recently argued for an amended version of the best system account of laws – the better best system account (BBSA). This account of lawhood is supposed to account for laws in the special sciences, among other desiderata. Unlike David Lewis's original best system account of laws, the BBSA does not rely on a privileged class of natural predicates, in terms of which the best system is formulated. According to the BBSA, a contingently (...)
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  3. John Beatty, Robert Brandon, Elliott Sober & Sandra D. Mitchell (1997). Symposium: Are There Laws in Biology? Philosophy of Science 64 (4):S432 - S479.
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  4. M. A. Bedau (1999). Supple Laws in Biology and Psychology. In V. Harcastle (ed.), Where Biology Meets Psychology. 287--302.
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  5. Mark Bedau, Supple Laws in Psychology and Biology.
    The nature and status of psychological laws are a long-standing controversy. I will argue that part of the controversy stems from the distinctive nature of an important subset of those laws, which I’ll call “supple laws.” An emergent-model strategy taken by the new interdisciplinary field of artificial life provides a strikingly successful understanding of analogously supple laws in biology. So, after reviewing the failures of the two evident strategies for understanding supple psychological laws, I’ll turn for inspiration to emergent-models explanations (...)
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  6. Ted Benton (1981). „Cutler on Laws of Tendency. Radical Philosophy 27:33-35.
    Cutler et.al. declare themselves opposed to the epistemological privileging of any level of discourse, but prefer, instead, to engage in discursive analyses of specific problems. Nevertheless, their critique of specific laws of tendency in Marx's texts - concentratlon and centralisation of capital, the falling rate of profit, etc. - relies almost exclusively on a single epistemological argument: there can be no such 'thing' as a law of tendency.
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  7. Nora Berenstain & James Ladyman (2012). Ontic Structural Realism and Modality. In Elaine Landry & Dean Rickles (eds.), Structural Realism: Structure, Object, and Causality. Springer.
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  8. Réjane Bernier (1983). Laws in Biology. Acta Biotheoretica 32 (4):265-288.
    In the first part of my analysis, I wish briefly to clarify the different modes of relation found in the living being, and point out the multiplicity of disciplines in which biologists use (explicitly or implicitly) the notion of laws. In the second part, I shall analyse the notion of universal laws in biology and examine successively: (1) accidental generalizations; (2) non-causal biological correlations; (3) the meaning of 'necessity' in these correlations; and (4) causal connections. Finally, in the third part, (...)
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  9. 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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  10. Martin Carrier (1998). In Defense of Psychological Laws. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 12 (3):217 – 232.
    Abstract It is argued that psychological explanations involve psychological generalizations that exhibit the same features as laws of physics. On the basis of the ?systematic theory of lawhood?, characteristic features of laws of nature are elaborated. Investigating some examples of explanations taken from cognitive psychology shows that these features can also be identified in psychological generalizations. Particular attention is devoted to the notion of ?ccteris?paribus laws?. It is argued that laws of psychology are indeed ceteris?paribus laws. However, this feature does (...)
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  11. Martin Carrier, Evolutionary Change and Lawlikeness : Beatty on Biological Generalizations.
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  12. Nancy Cartwright (1997). Models: The Blueprints for Laws. Philosophy of Science 64 (4):303.
    In this paper the claim that laws of nature are to be understood as claims about what necessarily or reliably happens is disputed. Laws can characterize what happens in a reliable way, but they do not do this easily. We do not have laws for everything occurring in the world, but only for those situations where what happens in nature is represented by a model: models are blueprints for nomological machines, which in turn give rise to laws. An example from (...)
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  13. Alan Chalmers (1999). Making Sense of Laws of Physics. In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer. 3--16.
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  14. Maureen Christie (1994). Chemists Versus Philosophers Regarding Laws of Nature. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 25:613-629.
    The law of definite proportion and the law of multiple proportions are two of the important laws of chemistry associated with the development of the atomic theory in the early nineteenth century. A detailed study of these laws shows that they have characters which cannot be reconciled with philosophers’ accounts of laws of nature. They are non-universal, and one of them is imprecise. Philosophers have approached an account of laws of nature by trying to fit their character to a particular (...)
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  15. Maureen Christie (1994). Philosophers Versus Chemists Concerning 'Laws of Nature'. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 25 (4):613-629.
