Explanation and Laws

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Daian Bica (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
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  1. Idealization and Structural Explanation in Physics.Martin King - manuscript
    The focus in the literature on scientific explanation has shifted in recent years towards modelbased approaches. The idea that there are simple and true laws of nature has met with objections from philosophers such as Nancy Cartwright (1983) and Paul Teller (2001), and this has made a strictly Hempelian D-N style explanation largely irrelevant to the explanatory practices of science (Hempel & Oppenheim, 1948). Much of science does not involve subsuming particular events under laws of nature. It is increasingly recognized (...)
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  2. If Naturalism is True, then Scientific Explanation is Impossible.Tomas Bogardus - forthcoming - Religious Studies:1-24.
    I begin by retracing an argument from Aristotle for final causes in science. Then, I advance this ancient thought, and defend an argument for a stronger conclusion: that no scientific explanation can succeed, if Naturalism is true. The argument goes like this: (1) Any scientific explanation can be successful only if it crucially involves a natural regularity. Next, I argue that (2) any explanation can be successful only if it crucially involves no element that calls out for explanation but lacks (...)
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  3. Strong Determinism.Eddy Keming Chen - forthcoming - Philosophers' Imprint.
    A strongly deterministic theory of physics is one that permits exactly one possible history of the universe. In the words of Penrose (1989), "it is not just a matter of the future being determined by the past; the entire history of the universe is fixed, according to some precise mathematical scheme, for all time.” Such an extraordinary feature may appear unattainable in a world like ours. In this paper, I show that it can be achieved in a simple way and (...)
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  4. Laws of Physics.Eddy Keming Chen - 2024 - Cambridge University Press.
    Despite its apparent complexity, our world seems to be governed by simple laws of physics. This volume provides a philosophical introduction to such laws. I explain how they are connected to some of the central issues in philosophy, such as ontology, possibility, explanation, induction, counterfactuals, time, determinism, and fundamentality. I suggest that laws are fundamental facts that govern the world by constraining its physical possibilities. I examine three hallmarks of laws-simplicity, exactness, and objectivity-and discuss whether and how they may be (...)
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  5. Every View is a View From Somewhere: Pragmatist Laws and Possibility.Holly Andersen - 2023 - Theoria : An International Journal for Theory, History and Fundations of Science 38 (3):357-372.
    Humean accounts of laws are often contrasted with governing accounts, and recent developments have added pragmatic versions of Humeanism. This paper offers Mitchell's pragmatist, perspectival account of laws as a third option. The differences between these accounts come down to the role of modality. Mitchell's bottom-up account allows for subtle gradations of modal content to be conveyed by laws. The perspectival character of laws is not an accident or something to be eventually eliminated - it is part of how this (...)
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  6. Best-System Laws, Explanation, and Unification.Thomas Blanchard - 2023 - In Christian Loew, Siegfried Jaag & Michael Townsen Hicks (eds.), Humean Laws for Human Agents. Oxford: Oxford UP.
    In recent years, an active research program has emerged that aims to develop a Humean best-system account (BSA) of laws of nature that improves on Lewis’s canonical articulation of the view. Its guiding idea is that the laws are cognitive tools tailored to the specific needs and limitations of creatures like us. While current versions of this “pragmatic Humean” research program fare much better than Lewis’s account along many dimensions, I will argue that they have trouble making sense of certain (...)
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  7. La Ley y El Orden: Sobre Dos Sorprendentes (¡y Extendidos!) Errores En la Enseñanza de Las Ciencias Naturales.Claudio Cormick & Valeria Edelsztein - 2022 - Anales de la Asociación Química Argentina 109 (Número extra):223-229.
    It does not seem particularly daring to say that one objective of science education is to enable students to understand different phenomena in the world in their mutual relationship. This is roughly equivalent to promoting knowledge of scientific explanations, which involve resorting to regular relationships between certain phenomena and which, certainly, is different from knowledge of this or that type of event taken in isolation. In this text, we will draw attention to two opposing tendencies that, however, tend towards the (...)
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  8. The Power to Govern.Erica Shumener - 2022 - Philosophical Perspectives 36 (1):270-291.
    I provide a new account of what it is for the laws of nature to govern the evolution of events. I locate the source of governance in the content of law propositions. As such, I do not appeal to primitive notions of ground, essence, or production to characterize governance. After introducing the account, I use it to outline previously unrecognized varieties of governance. I also specify that laws must govern to have two theoretical virtues: explanatory power as well as a (...)
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  9. How chance explains.Michael Townsen Hicks & Alastair Wilson - 2021 - Noûs 57 (2):290-315.
