Humeanism and Nonhumeanism about Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian J. Boge (Bergische Universität Wuppertal)
About this topic
Summary Anti-Humeans have the feeling that natural laws govern the events in the world: what a law says must happen (or, what a law forbids can’t happen). This intuition might partially originate in our actual day-to-day experiences when we feel resistance against some of our actions. Some goals are not merely difficult to achieve, they are  impossible: we cannot, unaided, jump 10m high. In concert with the facts about our current body mass, leg muscles, and the earth’s gravitational field, the laws of nature prohibit this kind of leap. For Humeans, laws have more of a descriptive character: the laws are (merely) accurate reports of what regularly happens or is universally the case. This intuition comes from the observation that nature seems to be uniform. Alleged laws like Boyle's law (which says that for a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional (pV=k)) or Einstein’s famous mass-energy equivalence (E=mc2) record these universal regularities. Those who hold the anti-Humean, first intuition (that the laws necessitate what happens and prohibit what does not happen) do not think the second intuition is wrong. In fact, if, what the laws say, must happen, then it also does happen and we get the regularities for free. The necessities in nature supposedly produce the regularities and thus explain why they are there. Yet, those who subscribe to some kind of regularity view deny that laws necessitate anything because they usually agree with David Hume that the postulation of necessity in nature is suspect.
Key works The most important Humean view comes from David Lewis: Lewis 2001  (esp. pp. 73-77), Lewis 1999  (esp. pp. 8-55 and 224-247). The orthodox anti-Humean accounts are in Armstrong, Tooley, and Dretske: Armstrong 1983Tooley 1997Dretske 1977. Modern anti-Humean accounts come, for example, from dispositionalists: Mumford & Anjum 2011, Bird 2007Ellis 2007
Introductions Psillos 2002
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  1. Blame Not the Laws of Nature.Joseph Agassi - 1995 - Foundations of Science 1 (1):131-154.
    1. Lies, Error and Confusion 2. Lies 3. The Demarcation of Science: Historical 4. The Demarcation of Science: Recent 5. Observed Regularities and Laws of Nature.
  2. Kinds, Laws and Perspectives.Sebastián Álvarez Toledo - 1st ed. 2015 - In Antonio Manuel Liz Gutiérrez & Margarita Vázquez Campos (eds.), Temporal Points of View. Springer Verlag.
    This chapter deals with the main characteristics of natural kinds, and analyzes three approaches to them. The first approach argues that natural kinds are characterized by their essential properties (in a modern, scientific sense), but encounter difficulties even on the physico-chemical level, which is where it seems to be better implemented. On the other hand, the constructivist stance, much more liberal, does not explain why certain kinds are inductively useful and not others. Third, an introduction, with comments, is provided on (...)
  3. What Would Hume Say? Regularities, Laws, and Mechanisms.Holly Andersen - 2017 - In Phyllis Ilari & Stuart Glennan (eds.), Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanistic Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 157-168.
    This chapter examines the relationship between laws and mechanisms as approaches to characterising generalizations and explanations in science. I give an overview of recent historical discussions where laws failed to satisfy stringent logical criteria, opening the way for mechanisms to be investigated as a way to explain regularities in nature. This followed by a critical discussion of contemporary debates about the role of laws versus mechanisms in describing versus explaining regularities. I conclude by offering new arguments for two roles for (...)
  4. Naturgesetze in einer kausalen Welt.Bartels Andreas - 2015 - mentis.
    How can the laws of nature, that determine how objects behave, be understood as natural objects themselves? The answer that transpires from the analysis of modern theories of the laws of nature is: laws of nature are due to the causal structure of our world. They express the causal efficiacy of fundamental properties of nature. In contrast to rivaling theories, this answer does justice to the fact that laws of nature determine the course of natural events without having to appeal (...)
  5. On Natural Selection and Hume's Second Problem.Armando Aranda-Anzaldo - 1998 - Evolution and Cognition 4 (2):156-172.
    David Hume's famous riddle of induction implies a second problem related to the question of whether the laws and principles of nature might change in the course of time. Claims have been made that modern developments in physics and astrophysics corroborate the translational invariance of the laws of physics in time. However, the appearance of a new general principle of nature, which might not be derivable from the known laws of physics, or that might actually be a non-physical one (this (...)
