Meta-laws of nature and the Best System Account

Analysis 71 (2):216-222 (2011)
The merits of David Lewis’s Best System Account of natural law are frequently debated. But to my knowledge, the prospects for extending the BSA to cover meta-laws have never been examined. I shall identify two obstacles facing the most natural way of extending the BSA to cover meta-laws. The BSA’s fans should consider how these obstacles are to be overcome. Meta-laws are laws about laws. For example, Einstein’s special theory of relativity incorporates a meta-law: The content of the [special] relativity theory can … be summarized in one sentence: all natural laws must be so conditioned that they are covariant with respect to Lorentz transformations. [The special theory of relativity] is not a theory in the usual sense but is better regarded as a second-level theory, or a theory of theories that constrains first-level theories. The principle of relativity is an example of a symmetry principle: a principle requiring that the first-order laws be unchanged under a given transformation. Long before Einstein proposed the principle of relativity, other spacetime symmetries were widely believed to be meta-laws: that the first-order laws are covariant under arbitrary spatial displacements, temporal displacements and spatial rotations. These spacetime symmetries require the laws to treat all spatial locations and directions alike and all moments alike. For instance, symmetry under temporal displacements rules out a fundamental force law specifying that a given force declines with the inverse-square of the distance before a given moment but with the inverse-cube of the distance at and after that moment. Wigner characterizes such a symmetry principle as ‘a superprinciple which is in …
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DOI 10.2307/41237305
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