Ceteris Paribus Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian Boge (Bergische Universität Wuppertal)
About this topic
Summary An alleged law of nature—like Newton's law of gravitation—is said to be a ceteris paribus law if it does not hold under certain circumstances but only ‘when other things are equal’. Typical examples are: ‘provided the supply remains constant, the price of a product increases with growing demand, ceteris paribus’, ‘all bodies fall with the same speed, ceteris paribus’, ‘haemoglobin binds O2, ceteris paribus’. There is, however, an inherent tension in the notion of a ceteris paribus law: on the one hand, laws are said to be strict universal regularities, on the other hand, the proviso clause seems to allow for certain exceptions. Moreover, in the current debate on ceteris paribus laws fervent opponents to the whole idea of law statements with proviso clauses point out that no good sense can be made of a statement like ‘All Fs are Gs, ceteris paribus’. Such a phrase, so they say, is either tautologous like ‘All Fs are Gs, unless not’ or it stands for a proposition like ‘All Fs which are also… are Gs’ the gap of which we are unable to close. Many of those who argue in favour of the idea of ceteris paribus laws, however, not only claim that a proper analysis of what the proviso clause is supposed to mean can be given but even that all laws are of ceteris paribus character.
Key works There's a special Erkenntnis Volume on Ceteris paribus Laws which set the agenda for many years: Earman et al 2002 A follow-up volume is currently under review. Watch this space!
Introductions Reutlinger et al 2015
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  1. Better Best Systems – Too Good To Be True.Marius Backmann & Alexander Reutlinger - 2014 - 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 (...)
  2. Initial Conditions as Exogenous Factors in Spatial Explanation.Clint Ballinger - 2008 - Dissertation, University of Cambridge
    This dissertation shows how initial conditions play a special role in the explanation of contingent and irregular outcomes, including, in the form of geographic context, the special case of uneven development in the social sciences. The dissertation develops a general theory of this role, recognizes its empirical limitations in the social sciences, and considers how it might be applied to the question of uneven development. The primary purpose of the dissertation is to identify and correct theoretical problems in the study (...)
  3. Psychological Laws (Revisited).Mark Bauer - 2010 - Erkenntnis 73 (1):41 - 53.
    It has been suggested that a functionalist understanding of the metaphysics of psychological typing eliminates the prospect for psychological laws. Kim, Millikan, and Shapiro have each separately argued that, if psychological types as functional types are multiply realized, then the diversity of realizing mechanisms demonstrates that there can be no laws of psychology. Additionally, Millikan has argued that the role of functional attribution in the explanation of historical kinds limits the formulation of psychological principles to particular taxa; hence, psychological laws (...)
  4. Antidotes All the Way Down?Alexander Bird - 2004 - Theoria 19 (3):259–69.
    Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple (subjunctive or counterfactual) conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these phenomena are easy to demonstrate at the macro-level. But do they (...)
  5. Antidotes All the Way Down?Alexander Bird - 2004 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 19 (3):259-269.
    This paper concerns the relationship between dispositions and ceteris paribus laws. Dispositions are related to conditionals. Typically a fragile glass will break if struck with force. But possession of the disposition does not entail the corresponding simple conditional. The phenomena of finks and antidotes show that an object may possess the disposition without the conditional being true. Finks and antidotes may be thought of as exceptions to the straightforward relation between disposition and conditional. The existence of these phenomena is easy (...)
  6. Lossy Laws.David Braddon-Mitchell - 2001 - Noûs 35 (2):260–277.
  7. A Note on Prediction and Deduction.John Canfield & Keith Lehrer - 1961 - Philosophy of Science 28 (2):204-208.
    This paper argues against the deductive reconstruction of scientific prediction, that is, against the view that in prediction the predicted event follows deductively from the laws and initial conditions that are the basis of the prediction. The major argument of the paper is intended to show that the deductive reconstruction is an inaccurate reconstruction of actual scientific procedure. Our reason for maintaining that it is inaccurate is that if the deductive reconstruction were an accurate reconstruction, then scientific prediction would be (...)