  6. What is a Law of Nature?A. J. Ayer - 1956 - Revue Internationale de Philosophie 10 (2=36):144.
  7. I Tensed the Laws and the Laws Won: Non-Eternalist Humeanism.Marius Backmann - 2016 - Manuscrito 39 (4):255-277.
    ABSTRACT In this paper, I propose a variant of a Humean account of laws called "Open Future Humeanism", which holds that since the laws supervene partly on future events, there are at any instant infinitely many possible future courses of events. I argue that if one wants to take the openness of the future that OFH proposes ontologically serious, then OFH is best represented within a growing block view of time. I further discuss some of OFH's problems which stem from (...)
  8. Humean Libertarianism: Outline of a Revisionist Account of the Joint Problem of Free Will, Determinism and Laws of Nature.Marius Backmann - 2013 - Frankfurt: ontos.
  9. 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 (...)
  10. Measuring and Governing, Review of "The Law-Governed Universe" by John T. Roberts. [REVIEW]Michael Baumgartner - 2010 - Metascience 19 (3):409-412.
  11. The Non-Governing Conception of Laws of Nature.Helen Beebee - 2000 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (3):571-594.
    Recently several thought experiments have been developed which have been alleged to refute the Ramsey-Lewis view of laws of nature. The paper aims to show that two such thought experiments fail to establish that the Ramsey-Lewis view is false, since they presuppose a conception of laws of nature that is radically at odds with the Humean conception of laws embodied by the Ramsey-Lewis view. In particular, the thought experiments presuppose that laws of nature govern the behavior of objects. The paper (...)
  12. The Non-Governing Conception of Laws of Nature.Helen Beebee - 2000 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (3):571-594.
    Recently several thought experiments have been developed which have been alleged to refute the Ramsey-Lewis view of laws of nature. The paper aims to show that two such thought experiments fail to establish that the Ramsey-Lewis view is false, since they presuppose a conception of laws of nature that is radically at odds with the Humean conception of laws embodied by the Ramsey-Lewis view. In particular, the thought experiments presuppose that laws of nature govern the behavior of objects. The paper (...)
  13. The Non-Governing Conception of Laws of Nature.Helen Beebee - 2000 - Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 61 (3):571-594.
    Recently several thought experiments have been developed which have been alleged to refute the Ramsey-Lewis view of laws of nature. The paper aims to show that two such thought experiments fail to establish that the Ramsey-Lewis view is false, since they presuppose a conception of laws of nature that is radically at odds with the Humean conception of laws embodied by the Ramsey-Lewis view. In particular, the thought experiments presuppose that laws of nature govern the behavior of objects. The paper (...)
  14. What a Structuralist Theory of Properties Could Not Be.Nora Berenstain - 2016 - In Anna Marmodoro & David Yates (ed.), The Metaphysics of Relations. OUP. Oxford University Press.
    Causal structuralism is the view that, for each natural, non-mathematical, non-Cambridge property, there is a causal profile that exhausts its individual essence. On this view, having a property’s causal profile is both necessary and sufficient for being that property. It is generally contrasted with the Humean or quidditistic view of properties, which states that having a property’s causal profile is neither necessary nor sufficient for being that property, and with the double-aspect view, which states that causal profile is necessary but (...)
  15. Ontic Structural Realism and Modality.Nora Berenstain & James Ladyman - 2012 - In Elaine Landry & Dean Rickles (eds.), Structural Realism: Structure, Object, and Causality. Springer.
    There is good reason to believe that scientific realism requires a commitment to the objective modal structure of the physical world. Causality, equilibrium, laws of nature, and probability all feature prominently in scientific theory and explanation, and each one is a modal notion. If we are committed to the content of our best scientific theories, we must accept the modal nature of the physical world. But what does the scientific realist’s commitment to physical modality require? We consider whether scientific realism (...)
  16. Nomothetic Explanation and Humeanism About Laws of Nature.Harjit Bhogal - forthcoming - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics.
    Humeanism about laws of nature — the view that the laws reduce to the Humean mosaic — is a popular view, but currently existing versions face powerful objections. The non-supervenience objection, the non-fundamentality objection and the explanatory circularity objection have all been thought to cause problems for the Humean. However, these objections share a guiding thought — they are all based on the idea that there is a certain kind of divergence between the practice of science and the metaphysical picture (...)
  17. Minimal Anti-Humeanism.Harjit Bhogal - 2017 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (3):447-460.
    There is a tension in our theorizing about laws of nature: our practice of using and reasoning with laws of nature suggests that laws are universal generalizations, but if laws are universal generalizations then we face the problem of explanatory circularity. In this paper I elucidate this tension and show how it motivates a view of laws that I call Minimal Anti-Humeanism. This view says that the laws are the universal generalizations that are not grounded in their instances. I argue (...)