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  16. Jonathan Cohen & Craig Callender (2010). Special Sciences, Conspiracy and the Better Best System Account of Lawhood. Erkenntnis 73 (3):427 - 447.
    An important obstacle to lawhood in the special sciences is the worry that such laws would require metaphysically extravagant conspiracies among fundamental particles. How, short of conspiracy, is this possible? In this paper we'll review a number of strategies that allow for the projectibility of special science generalizations without positing outlandish conspiracies: non-Humean pluralism, classical MRL theories of laws, and Albert and Loewer's theory. After arguing that none of the above fully succeed, we consider the conspiracy problem through the lens (...)
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  17. Jonathan Cohen & Craig Callender (2009). A Better Best System Account of Lawhood. Philosophical Studies 145 (1):1 - 34.
    Perhaps the most significant contemporary theory of lawhood is the Best System (/MRL) view on which laws are true generalizations that best systematize knowledge. Our question in this paper will be how best to formulate a theory of this kind. We’ll argue that an acceptable MRL should (i) avoid inter-system comparisons of simplicity, strength, and balance, (ii) make lawhood epistemically accessible, and (iii) allow for laws in the special sciences. Attention to these problems will bring into focus a useful menu (...)
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  18. John D. Collier, Timeless Laws in a Changing World: Reconciling Physics and Biology.
    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 principles that are the same for all times and (...)
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  19. Mauro Dorato (2012). Mathematical Biology and the Existence of Biological Laws. In D. Dieks, S. Hartmann, T. Uebel & M. Weber (eds.), Probabilities, Laws and Structure. Springer.
    An influential position in the philosophy of biology claims that there are no biological laws, since any apparently biological generalization is either too accidental, fact-like or contingent to be named a law, or is simply reducible to physical laws that regulate electrical and chemical interactions taking place between merely physical systems. In the following I will stress a neglected aspect of the debate that emerges directly from the growing importance of mathematical models of biological phenomena. My main aim is to (...)
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  20. Jeffrey Dunn (2011). Fried Eggs, Thermodynamics, and the Special Sciences. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (1):71-98.
    David Lewis ([1986b]) gives an attractive and familiar account of counterfactual dependence in the standard context. This account has recently been subject to a counterexample from Adam Elga ([2000]). In this article, I formulate a Lewisian response to Elga’s counterexample. The strategy is to add an extra criterion to Lewis’s similarity metric, which determines the comparative similarity of worlds. This extra criterion instructs us to take special science laws into consideration as well as fundamental laws. I argue that the Second (...)
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  21. John Earman & John Roberts (1999). "Ceteris Paribus", There Is No Problem of Provisos. Synthese 118 (3):439 - 478.
    Much of the literature on "ceteris paribus" laws is based on a misguided egalitarianism about the sciences. For example, it is commonly held that the special sciences are riddled with ceteris paribus laws; from this many commentators conclude that if the special sciences are not to be accorded a second class status, it must be ceteris paribus all the way down to fundamental physics. We argue that the (purported) laws of fundamental physics are not hedged by ceteris paribus clauses and (...)
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  22. Crawford L. Elder (2001). The Problem of Harmonizing Laws. Philosophical Studies 105 (1):25 - 41.
    More laws obtain in the world,it appears, than just those of microphysics –e.g. laws of genetics, perceptual psychology,economics. This paper assumes there indeedare laws in the special sciences, and notjust scrambled versions of microphysical laws. Yet the objects which obey them are composedwholly of microparticles. How can themicroparticles in such an object lawfully domore than what is required of them by the lawsof microphysics? Are there additional laws formicroparticles – which seems to violate closureof microphysics – or is the ``more'' (...)
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  23. Mehmet Elgin (2003). Biology and a Priori Laws. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1380--1389.
    In this paper, I investigate the nature of a priori biological laws in connection with the idea that laws must be empirical. I argue that the epistemic functions of a priori biological laws in biology are the same as those of empirical laws in physics. Thus, the requirement that laws be empirical is idle in connection with how laws operate in science. This result presents a choice between sticking with an unmotivated philosophical requirement and taking the functional equivalence of laws (...)
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  24. Mehmet Elgin (2003). Biology and A Priori Laws. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1380-1389.