  8. Always or Never: Two Approaches to Ceteris Paribus. [REVIEW]Toni Vogel Carey - 2012 - Erkenntnis 77 (3):317-333.
    The Scientific Revolution spawned not just one methodology, but two. We have emphasized Bacon's inductivism at the expense of Galileo's more abstract, sophisticated method of successive approximation, and so have failed to appreciate Galileo's contribution to the ceteris paribus problem in philosophy of science. My purpose here is to help redress this imbalance. I first briefly review the old unsolved problems, and then point out the Baconian basis of ceteris paribus, as this clause is conventionally understood, and its history from (...)
  9. In Defense of Psychological Laws.Martin Carrier - 1998 - 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 (...)
  10. Natural Laws in Scientific Practice by Marc Lange.John W. Carroll - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (1):240-245.
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  11. Ceteris Paribus Laws and Socio-Economic Machines.N. Cartwright - 1995 - The Monist 78 (3):276-294.
  12. In Favor of Laws That Are Not Ceteris Paribus After All.Nancy Cartwright - 2002 - Erkenntnis 57 (3):425Ð439.
    Opponents of ceteris paribus laws are apt to complain that the laws are vague and untestable. Indeed, claims to this effect are made by Earman, Roberts and Smith in this volume. I argue that these kinds of claims rely on too narrow a view about what kinds of concepts we can and do regularly use in successful sciences and on too optimistic a view about the extent of application of even our most successful non-ceteris paribus laws. When it comes to (...)
  13. 14 Ceteris Paribus Laws and Socio-Economic Machines.Nancy Cartwright - 2001 - In Uskali Mäki (ed.), The Economic World View: Studies in the Ontology of Economics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 275.
  14. The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science.Nancy Cartwright - 1999 - Cambridge University Press.
    It is often supposed that the spectacular successes of our modern mathematical sciences support a lofty vision of a world completely ordered by one single elegant theory. In this book Nancy Cartwright argues to the contrary. When we draw our image of the world from the way modern science works - as empiricism teaches us we should - we end up with a world where some features are precisely ordered, others are given to rough regularity and still others behave in (...)
  15. Models: The Blueprints for Laws.Nancy Cartwright - 1997 - 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 (...)
  16. Fundamentalism Vs. The Patchwork of Laws.Nancy Cartwright - 1993 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 94:279 - 292.
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  17. Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement.Nancy Cartwright - 1989 - Oxford University Press.
    Ever since David Hume, empiricists have barred powers and capacities from nature. In this book Cartwright argues that capacities are essential in our scientific world, and, contrary to empiricist orthodoxy, that they can meet sufficiently strict demands for testability. Econometrics is one discipline where probabilities are used to measure causal capacities, and the technology of modern physics provides several examples of testing capacities (such as lasers). Cartwright concludes by applying the lessons of the book about capacities and probabilities to the (...)
  18. How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford University Press.
    In this sequence of philosophical essays about natural science, the author argues that fundamental explanatory laws, the deepest and most admired successes of modern physics, do not in fact describe regularities that exist in nature. Cartwright draws from many real-life examples to propound a novel distinction: that theoretical entities, and the complex and localized laws that describe them, can be interpreted realistically, but the simple unifying laws of basic theory cannot.
  19. Cartwright on Fundamental Laws: A Response to Clarke.Alan Chalmers - 1996 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1):150 – 152.
  20. How to Give a Semantic Analysis of Ceteris Paribus Laws.Kai-Yuan Cheng - 2008 - Cadernos de História E Filosofia da Ciência 18 (1).
    The phrase of ceteris paribus , i.e., other things being equal, is widely employed to state laws in non-basic sciences, such as economics, medicine, geography, biology, and psychology. However, what the phrase in question says is highly unclear, which results in severe philosophical problems calling into question the status of special sciences. The main purpose of this paper is to critically examine a lexicographic study of cp proposed by Michael Morreau , who tries to provide an adequate semantic analysis of (...)
  21. Counterfactuals and Unphysical Ceteris Paribus: An Explanatory Fallacy.Milan Cirkovic - 2013 - Filozofija I Društvo 24 (4):143-160.
