“There sweep great general principles which all the laws seem to follow”

Marc Lange

in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics volume 7

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199659081
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745201 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Metaphysics

“There sweep great general principles which all the laws seem to follow”

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This chapter argues that science recognizes an important distinction: between conservation laws as constraints on the fundamental forces there could be, on the one hand, and conservation laws as coincidences of the fundamental forces there happen to be, on the other hand. Whether they are constraints or coincidences would make an important difference to their role in scientific explanations. The distinction between constraints and coincidences applies to other laws besides the conservation laws; this chapter discusses examples from Hertz and Planck. The distinction between constraints and coincidences is ultimately elaborated in terms of the truth of various counterfactual conditionals. Dispositional essentialism (as advocated recently by Bird, Ellis, and Mumford) must portray all conservation laws as coincidences. It thus forecloses options that science has (with good reason) taken seriously ‐‐ which is a serious count against dispositional essentialism.

Keywords: conservation laws; scientific explanation; dispositions; laws of nature; counterfactual conditionals; Richard Feynman; Heinrich Hertz; Max Planck

Chapter.  12854 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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