Laws of Nature

Laws of Nature On Tuesday, April 29, 2003, it was first published; on Monday, November 16, 2020, it was substantially revised.

Laws of Nature

Table of Contents

Many notions originally regarded to be natural laws are now part of science, such as Newton’s law of gravitation, his three laws of motion, the ideal gas laws, Mendel’s laws, supply and demand laws, and so on. Other scientific regularities were not regarded to have similar rank. Regularities that, unlike laws, were (and still are) believed by scientists to require a firmer foundation. The regularity of ocean tides, the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit, the photoelectric effect, and the fact that the universe is expanding are only a few examples. Scientists utilise rules to sort out what is conceivable, but not other regularities:Cosmologists recognise the possibility that our universe is closed and the possibility that it is open based on their compliance with Einstein’s theories of gravity (Maudlin 2007, 7–8). The laws of an underlying physical theory are employed in statistical mechanics to establish the dynamically feasible pathways across the system’s state space (Roberts 2008, 12–16).

Philosophers of science and metaphysicians debate many aspects of laws, but the fundamental question remains: What does it mean to be a law? The systems method (Lewis, 1973, 1983, 1986, 1994) and the universals approach (Lewis, 1973, 1983, 1986, 1994) are two popular approaches (Armstrong, 1978, 1983, 1991, 1993). Antirealist and antireductionist ideas (van Fraassen 1989, Giere 1999, Ward 2002, Mumford 2004) are two further approaches (Carroll 1994 and 2008, Lange 2000 and 2009, Maudlin 2007). Aside from the basic question, recent research has focused on I whether laws are determined by facts, (ii) the role of laws in the problem of induction, (iii) whether laws involve a strong form of necessity, and (iv) the role of laws in physics and how this differs from the role of laws in mathematics.

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  1. The Fundamental Question: What does it mean to be a Law?
  2. Mechanisms
  3. Generalizations
  4. Humean Superiority
  5. Antirealism 
  6. Antireductionism
  7. Induction 
  8. Requirement
  9. Laws, Circularity, and Explanation Prospects
  10. Physics and the Special Sciences 

10.1 Is it true that physicists aim to find Exceptionless Regularities?

10.2 Are there any laws governing special sciences?

  1. Final Thoughts: What’s Next?


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1. The Fundamental Question: What does it mean to be a Law?

Laws of Nature

Here are four reasons why philosophers study what it means to be a natural law: First, as previously said, laws appear to play an important role in scientific practise. Second, laws are crucial to a variety of philosophical questions. Philosophers have wondered what makes counterfactual and explanatory claims true, have assumed that laws play some role, and thus have wondered what distinguishes laws from nonlaws, prompted by Chisholm’s (1946, 1955) and Goodman’s (1947) accounts of counterfactuals, as well as Hempel and Oppenheim’s (1948) deductive-nomological model of explanation. Third, using inductive inference, Goodman famously suggested that there is a link between lawhood and confirmability.As a result of their interest in the problem of induction, some supporters of Goodman’s notion turn to the problem of laws. Fourth, philosophers enjoy solving puzzles. Assume that everyone is seated (cf., Langford 1941, 67). Then, incidentally, that everyone is seated is correct. Despite the fact that this generalisation is correct, it does not appear to be a rule. It’s simply too coincidental. Einstein’s principle that no signals travel faster than light is also a valid generalisation, but it is considered a law rather than an accident. What distinguishes the two?

This may not appear to be a difficult puzzle. The fact that everyone is sat here is spatially constrained because it is about a specific location; yet, the principle of relativity is not constrained in the same way. As a result, it’s simple to believe that, unlike laws, genuine generalisations happen to be about specific areas. But it isn’t what distinguishes the two. There are true nonlaws that aren’t constrained by space. Consider the unlimited assumption that all gold spheres have a diameter of less than one mile. There are no gold spheres that huge, and there probably never will be, but this isn’t a rule. There also appear to be generalisations that could be used to express constrained laws. The generalisation of Galileo’s law of free fall.Free-falling bodies accelerate at 9.8 metres per second squared on Earth. When the gold-sphere generalisation is matched with a strikingly similar generalisation about uranium spheres, the puzzle’s confusing nature is revealed:

The diameter of each gold sphere is less than one mile.
The diameter of each uranium sphere is less than one mile.

The former isn’t a law, but the later is. The latter isn’t as coincidental as the first, because uranium’s critical mass prevents such a massive sphere from ever forming (van Fraassen 1989, 27). What differentiates the two? What distinguishes the first from the later as an unintentional generalisation?

What Is A Flow State & How To Induce The Flow Mindset

2. Mechanisms

Laws of Nature

Being a law is linked to deductive systems, according to one frequent answer. Ramsey (1978 [f.p. 1928]), Lewis (1973, 1983, 1986, 1994), Earman (1984), and Loewer (1984) have all defended the theory, which dates back to Mill (1843, 384). (1996). The axioms of deductive systems distinguish them. The theorems are the logical consequences of the axioms. Some real deductive systems will be more powerful than others, while others will be simpler. Strength and simplicity are two virtues that compete. (It’s simple to strengthen a system by sacrificing simplicity: make all the truths axioms.)It’s straightforward to simplify a system by sacrificing strength: only have the premise that 2 + 2 = 4.) The laws of nature, according to Lewis (1973, 73), belong to all true deductive systems that have the best combination of simplicity and strength. So, for example, it is thought that all uranium spheres are less than a mile in diameter is a law because it is, arguably, part of the best deductive systems; quantum theory is an excellent theory of our universe and might be part of the best systems, and it is plausible to think that quantum theory plus truths describing the nature of uranium would logically entail that there are no uranium spheres of that size (Loewer 1996, 112).The assumption that all gold spheres are smaller than a mile in diameter is unlikely to be included in the best systems. It could be added as an axiom to any system, but it would add little or nothing in terms of strength, and it would require some sacrifice in terms of simplicity. (In order to resolve concerns with physical probability, Lewis eventually made considerable adjustments to his account) (Lewis 1986, 1994).