  18. What the Humean Should Say About Entanglement.Harjit Bhogal & Zee R. Perry - 2017 - Noûs 51 (1):74-94.
    Tim Maudlin has influentially argued that Humeanism about laws of nature stands in conflict with quantum mechanics. Specifically Humeanism implies the principle Separability: the complete physical state of a world is determined by the intrinsic physical state of each space-time point. Maudlin argues Separability is violated by the entangled states posited by QM. We argue that Maudlin only establishes that a stronger principle, which we call Strong Separability, is in tension with QM. Separability is not in tension with QM. Moreover, (...)
  19. The Big Bad Bug: What Are the Humean's Chances?John Bigelow, John Collins & Robert Pargetter - 1993 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (3):443-462.
    Humean supervenience is the doctrine that there are no necessary connections in the world. David Lewis identifies one big bad bug to the programme of providing Humean analyses for apparently non-Humean features of the world. The bug is chance. We put the bug under the microscope, and conclude that chance is no special problem for the Humean.
  20. The Epistemological Argument Against Lewis’s Regularity View of Laws.Alexander Bird - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 138 (1):73-89.
    I argue for the claim that if Lewis’s regularity theory of laws were true, we could not know any positive law statement to be true. Premise 1: According to that theory, for any law statement true of the actual world, there is always a nearby world where the law statement is false (a world that differs with respect to one matter of particular fact). Premise 2: One cannot know a proposition to be true if it is false in a nearby (...)
  21. A Priori Causal Laws.Darren Bradley - 2017 - Inquiry : An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 60 (4):358-370.
    Sober and Elgin defend the claim that there are a priori causal laws in biology. Lange and Rosenberg take issue with this on Humean grounds, among others. I will argue that Sober and Elgin don’t go far enough – there are a priori causal laws in many sciences. Furthermore, I will argue that this thesis is compatible with a Humean metaphysics and an empiricist epistemology.
  22. Laws of nature and causal powers: Two illusory solutions.Sebastián Briceño - 2015 - Alpha (Osorno) 41:73-85.
    La metafísica de la Superveniencia Humeana ha sido atacada por dos alternativas explícitamente anti-Humeanas: el Realismo Nómico y el Esencialismo Disposicional. Cada una de estas alternativas ofrece una explicación ontológica de la actual distribución de instanciaciones de primer orden. Ambas sostienen, contra el Humeano, que esta distribución no es un accidente metafísico. En este artículo argumento que las explicaciones ofrecidas por ellas son ilusorias. -/- The metaphysics of Humean Supervenience has been attacked by two explicitly anti-Humean alternatives: Nomic Realism and (...)
  23. Platonism and Laws: A Reply to Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou.James Robert Brown - 1994 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 8 (3):243 – 246.
    his paper is a reply to Demetra Sfendoni‐Mentzou; it defends a realist—indeed a platonist—account of laws of nature.
  24. The Dappled World. [REVIEW]Roger Caldwell - 2000 - Philosophy Now 28:42-43.
  25. Measures, Explanations and the Past: Should ‘Special’ Initial Conditions Be Explained?Craig Callender - 2004 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (2):195-217.
    For the generalizations of thermodynamics to obtain, it appears that a very ‘special’ initial condition of the universe is required. Is this initial condition itself in need of explanation? I argue that it is not. In so doing, I offer a framework in which to think about ‘special’ initial conditions in all areas of science, though I concentrate on the case of thermodynamics. I urge the view that it is not always a serious mark against a theory that it must (...)
  26. Review: Laws in Nature. [REVIEW]J. W. Carroll - 2006 - Mind 115 (459):780-784.
  27. The Humean Tradition.John Carroll - 1990 - Philosophical Review 99 (2):185-219.
  28. Laws of Nature.John W. Carroll - 1994 - Cambridge University Press.
    John Carroll undertakes a careful philosophical examination of laws of nature, causation, and other related topics. He argues that laws of nature are not susceptible to the sort of philosophical treatment preferred by empiricists. Indeed he shows that emperically pure matters of fact need not even determine what the laws are. Similar, even stronger, conclusions are drawn about causation. Replacing the traditional view of laws and causation requiring some kind of foundational legitimacy, the author argues that these phenomena are inextricably (...)