    Abstract: In this paper, my main objective is to investigate the nature of a priori biological laws in connection with the idea that laws must be empirical. I argue that functions of so-called a priori biological laws in biological sciences are the same as those of empirical physical laws. Thus, the requirement of being empirical makes no difference how laws operate in sciences. This result presents us a choice between sticking with a philosophical requirement of laws being empirical or taking (...)
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  25. Jerry A. Fodor (1974). Special Sciences. Synthese 28 (2):97-115.
  26. John Forge (1996). Laws and States in Quantum Mechanics. In P. Riggs (ed.), Natural Kinds, Laws of Nature and Scientific Methodology. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 163--185.
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  27. Michael T. Ghiselin (1988). The Individuality Thesis, Essences, and Laws of Nature. Biology and Philosophy 3 (4):467-474.
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  28. Ronald N. Giere (2006). Modest Evolutionary Naturalism. Biological Theory 1 (1):52-60.
    I begin by arguing that a consistent general naturalism must be understood in terms of methodological maxims rather than metaphysical doctrines. Some specific maxims are proposed. I then defend a generalized naturalism from the common objection that it is incapable of accounting for the normative aspects of human life, including those of scientific practice itself. Evolutionary naturalism, however, is criticized as being incapable of providing a sufficient explanation of categorical moral norms. Turning to the epistemological norms of science itself, particularly (...)
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  29. Andrew Hamilton (2007). Laws of Biology, Laws of Nature: Problems and (Dis)Solutions. Philosophy Compass 2 (3):592–610.
    This article serves as an introduction to the laws-of-biology debate. After introducing the main issues in an introductory section, arguments for and against laws of biology are canvassed in Section 2. In Section 3, the debate is placed in wider epistemological context by engaging a group of scholars who have shifted the focus away from the question of whether there are laws of biology and toward offering good accounts of explanation(s) in the biological sciences. Section 4 introduces two relatively new (...)
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  30. Andrew Hamilton, Samir Okasha & Jay Odenbaugh, Philosophy of Biology.
    Philosophy of biology is a vibrant and growing field. From initial roots in the metaphysics of species (Ghiselin, Hull), questions about whether biology has laws of nature akin to those of physics (Ruse, Hull), and discussions of teleology and function (Grene 1974, Brandon 1981), the field has grown since the 1970s to include a vast range of topics. Over the last few decades, philosophy has had an important impact on biology, partly through following the model of engagement with science that (...)
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  31. Jens Harbecke (2013). On the Distinction Between Law Schemata and Causal Laws. Acta Analytica 28 (4):423-434.
    The paper argues against the widely accepted assumption that the causal laws of (completed) physics, in contrast to those of the special sciences, are essentially strict. This claim played an important role already in debates about the anomalousness of the mental, and it currently experiences a renaissance in various discussions about mental causation, projectability of special science laws, and the nature of physical laws. By illustrating the distinction with some paradigmatic physical laws, the paper demonstrates that only law schemata are (...)
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  32. C. Haufe (2013). From Necessary Chances to Biological Laws. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (2):279-295.
    In this article, I propose a new way of thinking about natural necessity and a new way of thinking about biological laws. I suggest that much of the lack of progress in making a positive case for distinctively biological laws is that we’ve been looking for necessity in the wrong place. The trend has been to look for exceptionlessness at the level of the outcomes of biological processes and to build one’s claims about necessity off of that. However, as Beatty (...)
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  33. Adrian Heathcote (1996). Of Crows and Quarks: Reflections on the Laws of Quantum Mechanics. In P. Riggs (ed.), Natural Kinds, Laws of Nature and Scientific Methodology. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 145--161.
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  34. Andreas Hüttemann & Alexander Reutlinger (2013). Against the Statistical Account of Special Science Laws. In Vassilios Karakostas & Dennis Dieks (eds.), Recent Progress in Philosophy of Science: Perspectives and Foundational Problems. The Third European Philosophy of Science Association Proceedings. Springer. 181-192.
    John Earman and John T. Roberts advocate a challenging and radical claim regarding the semantics of laws in the special sciences: the statistical account. According to this account, a typical special science law “asserts a certain precisely defined statistical relation among well-defined variables” (Earman and Roberts 1999) and this statistical relation does not require being hedged by ceteris paribus conditions. In this paper, we raise two objections against the attempt to cash out the content of special science generalizations in statistical (...)
