Laws of Nature: Meeting the Empiricist Challenge

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (1999)

John Roberts
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Many philosophers insist that any adequate philosophical account of laws of nature must be consistent with Humean supervenience about the nomic . This is the thesis that the facts about the laws of nature must supervene on the particular, occurrent facts about the actual world. Earman argues that Humean supervenience poses an "empiricist loyalty test on laws." I concur, for as I argue, consistency with Humean supervenience is a necessary condition for upholding a plausible minimal empiricism concerning the methodology of science. Other philosophers, such as Carroll, argue that no adequate account of laws could be consistent with Humean supervenience. Roughly the first half of the dissertation is devoted to refuting this pessimistic claim. Along the way, I show that two putative knock-down arguments against Humean supervenience are unsound , I show how Lewis's "Best-System Analysis" of laws can be remedied of its most prominent flaws while remaining true to Humean supervenience, and I criticize the "Universals Account" of laws defended by Armstrong, Dretske and Tooley. ;In the second half of the dissertation, I present and defend a novel account of laws of nature that is consistent with Humean supervenience. The basic idea behind this account is that a law of nature is a proposition that must be presupposed by any theoretical account of the reliability of any method of measuring some physical quantity. I argue that this account enjoys the advantages alleged for all other extant accounts of laws while avoiding many of their flaws. ;While my account is consistent with the thesis of Humean supervenience, I argue that it need not be interpreted as a Neo-Humean account in any interesting sense. Finally, I discuss the significance of Humean supervenience in a context where Neo-Humeanism is rejected.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
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: 59,735
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

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

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.
Humean Laws and (Nested) Counterfactuals.Christian Loew & Siegfried Jaag - 2020 - Philosophical Quarterly 70 (278):93-113.
Lange’s Challenge: Accounting for Meta-Laws.Zanja Yudell - 2013 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (2):347-369.
Simplicity, Language-Dependency and the Best System Account of Laws.Billy Wheeler - 2014 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 31 (2):189-206.

View all 8 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Humean Supervenience Debugged.David Lewis - 1994 - Mind 103 (412):473--490.
Humean Supervenience Rebugged.Suki Finn - 2014 - Philosophia 42 (4):959-970.
Humean Supervenience and Best-System Laws.Lydia Jaeger - 2002 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (2):141 – 155.
Laws, Explanation, Governing, and Generation.Barry Ward - 2007 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85 (4):537 – 552.
Contact with the Nomic.John T. Roberts - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (1):1-22.
Humean Scientific Explanation.Elizabeth Miller - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (5):1311-1332.
Briggs on Antirealist Accounts of Scientific Law.John Halpin - 2013 - Synthese 190 (16):3439–3449.
The Law Governed Universe.John T. Roberts - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
Where No Mind Has Gone Before: Exploring Laws in Distant and Lonely Worlds.Matthew H. Slater & Chris Haufe - 2009 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 23 (3):265-276.


Added to PP index

Total views
3 ( #1,300,255 of 2,432,431 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #465,713 of 2,432,431 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes