Foundations of Physics 40 (9-10):1611-1624 (2010)

The belief that laws of nature are contingent played an important role in the emergence of the empirical method of modern physics. During the scientific revolution, this belief was based on the idea of voluntary creation. Taking up Peter Mittelstaedt’s work on laws of nature, this article explores several alternative answers which do not overtly make use of metaphysics: some laws are laws of mathematics; macroscopic laws can emerge from the interplay of numerous subsystems without any specific microscopic nomic structures (John Wheeler’s “law without law”); laws are the preconditions of scientific experience (Kant); laws are theoretical abstractions which only apply in very limited circumstances (Nancy Cartwright). Whereas Cartwright’s approach is in tension with modern scientific methodology, the first three strategies count as illuminating, though partial answers. It is important for the empirical method of modern physics that these three strategies, even when taken together, do not provide a complete explanation of the order of nature. Thus the question of why laws are valid is still relevant. In the concluding section, I argue that the traditional answer, based on voluntary creation, provides the right balance of contingency and coherence which is in harmony with modern scientific method
Keywords Laws of nature  Experimental method  Scientific revolution  Creation  Contingency of laws  Peter Mittelstaedt  John A. Wheeler  Immanuel Kant  Nancy Cartwright
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10701-010-9470-y
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,091
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Two Dogmas of Empiricism.W. Quine - 1951 - [Longmans, Green].
How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
From a Logical Point of View.W. V. O. Quine - 1953 - Harvard University Press.
Two Dogmas of Empiricism.W. V. O. Quine - 1951 - In Robert B. Talisse & Scott F. Aikin (eds.), The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce Through the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 202-220.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Laws in Physics.Mathias Frisch - 2014 - European Review 22:S33-S49.
Two Concepts of Law of Nature.Brendan Shea - 2013 - Prolegomena 12 (2):413-442.
Models: The Blueprints for Laws.Nancy Cartwright - 1997 - Philosophy of Science 64 (4):303.
Are Conservation Laws Metaphysically Necessary?Johanna Wolff - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (5):898-906.
How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Capacities, Explanation and the Possibility of Disunity.Jakob Hohwy - 2003 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (2):179 – 190.
Some Laws of Nature Are Metaphysically Contingent.John T. Roberts - 2010 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 88 (3):445-457.
Natural Laws in Scientific Practice.Marc Lange - 2000 - Oxford University Press.
Cartwright on Laws and Composition.David Spurrett - 2000 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 15 (3):253 – 268.
Leibniz's Optics and Contingency in Nature.Jeffrey K. McDonough - 2010 - Perspectives on Science 18 (4):432-455.
Laws of Nature: Do We Need a Metaphysics?Michel Ghins - 2007 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 11 (2):127-150.
Can Primitive Laws Explain?Tyler Hildebrand - 2013 - Philosophers' Imprint 13:1-15.
Cartwright, Forces, and Ceteris Paribus Laws.Barry Ward - 2009 - Southwest Philosophy Review 25 (1):55-62.
Biology and a Priori Laws.Mehmet Elgin - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1380--1389.


Added to PP index

Total views
149 ( #78,523 of 2,506,349 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #416,997 of 2,506,349 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes