Chapter

Laws of Nature

David M. Armstrong

in Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780199590612
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191723391 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199590612.003.0005
Laws of Nature

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Once one has ‘sparse’ universals it is natural to think that an account of laws of nature can be given in terms of relations between these universals. Fred Dretske, Michael Tooley, and myself all proposed this view at much the same time. My own first version was subjected to trenchant criticism by David Lewis and Bas van Fraassen. My second attempt, which is to see laws as causal (or nomic) connections between states of affairs types, is here argued to meet these difficulties. Although the connection remains contingent, it sets up a direct connection between states of affairs. Hence it is stronger than Hume‐type theories, constituting a ‘middle way’. This leads to a singularist theory of causal connection, with the laws of nature (themselves universals) instantiated in these causal/nomic connections. Progress can then be made with the problem of induction (inference to the best explanation). Typical laws of nature are functional, expressed in equations, and involving determinable properties only. The complication this leads to is addressed. It is suggested further that we have direct perceptual awareness of causal action on our own bodies.

Keywords: laws of nature; Fred Dretske; Michael Tooley; David Lewis; Bas van Fraassen; states of affairs types; causal singularism; functional laws; determinable properties; determinate properties; perception of causality

Chapter.  3986 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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