    I reconsider a type of counterfactual argument often used in historical sciences on a recent widely discussed example of the so-called “rare Earth” hypothesis in planetary sciences and astrobiology. The argument is based on the alleged “rarity” of some crucial ingredient for the planetary habitability, which is, in Earth’s case, provided by contingent evolutionary development. For instance, the claim that a contingent fact of history which has created planet Jupiter enables shielding of Earth from most dangerous impact catastrophes, thus increasing (...)
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  22. Dispositions and Interferences.Gabriele Contessa - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 165 (2):401-419.
    The Simple Counterfactual Analysis (SCA) was once considered the most promising analysis of disposition ascriptions. According to SCA, disposition ascriptions are to be analyzed in terms of counterfactual conditionals. In the last few decades, however, SCA has become the target of a battery of counterexamples. In all counterexamples, something seems to be interfering with a certain object’s having or not having a certain disposition thus making the truth-values of the disposition ascription and of its associated counterfactual come apart. Intuitively, however, (...)
  23. Can Dispositional Essences Ground the Laws of Nature?Richard Corry - 2011 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (2):263 - 275.
    A dispositional property is a tendency, or potency, to manifest some characteristic behaviour in some appropriate context. The mainstream view in the twentieth century was that such properties are to be explained in terms of more fundamental non-dispositional properties, together with the laws of nature. In the last few decades, however, a rival view has become popular, according to which some properties are essentially dispositional in nature, and the laws of nature are to be explained in terms of these fundamental (...)
  24. Ceteris Paribus Conditions as Prior Knowledge: A View From Economics.Neil de Marchi & Jinbang Kim - 1988 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1988:317-325.
    We interpret ceteris paribus conditions as the conditions necessary to conducting an experiment. "Ceteris paribus" is thus not a hold-all for whatever we do not know, but a listing of the various decisions taken in moving from a theoretical hypothesis to a testable proposition. The decisions range from modeling in a certain way to selecting a particular functional form or estimation technique. They embody best knowledge/best practice. Debate about the meaning and importance of any test result must center on these (...)
  25. Dispositions and Ceteris Paribus Laws.Alice Drewery - 2001 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (4):723-733.
    This paper discusses the relationship between dispositions and laws and the prospects for any analysis of talk of laws in terms of talk of dispositions. Recent attempts at such a reduction have often been motivated by the desire to give an account of ceteris paribus laws and in this they have had some success. However, such accounts differ as to whether they view dispositions as properties fundamentally of individuals or of kinds. I argue that if dispositions are properties of individuals, (...)
  26. Laws, Regularities and Exceptions.Alice Drewery - 2000 - Ratio 13 (1):1–12.
    Sentences of the form ‘Fs are Gs’ can express laws of nature, weaker Special Science laws, and also regularities which are not a part of any explicit science. These so-called generic sentences express nomic relationships which may have exceptions. I discuss the kinds of regularities expressed by generic sentences and argue that since they play a similar role in determining our ability to categorise and reason about the world, we should look for a unified treatment of them.
  27. Laws of Nature Don't Have Ceteris Paribus Clauses, They Are Ceteris Paribus Clauses.Travis Dumsday - 2013 - Ratio 26 (2):134-147.
    Laws of nature are properly (if controversially) conceived as abstract entities playing a governing role in the physical universe. Dispositionalists typically hold that laws of nature are not real, or at least are not fundamental, and that regularities in the physical universe are grounded in the causal powers of objects. By contrast, I argue that dispositionalism implies nomic realism: since at least some dispositions have ceteris paribus clauses incorporating uninstantiated universals, and these ceteris paribus clauses help to determine their dispositions' (...)
  28. Laws, Symmetry, and Symmetry Breaking: Invariance, Conservation Principles, and Objectivity.John Earman - 2004 - Philosophy of Science 71 (5):1227--1241.
    Given its importance in modern physics, philosophers of science have paid surprisingly little attention to the subject of symmetries and invariances, and they have largely neglected the subtopic of symmetry breaking. I illustrate how the topic of laws and symmetries brings into fruitful interaction technical issues in physics and mathematics with both methodological issues in philosophy of science, such as the status of laws of physics, and metaphysical issues, such as the nature of objectivity.
  29. "Ceteris Paribus", There Is No Problem of Provisos.John Earman & John Roberts - 1999 - 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 (...)