Many aspects of the systems approach appeal to me. For one thing, it addresses the problem of ambiguous legislation. Despite the fact that there are no inertial bodies, Newton’s first law of motion – that all inertial bodies have no acceleration — is a law. However, there are many vacuously true nonlaws: all plaid pandas weigh 5 lbs., all unicorns are single, and so on. There is no exclusion of vacuous generalisations from the realm of laws when using the systems method, but only those vacuous generalisations that belong to the greatest systems qualify (cf., Lewis 1986, 123). Furthermore, one of the objectives of scientific theorising is to develop valid hypotheses that are well balanced in terms of their simplicity and robustness. So,The systems approach appears to support the axiom that one of science’s goals is to discover laws (Earman 1978, 180; Loewer 1996, 112). One final characteristic of the systems view that many (but not all) find appealing is that it adheres to broadly Humean limitations on a sensible metaphysics. There is no overt appeal to modality-supplying entities or to closely comparable modal ideas (e.g., the counterfactual conditional, causality, dispositions) (e.g., universals or God; for the supposed need to appeal to God, see Foster 2004). Indeed, Lewis’ justification of Humean supervenience, “the notion that everything there is in the world is a huge mosaic of local things of particular fact, just one of them,” is based on the systems approach.

Philosophers are cautious about other parts of the systems approach. (See, for example, Armstrong 1983, pp. 66–73; van Fraassen 1989, pp. 40–64; and Carroll 1990, pp. 197–206.) Some argue that because the account appeals to the concepts of simplicity, strength, and best balance, concepts whose instantiation appears to be dependent on cognitive abilities, interests, and purposes, this approach will have the unintended consequence of making laws inappropriately mind-dependent. The drive to simplicity poses more questions, owing to the seeming necessity for a standard language to allow for realistic system comparisons (Lewis 1983, 367.) More recently, Roberts casts doubt on the systems approach at a point that is commonly regarded to be a strength:”We don’t have a practise of weighing conflicting ideals of simplicity and information content in order to choose one logical theory over another, when everything is considered to be true,” says the author. (no. 10) in 2008 Curve-fitting is a technique for balancing the competing criteria of simplicity and fit, but it is only one stage in the process of deciding what is true. Furthermore, even if extensive and striking regularities are clearly established by the beginning conditions, the systems method is unsuitable for rejecting them as laws. Additional (if true) assumptions could be added to any valid deductive system: the universe is closed, entropy grows in general, our solar system’s planets are co-planar, and additional (if true) assumptions could be added to any good deductive system.

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3. Universals

Laws of Nature

In the late 1970s, a rival to the systems approach and all other Humean attempts to define what it means to be a law developed. The opposing approach, led by Armstrong (1978, 1983, 1991, 1993), Dretske (1977), and Tooley (1977, 1987), distinguishes laws from nonlaws by using universals (i.e., specific kinds of attributes and relations).

Here is a succinct summary of the framework characteristic of the universals approach, focusing on Armstrong’s development of the view:

Assume that Fs are Gs by definition. F-ness and G-ness are universal concepts. Between F-ness and G-ness, there is a non-logical or contingent necessitation relationship. ‘N(F,G)’ can be used to represent this situation (1983, 85).

This framework promises to solve the following difficulties and puzzles: Perhaps the difference between the uranium-spheres generalisation and the gold-spheres generalisation is that uranium requires a diameter of less than one mile, but gold does not. There are no concerns about the subjective character of simplicity, strength, or ideal balance; there is no danger of lawhood becoming mind-dependent as long as necessitation remains mind-free. Some believe the framework supports the notion that laws play a unique explanatory function in inductive conclusions, because a law is more than a universal generalisation.but is a completely distinct thing – a connection between two other universals (Armstrong 1991, Dretske 1977). The framework is also consistent with lawhood not supervening on local problems of particular fact; acceptance of the universals approach frequently involves denial of Humean supervenience.

However, in order for this payout to be genuine, extra information about N must be provided. This is what van Fraassen refers to as the identification problem, which he pairs with a second problem he refers to as the inference problem (1989, 96). Lewis, in his usual style, caught the heart of these two challenges early on:

Whatever N is, I don’t see how having N(F,G) with Fa without Ga is completely impossible. (Unless N is either constant conjunction or constant conjunction plus something else, in which case Armstrong’s theory becomes a variant of the regularity theory he opposes.) Armstrong’s terminology helps to obscure the mystery. He refers to the lawmaking universal N as ‘necessitates,’ and who would be astonished to learn that if F ‘necessitates,’ G, and a possesses F, then a must have G? But, in my opinion, N only gets the moniker ‘necessity’ if it is able to make the essential connections in some way.

Essentially, a definition of the lawmaking relationship is required (the identification problem). Then it must be determined whether it is appropriate for the task (the inference problem): Is it true that N’s position between F and G implies that Fs are Gs? Is it possible that its holding would support equivalent counterfactuals? Is it true that laws do not supervene, that they are not mind-independent, that they are not explanatory? Armstrong does go into greater detail about his legislative role. In response to Van Fraassen, he says:

I believe the Identification problem has been fixed at this moment. The needed relationship is a causal relationship, which is presently predicted to link types rather than tokens (1993, 422).

There are still unanswered questions about the nature of this causal relation, which is defined as a relationship that connects both token events and universals. (See Carroll 1994, 170–174, and van Fraassen 1993, 435–437.)

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