  29. The Nature of Physical Laws.John William Carroll - 1986 - Dissertation, The University of Arizona
    A program for advancing a new philosophical account of physical laws is presented. The program is non-reductive in that it maintains that any correct account of physical laws must recognize law sentences as irreducible--that is, as not admitting of an analysis which does not invoke any unanalyzed nomic facts . The program has the unusual attraction of being consistent with Nominalism and epistemically in the spirit of Empiricism. ;Initially motivating my program is a two-stage attack in chapters two and three (...)
  30. 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.
  31. On Induction: Time-Limited Necessity Vs. Timeless Necessity.Eduardo Castro - 2013 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 33 (3):67-82.
    Abstract: This paper defends David Armstrong’s solution to the problem of inductionb against Helen Beebee’s attack on that solution. To solve theproblem of induction, Armstrong contends that the timeless necessity explanation is the best explanation of our observed regularities, whereas Beebee attempts to demonstrate that the time-limited necessity explanation is an equally good explanation. Allegedly, this explanation blocks Armstrong’s solution. I demonstrate that even if the time-limited ecessity explanation were an equally good explanation of our observed regularities, this explanation does (...)
  32. So the Laws of Physics Needn't Lie.Alan Chalmers - 1993 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (2):196 – 205.
  33. Compressibility, Laws of Nature, Initial Conditions and Complexity.Chibbaro Sergio & Vulpiani Angelo - 2017 - Foundations of Physics 47 (10):1368-1386.
    We critically analyse the point of view for which laws of nature are just a mean to compress data. Discussing some basic notions of dynamical systems and information theory, we show that the idea that the analysis of large amount of data by means of an algorithm of compression is equivalent to the knowledge one can have from scientific laws, is rather naive. In particular we discuss the subtle conceptual topic of the initial conditions of phenomena which are generally incompressible. (...)
  34. Only Powers Can Confer Dispositions.Gabriele Contessa - 2015 - Philosophical Quarterly 65 (259):160-176.
    According to power theorists, properties are powers—i.e. they necessarily confer on their bearers certain dispositions. Although the power theory is increasingly gaining popularity, a vast majority of analytic metaphysicians still favors what I call ‘the nomic theory’—i.e. the view according to which what dispositions a property confers on its bearers is contingent on what the laws of nature happen to be. This paper argues that the nomic theory is inconsistent, for, if it were correct, then properties would not confer any (...)
  35. Regularity Theories Disconfirmed: A Revamped Argument and a Wager.Patrick Cronin - 2017 - Synthese 194 (12):4913-4933.
    Regularity theories of causation assert that causal or nomic notions are to be reduced into “mere” frequencies of particular, non-nomic, co-located qualities and matters of fact. In this essay, I present a critical exploration of Armstrong and Strawson’s explanatory arguments against regularity theories. The shortcomings of these older arguments for nomic realism are identified and a revamped version which is immune to such problems is outlined and defended. I argue that anti-realism suffers substantial disconfirmation due to its comparative inability to (...)
  36. Laws of Nature and the Reality of the Wave Function.Mauro Dorato - 2015 - Synthese 192 (10):3179-3201.
    In this paper I review three different positions on the wave function, namely: nomological realism, dispositionalism, and configuration space realism by regarding as essential their capacity to account for the world of our experience. I conclude that the first two positions are committed to regard the wave function as an abstract entity. The third position will be shown to be a merely speculative attempt to derive a primitive ontology from a reified mathematical space. Without entering any discussion about nominalism, I (...)
  37. Toward a Best Predictive System Account of Laws of Nature.Chris Dorst - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axy016.
    This paper argues for a revised best system account of laws of nature. David Lewis's original BSA has two main elements. On the one hand, there is the Humean base, which is the totality of particular matters of fact that obtain in the history of the universe. On the other hand, there is what I call the ‘nomic formula’, which is a particular operation that gets applied to the Humean base in order to output the laws of nature. My revised (...)
  38. Laws of Nature: The Empiricist Challenge.John Earman - 1984 - In Radu J. Bogdan (ed.). Springer Verlag. pp. 191-223.
    Hume defined ‘cause’ three times over. The two principal definitions (constant conjunction, felt determination) provide the anchors for the two main strands of the modem empiricist accounts of laws of nature 1 while the third (the counter factual definition 2) may be seen as the inspiration of the nonHumean necessitarian analyses. Corresponding to the felt determination definition is the account of laws that emphasizes human attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Latter day weavers of this strand include Nelson Goodman, A. J. Ayer, (...)