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  35. Andreas Hüttemann, Alexander Reutlinger & Gerhard Schurz, Ceteris Paribus Laws. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Laws of nature take center stage in philosophy of science. Laws are usually believed to stand in a tight conceptual relation to many important key concepts such as causation, explanation, confirmation, determinism, counterfactuals etc. Traditionally, philosophers of science have focused on physical laws, which were taken to be at least true, universal statements that support counterfactual claims. But, although this claim about laws might be true with respect to physics, laws in the special sciences (such as biology, psychology, economics etc.) (...)
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  36. Amir Eshan Karbasizadeh (2008). Revising the Concept of Lawhood: Special Sciences and Natural Kinds. Synthese 162 (1):15 - 30.
    The Kripkean conception of natural kinds (kinds are defined by essences that are intrinsic to their members and that lie at the microphysical level) indirectly finds support in a certain conception of a law of nature, according to which generalizations must have unlimited scope and be exceptionless to count as laws of nature. On my view, the kinds that constitute the subject matter of special sciences such as biology may very well turn out to be natural despite the fact that (...)
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  37. Geert Keil (2005). How the Ceteris Paribus Laws of Physics Lie. In Jan Faye, Paul Needham, Uwe Scheffler & Max Urchs (eds.), Nature's Principles. Springer. 167--200.
    After a brief survey of the literature on ceteris paribus clauses and ceteris paribus laws (1), the problem of exceptions, which creates the need for cp laws, is discussed (2). It emerges that the so-called skeptical view of laws of nature does not apply to laws of any kind whatever. Only some laws of physics are plagued with exceptions, not THE laws (3). Cp clauses promise a remedy, which has to be located among the further reactions to the skeptical view (...)
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  38. Jaegwon Kim (2012). Against Laws in the Special Sciences. Journal of Philosophical Research 37 (Supplement):103-122.
    The traditional view of science holds that science is essentially nomothetic—that is, the defining characteristic of science is that it seeks to discover and formulate laws for the phenomena in its domain, and that laws are required for explanation and prediction. This paper advances the thesis that there are no laws in the special sciences, sciences other than fundamental physics, and that this does not impugn their status as sciences. Toward this end, two arguments are presented. The first begins with (...)
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  39. Harold Kincaid (1990). Defending Laws in the Social Sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 20 (1):56?83.
    This article defends laws in the social sciences. Arguments against social laws are considered and rejected based on the "open" nature of social theory, the multiple realizability of social predicates, the macro and/or teleological nature of social laws, and the inadequacies of belief-desire psychology. The more serious problem that social laws are usually qualified ceteris paribus is then considered. How the natural sciences handle ceteris paribus laws is discussed and it is argued that such procedures are possible in the social (...)
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  40. Robert Kowalenko (2014). Ceteris Paribus Laws: A Naturalistic Account. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 28 (2):133-155.
    An otherwise lawlike generalisation hedged by a ceteris paribus (CP) clause qualifies as a law of nature, if the CP clause can be substituted with a set of conditions derived from the multivariate regression model used to interpret the empirical data in support of the gen- eralisation. Three studies in human biology that use regression analysis are surveyed, showing that standard objections to cashing out CP clauses in this way—based on alleged vagueness, vacuity, or lack of testability—do not apply. CP (...)
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  41. Robert Kowalenko (2011). The Epistemology of Hedged Laws. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 42 (3):445-452.
    Standard objections to the notion of a hedged, or ceteris paribus, law of nature usually boil down to the claim that such laws would be either 1) irredeemably vague, 2) untestable, 3) vacuous, 4) false, or a combination thereof. Using epidemiological studies in nutrition science as an example, I show that this is not true of the hedged law-like generalizations derived from data models used to interpret large and varied sets of empirical observations. Although it may be ‘in principle impossible’ (...)
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  42. Marc Lange (2002). Who's Afraid of Ceteris-Paribus Laws? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Them. [REVIEW] Erkenntnis 57 (3):281Ð301.
    Ceteris-paribus clauses are nothing to worry about; aceteris-paribus qualifier is not poisonously indeterminate in meaning. Ceteris-paribus laws teach us that a law need not be associated straightforwardly with a regularity in the manner demanded by regularity analyses of law and analyses of laws as relations among universals. This lesson enables us to understand the sense in which the laws of nature would have been no different under various counterfactual suppositions — a feature even of those laws that involve no ceteris-paribus (...)
