Laws of Nature: Meeting the Empiricist Challenge

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (1999)
Abstract
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.
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