Nomic universals and particular causal relations: Which are basic and which are derived?

Philosophia 34 (4):405-410 (2006)
Abstract
Armstrong holds that a law of nature is a certain sort of structural universal which, in turn, fixes causal relations between particular states of affairs. His claim that these nomic structural universals explain causal relations commits him to saying that such universals are irreducible, not supervenient upon the particular causal relations they fix. However, Armstrong also wants to avoid Plato’s view that a universal can exist without being instantiated, a view which he regards as incompatible with naturalism. This construal of naturalism forces Armstrong to say that universals are abstractions from a certain class of particulars; they are abstractions from first-order states of affairs, to be more precise. It is here argued that these two tendencies in Armstrong cannot be reconciled: To say that universals are abstractions from first-order states of affairs is not compatible with saying that universals fix causal relations between particulars. Causal relations are themselves states of affairs of a sort, and Armstrong’s claim that a law is a kind of structural universal is best understood as the view that any given law logically supervenes on its corresponding causal relations. The result is an inconsistency, Armstrong having to say that laws do not supervene on particular causal relations while also being committed to the view that they do so supervene. The inconsistency is perhaps best resolved by denying that universals are abstractions from states of affairs.
Keywords laws of nature  states of affairs  universals
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-006-9042-8
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