Essentialism and the necessity of the laws of nature

Synthese 144 (3):381-396 (2005)

Abstract

In this paper I discuss and evaluate different arguments for the view that the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary. I conclude that essentialist arguments from the nature of natural kinds fail to establish that essences are ontologically more basic than laws, and fail to offer an a priori argument for the necessity of all causal laws. Similar considerations carry across to the argument from the dispositionalist view of properties, which may end up placing unreasonable constraints on property identity across possible worlds. None of my arguments preclude the possibility that the laws may turn out to be metaphysically necessary after all, but I argue that this can only be established by a posteriori scientific investigation. I therefore argue for what may seem to be a surprising conclusion: that a fundamental metaphysical question – the modal status of laws of nature – depends on empirical facts rather than purely on a priori reasoning.

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References found in this work

Laws and Symmetry.Bas C. Van Fraassen - 1989 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement.Nancy Cartwright - 1989 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Essence and Modality.Kit Fine - 1994 - Philosophical Perspectives 8 (Logic and Language):1-16.
Scientific Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2001 - Cambridge University Press.
Laws in Nature.Stephen Mumford - 2004 - Routledge.

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Citations of this work

Non‐Humean Theories of Natural Necessity.Tyler Hildebrand - 2020 - Philosophy Compass 15 (5):1-1.
Logic in Reality.Joseph Brenner - 2008 - Dordrecht, Netherland: Springer.
Natural Kinds and the Problem of Complex Essences.Travis Dumsday - 2010 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (4):619-634.
Can Bare Dispositions Explain Categorical Regularities?Tyler Hildebrand - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 167 (3):569-584.
Did God Do It? Metaphysical Models and Theological Hermeneutics.Benedikt Paul Göcke - 2015 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 78 (2):215-231.

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