Can Capacities Rescue Us From Ceteris paribus Laws?

In B. Gnassounou & M. Kistler (eds.), Dispositions in Philosophy and Science. Ashgate (2007)
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Abstract

Many philosophers of science think that most laws of nature (even those of fundamental physics) are so called ceteris paribus laws, i.e., roughly speaking, laws with exceptions. Yet, the ceteris paribus clause of these laws is problematic. Amongst the more infamous difficulties is the danger that 'For all x: Fx ⊃ Gx, ceteris paribus' may state no more than a tautology: 'For all x: Fx ⊃ Gx, unless not'. One of the major attempts to avoid this problem (and others concerning ceteris paribus laws) is to claim that the subject matter of laws are ascriptions of dispositions, powers, capacities etc., and not the regular behaviour we find in nature. That we do not know whether the cetera are paria in a specific situation does not matter to the dispositionalist because the objects have the disposition regardless of the circumstances. The defence of the latter claim is that dispositions can be instantiated without being manifested. Hence, the laws that ascribe dispositions are strict and it looks as if they do not face the above mentioned problems of ceteris paribus laws. In this essay I attempt to show that these assumptions are wrong. I hope to illustrate that not only does the ceteris paribus clause reoccur inside the dispositions, moreover, there are laws—laws about non-fundamental entities with instable dispositions—which bear a ceteris paribus clause that cannot be hidden in a disposition.

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Author's Profile

Markus Schrenk
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Citations of this work

The metaphysics of forces.Olivier Massin - 2009 - Dialectica 63 (4):555-589.
The Composition of Forces.Olivier Massin - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (3):805-846.
Ceteris Paribus Laws and Minutis Rectis Laws.Luke Fenton-Glynn - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 93 (2):274-305.

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