Laws of nature, natural history, and the description of the world

The modern sciences are divided into two groups: law-formulating and natural historical sciences. Sciences of both groups aim at describing the world, but they do so differently. Whereas the natural historical sciences produce “transcriptions” intended to be literally true of actual occurrences, laws of nature are expressive symbols of aspects of the world. The relationship between laws and the world thus resembles that between the symbols of classical iconography and the objects for which they stand. The natural historical approach was founded by Aristotle and is retained in such present-day sciences as botany. Modern physics differentiated itself from the natural historical sciences and developed a symbolizing approach at the hands of Galileo and Descartes. Our knowledge of the physical domain is provided by two disciplines: the law-formulating science of physics and a natural historical science on which we depend in the everyday manipulation of our surroundings.
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DOI 10.1080/02698599708573569
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J. W. McAllister (1996). The Evidential Significance of Thought Experiment in Science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 27 (2):233-250.

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