Philosophy Lexicon of Arguments

Laws of Nature, philosophy: laws of nature (physical laws) are descriptions of dependencies of physical quantities among each other. From the fact that these are descriptions, it follows that these are no regulations in the sense of e.g. legal regulations. N. Goodman suggests in “Fact, Fiction and Forecast” (1954) that natural laws should be formulated in the form of irreal conditional sentences (also known as counterfactual conditionals); If A were the case, B would have been the case. See also counterfactual conditionals, irreal conditionals, laws, lawlikeness, law statements.

Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Item Excerpt Meta data

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I 113
Natural Laws/Counterfactual Conditional/Bigelow/Pargetter: are often formulated in terms of "ideal systems". To do this, they need the counterfactual conditionals.
I 114
Similarly, thought experiments need counterfactual conditionals.
I 214
Law/Antiquity/Bigelow/Pargetter: For example,"What goes up must fall".
Lucrez: what consists mainly of soil or water has to move downwards. "Down" was a marked direction.
Atomism: Representative: Lucrez. Little astronomical knowledge yet.
Aristotle/Ptolemaios: believed that everything that consists mainly of earth or water moves to the center of the cosmos, and since it moves to the center of the earth, it must be the center of the cosmos.
I 215
Antiquity/Bigelow/Pargetter: in one respect Aristotle is closer to the truth, in other respects it is Lucrez. He was right that the center of the earth is not marked.
Natural Laws/Physics/Biology/Bigelow/Pargetter: a one-sided diet with examples from physics does not necessarily lead to a correct view of the natural laws.
Instead, here are some examples from biology:
Generalization/Biology: For example, a living being has father and mother of the same species as it itself. (Today we know that this has some exceptions).
I 216
It was a surprise to discover that this also applies to some plants.
I 217
Generalization: most of them have an exception. For example, without exception: perhaps the generalization "All mammals have a mother".
Exceptions/counter-examples/Bigelow/Pargetter: one should not overestimate the threat posed by exceptions to laws.
Law/Bigelow/Pargetter: we are looking for two things:
a) something that is more than regularity, on the other hand
b) less than a regularity without exception.
It may be that we have discovered with a law an important property of the cases that are sufficient for it, even if not all cases satisfy it.
Modal/Law/Bigelow/Pargetter: Thesis: the commonalities that satisfy the law are modal.
Law/Explanation/Bigelow/Pargetter: we do not always need a law, for example to know that our cat is pregnant. > Generalization.
I 220
Laws/Bigelow/Pargetter: are improved: e.g. Aristotle - Copernicus - Newton.
Copernicus: still thought that the material of the moon does not fall towards the earth, but towards the moon center. Therefore the moon is round.
Newton/(s): first explained the circular motion of the moon.
Aristotle: thesis: everything (earthly and watery) falls to a center and this is coincidentally the center of the earth.
N.B.: thus he fulfils the quasi-copernican theory!
I 221
VsAristotle: his theory was nevertheless wrong. But not because any movement would have been different, but because the reasoning was wrong: it is about gravity, Aristotle considered the center of the earth to be the center of the cosmos.
Error: was not that Aristotle thought that no object would fall in a different direction, but because he thought that no object could fall in a different direction. (Necessity).
I 221
Law/Laws/Bigelow/Pargetter: are generalizations (description of regularities) plus attribution of necessity. (Dretske 1977, Tooley 1977, Armstrong 1978,1983)
Bigelow/Pargetter: if they are wrong, they must be strictly wrong or empty. (Cartwright 1983, Hacking 1983).
I 222
Definition Laws/Law/Bigelow/Pargetter: are truths about Possibilia.
Understanding/Bigelow/Pargetter: Actualia cannot be fully understood without understanding Possibilia. ((s) Here understanding is associated with objects, not sentences.)
Possible Worlds/Understanding/Bigelow/Pargetter: we understand the actual world only by locating it in the logical space of possible worlds.
Natural Law/NG/Bigelow/Pargetter: Thesis: cannot be adequately described in a non-modal language. Because a natural law is not just a regularity.
Logical form: i.e. a natural law cannot be merely defined as
(x)(Fx > Gx).
Logical form: of a natural law will often be a universal generalization (UG). But it can also be another generalization or other form of sentence. We assume, however, that natural laws (UG) will be involved and therefore have the following form:
I 223
natN (x)(Fx > Gx).
Natural necessity/Bigelow/Pargetter: entails that natural laws involve counterfactual conditionals. Because they are about what would happen, not just what already happens. And even if things were different in certain respects.
I.e. in addition to regularity
(x)(Fx > Gx)
it will be true that every F would be a G ((s) Logic of 2nd level!)
Logical form/(s) counterfactual conditional instead of quantification of 2nd level:
(x) Fx would be > would be Gx)
we take this together as a truthmaker of the proposition
natN (x)(Fx > Gx). (see above)
Natural Law/Bigelow/Pargetter: Thesis: this is the view of natural laws that we defend.
LewisVsBigelow: (1979) the theory is circular.
I 226
Non-modal Theory/Natural Laws/Hume/Bigelow/Pargetter: (instead of relative necessity:) most non-modal theories of natural law are derived from Hume. Then we can accept nomic necessity as a relative necessity, without falling into a circle.
N.B.: then we can simply accept nomic necessity as a relative necessity and rely on it being based on independent access to laws!
Explanation: so it makes sense to use laws to explain nomic necessity rather than vice versa. And this is much less obscure than modal arguments.
I 227
BigelowVsVs: modal explanations are not so mysterious.
BigelowVsHume: Humean theories are not able to explain these non-modal properties of the laws, they have less explanatory power.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.

Big I
J. Bigelow, R. Pargetter
Science and Necessity Cambridge 1990

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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2017-09-25