  30. Ceteris Paribus Lost.John Earman, John T. Roberts & Sheldon Smith - 2002 - Erkenntnis 57 (3):281-301.
    Many have claimed that ceteris paribus (CP) laws are a quite legitimate feature of scientific theories, some even going so far as to claim that laws of all scientific theories currently on offer are merely CP. We argue here that one of the common props of such a thesis, that there are numerous examples of CP laws in physics, is false. Moreover, besides the absence of genuine examples from physics, we suggest that otherwise unproblematic claims are rendered untestable by the (...)
  31. There May Be Strict Empirical Laws in Biology, After All.Mehmet Elgin - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (1):119-134.
    This paper consists of four parts. Part 1 is an introduction. Part 2 evaluates arguments for the claim that there are no strict empirical laws in biology. I argue that there are two types of arguments for this claim and they are as follows: (1) Biological properties are multiply realized and they require complex processes. For this reason, it is almost impossible to formulate strict empirical laws in biology. (2) Generalizations in biology hold contingently but laws go beyond describing contingencies, (...)
  32. Laws in the Special Sciences: A Comparative Study of Biological Generalizations.Mehmet Elgin - 2002 - 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 (...)
  33. Cartwright on Explanation and Idealization.Mehmet Elgin & Elliott Sober - 2002 - Erkenntnis 57 (3):441 - 450.
    Nancy Cartwright (1983, 1999) argues that (1) the fundamental laws of physics are true when and only when appropriate ceteris paribus modifiers are attached and that (2) ceteris paribus modifiers describe conditions that are almost never satisfied. She concludes that when the fundamental laws of physics are true, they don't apply in the real world, but only in highly idealized counterfactual situations. In this paper, we argue that (1) and (2) together with an assumption about contraposition entail the opposite conclusion (...)
  34. Hempel's Provisos and Ceteris Paribus Clauses.Christopher H. Eliot - 2011 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 42 (2):207-218.
    The problem of ceteris paribus clauses and Hempel’s problem of provisos are closely-related difficulties. Both challenge advocates of accounts of scientific theories involving laws understood as universal generalizations, and they have been treated as identical problems. Earman and Roberts argue that the problems are distinct. Towards arguing against them, I characterize the relationship between Hempel’s provisos and one way of expressing ceteris paribus clauses. I then describe the relationship between the problems attributed to the clauses, suggesting that they form a (...)
  35. Comment on David Papineau, Can Any Sciences Be Special?Michael Esfeld - unknown
    David Papineau, Jerry Fodor and many others wonder how the conjunction of the following three positions can be true: 1) Special science laws: There are lawlike generalizations in the special sciences. These sciences trade in kinds that are such that statements about salient, reliable correlations that are projectible and that support counterfactuals apply to the tokens coming under these kinds. 2) Non-reductionism: The laws of some of the special sciences cannot be reduced to physical laws. 3) Physicalism: Everything there is (...)
  36. Ceteris Paribus Laws and Minutis Rectis Laws.Luke Fenton‐Glynn - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 93 (2):274-305.
    Special science generalizations admit of exceptions. Among the class of non-exceptionless special science generalizations, I distinguish minutis rectis generalizations from the more familiar category of ceteris paribus generalizations. I argue that the challenges involved in showing that mr generalizations can play the law role are underappreciated, and quite different from those involved in showing that cp generalizations can do so. I outline a strategy for meeting the challenges posed by mr generalizations.
  37. Making Mind Matter More.J. Fodor - 1989 - Philosophical Topics 17 (11):59-79.
  38. You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time, Everything Else Being Equal: Hedged Laws and Psychological Explanation.Jerry A. Fodor - 1991 - Mind 100 (397):19-34.
  39. What is Wrong with Ceteris-Paribus Law-Statements?Danny Frederick - manuscript
    It is often contended that the special sciences, and even fundamental physics, make use of ceteris-paribus law-statements. Yet there are general concerns that such law-statements are vacuous or untestable or unscientific. I consider two main kinds of ceteris-paribus law-statement. I argue that neither kind is vacuous, that one of the kinds is untestable, that both kinds may count as scientific to the extent that they form parts of conjunctions that imply novel falsifiable statements which survive testing, but that one kind (...)