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  43. Marc Lange (2000). Natural Laws in Scientific Practice. Oxford University Press.
    It is often presumed that the laws of nature have special significance for scientific reasoning. But the laws' distinctive roles have proven notoriously difficult to identify--leading some philosophers to question if they hold such roles at all. This study offers original accounts of the roles that natural laws play in connection with counterfactual conditionals, inductive projections, and scientific explanations, and of what the laws must be in order for them to be capable of playing these roles. Particular attention is given (...)
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  44. Bert Leuridan (2010). Can Mechanisms Really Replace Laws of Nature? Philosophy of Science 77 (3):317-340.
    Today, mechanisms and mechanistic explanation are very popular in philosophy of science and are deemed a welcome alternative to laws of nature and deductive‐nomological explanation. Starting from Mitchell's pragmatic notion of laws, I cast doubt on their status as a genuine alternative. I argue that (1) all complex‐systems mechanisms ontologically must rely on stable regularities, while (2) the reverse need not hold. Analogously, (3) models of mechanisms must incorporate pragmatic laws, while (4) such laws themselves need not always refer to (...)
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  45. I. A. Matsiavichius (1983). The Statistical Nature of Laws of Social Development. Russian Studies in Philosophy 22 (3):82-85.
    The laws of social development are objective in content and, in contrast to the laws of nature, are manifested and function only through the activity of human beings. The development of all spheres of human activity, in turn, cannot be conceived of as independent of the will, consciousness, moods and beliefs, propensities and preferences of human beings, nor as independent of the effectiveness of forms of social organization, etc. The social specificity of laws of social development in turn defines another (...)
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  46. Andrew Melnyk (1996). Testament of a Recovering Eliminativist. Philosophy of Science 63 (3):S185-S193.
    If physicalism is true (e.g., if every event is a fundamental-physical event), then it looks as if there is a fundamental-physical explanation of everything. If so, then what is to become of special scientific explanations? They seem to be excluded by the fundamental-physical ones, and indeed to be excellent candidates for elimination. I argue that, if physicalism is true, there probably is a fundamental-physical explanation of everything, but that nevertheless there can perfectly well be special scientific explanations as well, notwithstanding (...)
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  47. Ruth G. Millikan (1999). Historical Kinds and the "Special Sciences". Philosophical Studies 95 (1-2):45-65.
    There are no "special sciences" in Fodor's sense. There is a large group of sciences, "historical sciences," that differ fundamentally from the physical sciences because they quantify over a different kind of natural or real kind, nor are the generalizations supported by these kinds exceptionless. Heterogeneity, however, is not characteristic of these kinds. That there could be an univocal empirical science that ranged over multiple realizations of a functional property is quite problematic. If psychological predicates name multiply realized functionalist properties, (...)
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  48. Ruth G. Millikan (1999). Historical Kinds and the "Special Sciences". Philosophical Studies 95 (1-2):45-65.
    There are no "special sciences" in Fodor's sense. There is a large group of sciences, "historical sciences," that differ fundamentally from the physical sciences because they quantify over a different kind of natural or real kind, nor are the generalizations supported by these kinds exceptionless. Heterogeneity, however, is not characteristic of these kinds. That there could be an univocal empirical science that ranged over multiple realizations of a functional property is quite problematic. If psychological predicates name multiply realized functionalist properties, (...)
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  49. Roberta L. Millstein (2010). A Law by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet. [REVIEW] Science 330:1048-1049.
    A review of _Biology’s First Law: The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems_, by Daniel W. McShea and Robert N. Brandon. This review argues that the supposed "Zero-Force Evolutionary Law”" (ZFEL) is neither a law nor zero-force.
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  50. Sandra D. Mitchell (1997). Pragmatic Laws. Philosophy of Science 64 (4):479.
    Beatty, Brandon, and Sober agree that biological generalizations, when contingent, do not qualify as laws. Their conclusion follows from a normative definition of law inherited from the Logical Empiricists. I suggest two additional approaches: paradigmatic and pragmatic. Only the pragmatic represents varying kinds and degrees of contingency and exposes the multiple relationships found among scientific generalizations. It emphasizes the function of laws in grounding expectation and promotes the evaluation of generalizations along continua of ontological and representational parameters. Stability of conditions (...)
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