Who's Afraid of Ceteris-Paribus Laws? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Them

Erkenntnis 57 (3):407-423 (2002)
Authors
Marc Lange
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Abstract
Ceteris-paribus clauses are nothing to worry about; a ceteris-paribus qualifier is not poisonously indeterminate in meaning. Ceteris-paribus laws teach us that a law need not be associated straightforwardly with a regularity in the manner demanded by regularity analyses of law and analyses of laws as relations among universals. This lesson enables us to understand the sense in which the laws of nature would have been no different under various counterfactual suppositions -- a feature even of those laws that involve no ceteris-paribus qualification and are actually associated with exceptionless regularities. Ceteris-paribus generalizations of an 'inexact science' qualify as laws of that science in virtue of their distinctive relation to counterfactuals: they form a set that is stable for the purposes of that field. The stability of an inexact science's laws may involve their remaining reliable even under certain counterfactual suppositions violating fundamental laws of physics. The ceteris-paribus laws of an inexact science may thus possess a kind of necessity lacking in the fundamental laws of physics. A nomological explanation supplied by an inexact science would then be irreducible to an explanation of the same phenomenon at the level of fundamental physics. Island biogeography is used to illustrate how a special science could be autonomous in this manner.
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy   Epistemology   Ethics   Logic   Ontology
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1021546731582
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A Better Best System Account of Lawhood.Jonathan Cohen & Craig Callender - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 145 (1):1 - 34.
Laws and Meta-Laws of Nature: Conservation Laws and Symmetries.Marc Lange - 2007 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 38 (3):457-481.
The Epistemology of Hedged Laws.Robert Kowalenko - 2011 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 42 (3):445-452.

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