  40. Laws, Theories, and Generalizations.Ronald Giere - 1988 - In A. Grünbaum & W. Salmon (eds.), The Limits of Deductivism. University of California Press, Berkeley, Ca. pp. 37--46.
  41. Science Without Laws.Ronald N. Giere - 1999 - University of Chicago Press.
    Debate over the nature of science has recently moved from the halls of academia into the public sphere, where it has taken shape as the "science wars." At issue is the question of whether scientific knowledge is objective and universal or socially mediated, whether scientific truths are independent of human values and beliefs. Ronald Giere is a philosopher of science who has been at the forefront of this debate from its inception, and Science without Laws offers a much-needed mediating perspective (...)
  42. Causal Equations Without Ceteris Paribus Clauses.Peter Gildenhuys - 2010 - Philosophy of Science 77 (4):608-632.
    Some writers have urged that evolutionary theory produces generalizations that hold only ceteris paribus, that is, provided “everything else is equal.” Others have claimed that all laws in the special sciences, or even all laws in science generally, hold only ceteris paribus. However, if we lack a way to determine when everything else really is equal, hedging generalizations with the phrase ceteris paribus renders those generalizations vacuous. I propose a solution to this problem for the case of causal equations from (...)
  43. Prioritised Ceteris Paribus Logic for Counterfactual Reasoning.Patrick Girard & Marcus A. Triplett - forthcoming - Synthese:1-23.
    The semantics for counterfactuals due to David Lewis has been challenged by appealing to miracles. Miracles may skew a given similarity order in favour of those possible worlds which exhibit them. Lewis responded with a system of priorities that mitigates the significance of miracles when constructing similarity relations. We propose a prioritised ceteris paribus analysis of counterfactuals inspired by Lewis’ system of priorities. By analysing the couterfactuals with a ceteris paribus clause one forces out, in a natural manner, those possible (...)
  44. Editorial.Clark Glymour - manuscript
    The use of ceteris paribus clauses in philosophy and in the sciences has a long and fascinating history. Persky (1990) traces the use by economists of ceteris paribus clauses in qualifying generalizations as far back as William Petty’s Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662). John Cairnes’ The Character and Logical Method of Political Economy (1857) is credited with enunciating the idea that the conclusions of economic investigations hold “only in the absence of disturbing causes”.1 His Leading Principles (1874) contains the (...)
  45. A Semantics and Methodology for Ceteris Paribus Hypotheses.Clark Glymour - 2002 - Erkenntnis 57 (3):395-405.
    Taking seriously the arguments of Earman, Roberts and Smith that ceteris paribus laws have no semantics and cannot be tested, I suggest that ceteris paribus claims have a kind of formal pragmatics, and that at least some of them can be verified or refuted in the limit.
  46. Is There High-Level Causation?Luke Glynn - manuscript
    The discovery of high-level causal relations seems a central activity of the special sciences. Those same sciences are less successful in formulating strict laws. If causation must be underwritten by strict laws, we are faced with a puzzle, which might be dubbed the 'no strict laws' problem for high-level causation. Attempts have been made to dissolve this problem by showing that leading theories of causation do not in fact require that causation be underwritten by strict laws. But this conclusion has (...)
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  47. Dispositions in Philosophy and Science.B. Gnassounou & M. Kistler (eds.) - 2007 - Ashgate.
  48. Las Leyes Ceteris Paribus y la Inexactitud de la Economía.Amparo Gomez Rodriguez - 2001 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 20 (3).
  49. Paradoxes of Confirmation and the Ceteris Paribus Clause.Adam Grobler - 2013 - Filozofia Nauki 21 (3):37 - +.
  50. The Bounds of Law: Universality in Science.David Gruender - 1984 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1984:95-101.
    Giving attention both to the history of modern science and to current work in the natural sciences, the importance of requiring that natural laws be treated as universal with respect to space and time is discussed critically. It is concluded that the view that such a requirement be taken as a definitional criterion characterizing laws of nature--or science itself--is not justified, and that the deductive advantages of universality can be preserved with local laws using scope limitations or sortal techniques.
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