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 that some of its problems are in fact illusions that could be dispelled by consideration of more recent developments in the philosophy of science. In particular, philosophy of psychology has been plagued by a famous contrast between its "ceteris paribus" laws and the "exceptionless" laws of the physical sciences. This has led to doubts about the scientific status of psychology, the status of psychological kinds as natural kinds, and even their ontological legitimacy. I argue here that this problematic is a consequence of assuming a particular analysis of scientific laws as (exceptionless) universally quantifed claims. This analysis has largely been rejected in contemporary philosophy of science. And more recent analyses that take notice of the role of idealization in scientific modeling both dissolve the nagging problem and shed new light upon differences between the sciences.
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