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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. Clive Beed & Cara Beed (2000). Is the Case for Social Science Laws Strengthening? Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 30 (2):131–153.
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  7. 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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  8. Nora Berenstain (2014). Necessary Laws and Chemical Kinds. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (4):631-647.
    Contingentism, generally contrasted with law necessitarianism, is the view that the laws of nature are contingent. It is often coupled with the claim that their contingency is knowable a priori. This paper considers Bird's [2001, 2002, 2005, 2007] arguments for the thesis that, necessarily, salt dissolves in water; and it defends his view against Beebee's [2001] and Psillos's [2002] contingentist objections. A new contingentist objection is offered and several reasons for scepticism about its success are raised. It is concluded that (...)
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  9. Nora Berenstain & James Ladyman (2012). Ontic Structural Realism and Modality. In Elaine Landry & Dean Rickles (eds.), Structural Realism: Structure, Object, and Causality. Springer.
  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. 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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  13. Martin Carrier, Evolutionary Change and Lawlikeness : Beatty on Biological Generalizations.
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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. 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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  19. 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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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. 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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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. 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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  27. Mehmet Elgin (2002). Laws in the Special Sciences: A Comparative Study of Biological Generalizations. Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
    The question of whether biology contains laws has important implications about the nature of science. Some philosophers believe that the legitimacy of the special sciences depends on whether they contain laws. In this dissertation, I defend the thesis that biology contains laws. In Chapter I, I discuss the importance of this problem and set the stage for my inquiry. In Chapter V, I summarize the results of Chapters II, III, and IV and I offer reasons why the position I advance (...)
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  28. Jerry A. Fodor (1974). Special Sciences. Synthese 28 (2):97-115.
  29. 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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  30. A. Garcia de la Sienra (1998). The Modal Laws of Economics. Philosophia Reformata 63 (2):182-205.
    Herman Dooyeweerd’s classical characterization of the meaning-kernel of the economic modality runs as follows: the sparing or frugal mode of administering scarce goods, implying an alternative choice of their destination with regard to the satisfaction of different human needs. My first aim in this paper is to show that Dooyeweerd’s characterization of the meaning-kernel of the economic modality naturally leads to neoclassical economic theory. In order to do this, I will provide an argument that, departing from Dooyeweerd’s definition of the (...)
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  31. Austin Gerig (2011). Universal Laws and Economic Phenomena. Complexity 17 (1):9-12.
    Despite the idiosyncratic behavior of individuals, empirical regularities exist in social and economic systems. These regularities often arise from simple underlying mechanisms which, analogous to the natural sciences, can be expressed as universal principles or laws. In this essay, I discuss the similarities between economic and natural phenomena and argue that it is advantageous for economists to adopt methods from the natural sciences to discover “universal laws” in economic systems.
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  32. Michael T. Ghiselin (1988). The Individuality Thesis, Essences, and Laws of Nature. Biology and Philosophy 3 (4):467-474.
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  33. 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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  34. Attila Grandpierre (2011). The Biological Principle of Natural Sciences and the Logos of Life of Natural Philosophy: A Comparison and the Perspectives of Unifying the Science and Philosophy of Life. Analecta Husserliana 110 (Part II):711-727.
    Acknowledging that Nature is one unified whole, we expect that physics and biology are intimately related. Keeping in mind that physics became an exact science with which we are already familiar with, while, apparently, we do not have at present a similar knowledge about biology, we consider how can we make useful the clarity of physics to shed light to biology. The next question will be what are the most basic categories of physics and biology. If we do not want (...)
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  35. Bruce A. Haddock (1986). The Nature of Social Laws. [REVIEW] New Vico Studies 4:183-185.
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  36. 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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  37. 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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  38. 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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  39. 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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  40. 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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  41. 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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  42. Steven Horst (2011). Laws, Mind, and Free Will. MIT Press.
    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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  43. 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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  44. 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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  45. 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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  46. 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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  47. 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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  48. 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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  49. Hilary Kornblith (1992). The Laws of Thought. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52 (4):895-911.
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  50. 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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