  39. Contact with the Nomic: A Challenge for Deniers of Humean Supervenience About Laws of Nature Part I: Humean Supervenience.John Earman & John T. Roberts - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (1):1–22.
    This is the first part of a two-part article in which we defend the thesis of Humean Supervenience about Laws of Nature (HS). According to this thesis, two possible worlds cannot differ on what is a law of nature unless they also differ on the Humean base. The Humean base is easy to characterize intuitively, but there is no consensus on how, precisely, it should be defined. Here in Part I, we present and motivate a characterization of the Humean base (...)
  40. Contact with the Nomic: A Challenge for Deniers of Humean Supervenience About Laws of Nature Part II: The Epistemological Argument for Humean Supervenience.John Earman & John T. Roberts - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (2):253–286.
    In Part I, we presented and motivated a new formulation of Humean Supervenience about Laws of Nature (HS). Here in Part II, we present an epistemological argument in defense of HS, thus formulated. Our contention is that one can combine a modest realism about laws of nature with a proper recognition of the importance of empirical testability in the epistemology of science only if one accepts HS.
  41. In Defense of Laws: Reflections on Bas Van Fraassen's Laws and Symmetry.Review author[S.]: John Earman - 1993 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (2):413-419.
  42. No Work For a Theory of Universals.M. Eddon & Christopher J. G. Meacham - 2015 - In Jonathan Schaffer & Barry Loewer (eds.), A Companion to David Lewis. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 116-137.
    Several variants of Lewis's Best System Account of Lawhood have been proposed that avoid its commitment to perfectly natural properties. There has been little discussion of the relative merits of these proposals, and little discussion of how one might extend this strategy to provide natural property-free variants of Lewis's other accounts, such as his accounts of duplication, intrinsicality, causation, counterfactuals, and reference. We undertake these projects in this paper. We begin by providing a framework for classifying and assessing the variants (...)
  43. Marc Lange on Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):75 – 79.
    For scientific essentialists, the only logical possibilities of existence are the real (or metaphysical) ones, and such possibilities, they say, are relative to worlds. They are not a priori, and they cannot just be invented. Rather, they are discoverable only by the a posteriori methods of science. There are, however, many philosophers who think that real possibilities are knowable a priori, or that they can just be invented. Marc Lange [Lange 2004] thinks that they can be invented, and tries to (...)
  44. Laws of Nature, Explanation, and Semantic Circularity.Shumener Erica - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axx020.
    Humeans and anti-Humeans agree that laws of nature should explain scientifically particular matters of fact. One objection to Humean accounts of laws contends that Humean laws cannot explain particular matters of fact because their explanations are harmfully circular. This article distinguishes between metaphysical and semantic characterizations of the circularity and argues for a new semantic version of the circularity objection. The new formulation suggests that Humean explanations are harmfully circular because the content of the sentences being explained is part of (...)
  45. Humean Metaphysics Versus a Metaphysics of Powers.Michael Esfeld - 2010 - In Gerhard Ernst & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Time, Chance and Reduction: Philosophical Aspects of Statistical Mechanics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 119.
  46. Strawson on Laws and Regularities.Nicholas Everitt - 1991 - Analysis 51 (4):206 - 208.
    In his recent book The Secret Connection (Clarendon 1989), Galen Strawsonadvances what he calls 'a simple and devastating objection' to the regularitytheory of causation. I will argue that his objection, far from beingdevastating, has no force at all; and further, that if it did have force, itwould tell equally against Strawson's own preferred alternative to theregularity theory.
  47. What Reasons Do We Have For Believing: There Are Laws of Nature?Peter Forrest - 1985 - Philosophical Inquiry 7 (1):1-12.
  48. Metaphysics of Laws and Ontology of Time.Cord Friebe - unknown
    At first glance, every metaphysics of laws can be combined with every ontology of time. In contrast, the paper intends to show that Humeanism requires eternalism and that Power metaphysics must presuppose an existentially dynamical view of temporal existence, i.e. growing block or presentism. The presented arguments turn out to be completely independent of whether the laws of nature are deterministic or probabilistic: the world is non-productive and static or productively dynamical, the future be ‘open’ or not.
  49. Humean Reductionism About Laws of Nature.Ned Hall - manuscript
  50. Legitimizing Chance: The Best-System Approach to Probabilistic Laws in Physical Theory.John F. Halpin - 1994 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (3):317 – 338.
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