Reply to Ellis and to Handfield on essentialism, laws, and counterfactuals

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):581 – 588 (2005)
In Lange 2004a, I argued that 'scientific essentialism' [Ellis 2001 cannot account for the characteristic relation between laws and counterfactuals without undergoing considerable ad hoc tinkering. In recent papers, Brian Ellis 2005 and Toby Handfield 2005 have defended essentialism against my charge. Here I argue that Ellis's and Handfield's replies fail. Even in ordinary counterfactual reasoning, the 'closest possible world' where the electron's electric charge is 5% greater may have less overlap with the actual world in its fundamental natural kinds than a 'more distant possible world' where the electron's charge is 5% greater. But more importantly, essentialism's flexibility in being able to accommodate virtually any relation between laws and counterfactuals is a symptom of essentialism's explanatory impotence as far as that relation is concerned.
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DOI 10.1080/00048400500338971
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John Roberts (2010). Some Laws of Nature Are Metaphysically Contingent. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (3):445-457.
Marc Lange (2008). Could the Laws of Nature Change? Philosophy of Science 75 (1):69-92.

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