    What explains the outcomes of chance processes? We claim that their setups do. Chances, we think, mediate these explanations of outcome by setup but do not feature in them. Facts about chances do feature in explanations of a different kind: higher-order explanations, which explain how and why setups explain their outcomes. In this paper, we elucidate this 'mediator view' of chancy explanation and defend it from a series of objections. We then show how it changes the playing field in four (...)
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  10. Evidence and explanation in Kant's doctrine of laws.Marius Stan - 2021 - Studi Kantiani 34:141-49.
    I emphasize two merits of Eric Watkins’ account in "Kant on Laws": the strong evidential support it has, and the central place it gives to Kant’s laws of mechanics. Then, I raise two questions for further research. 1. What kind of evidential reasoning confirms a Kantian law? 2. Do natures explain Kantian laws? If so, how?
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  11. Non-Humean Laws and Scientific Practice.Robert Smithson - 2020 - Erkenntnis 87 (6):2871-2895.
    Laws of nature have various roles in scientific practice. It is widely agreed that an adequate theory of lawhood ought to align with the roles that scientists assign to the laws. But philosophers disagree over whether Humean laws or non-Humean laws are better at filling these roles. In this paper, I provide an argument for settling this dispute. I consider possible situations in which scientists receive conclusive evidence that—according to the non-Humean—falsifies their beliefs about the laws, but which—according to the (...)
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  12. Laws of Nature and Explanatory Circularity.Eduardo Castro - 2019 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 33 (2):27-38..
    Some recent literature [Hicks, M. T. and van Elswyk. P., (2015) pp. 433-443, 2015; Bhogal, H. (2017), pp. 447-460] has argued that the non-Humean conceptions of laws of nature have a same weakness as the Humean conceptions of laws of nature. That is, both conceptions face an explanatory circularity problem. The argument is as follows: the Humean and the non-Humean conceptions of laws of nature agree that the law statements are universal generalisations; thus, both conceptions are vulnerable to an explanatory (...)
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  13. Humean laws, explanatory circularity, and the aim of scientific explanation.Chris Dorst - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (10):2657-2679.
    One of the main challenges confronting Humean accounts of natural law is that Humean laws appear to be unable to play the explanatory role of laws in scientific practice. The worry is roughly that if the laws are just regularities in the particular matters of fact (as the Humean would have it), then they cannot also explain the particular matters of fact, on pain of circularity. Loewer (2012) has defended Humeanism, arguing that this worry only arises if we fail to (...)
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  14. ¿Es el realista científico un realista de leyes naturales?Edgar Eduardo Rojas Duran - 2018 - Endoxa 41:277.
    In this paper, I argue that if one is already an advocate of scientific realism, then one would be also a realist about laws of nature. To show this, I argue that only scientific realists would accept that non-accidental regularities require explanation and that their genuine explanation is given by laws of nature. Then, from this conclusion, it seems that scientific realists have reason to believe that there are laws of nature in an objective sense. If this is correct, the (...)
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  15. A pragmatist challenge to constraint laws.Holly Andersen - 2017 - Metascience 27 (1):19-25.
    Meta-laws, including conservation laws, are laws about the form of more specific, phenomenological, laws. Lange distinguishes between meta-laws as coincidences, where the meta-law happens to hold because the more specific laws hold, and meta-laws as constraints to which subsumed laws must conform. He defends this distinction as a genuine metaphysical possibility, such that metaphysics alone ought not to rule one way or another, leaving it an open question for physics. Lange’s distinction marks a genuine difference in how a given meta-law (...)
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  16. What Would Hume Say? Regularities, Laws, and Mechanisms.Holly Andersen - 2017 - In Phyllis Ilari & Stuart Glennan (eds.), What Would Hume Say? Regularities, Laws, and Mechanisms. pp. 157-168.
    This chapter examines the relationship between laws and mechanisms as approaches to characterising generalizations and explanations in science. I give an overview of recent historical discussions where laws failed to satisfy stringent logical criteria, opening the way for mechanisms to be investigated as a way to explain regularities in nature. This followed by a critical discussion of contemporary debates about the role of laws versus mechanisms in describing versus explaining regularities. I conclude by offering new arguments for two roles for (...)
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  17. Can bare dispositions explain categorical regularities?Tyler Hildebrand - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 167 (3):569-584.
    One of the traditional desiderata for a metaphysical theory of laws of nature is that it be able to explain natural regularities. Some philosophers have postulated governing laws to fill this explanatory role. Recently, however, many have attempted to explain natural regularities without appealing to governing laws. Suppose that some fundamental properties are bare dispositions. In virtue of their dispositional nature, these properties must be (or are likely to be) distributed in regular patterns. Thus it would appear that an ontology (...)
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  18. Functionalism and The Independence Problems.Darren Bradley - 2013 - Noûs 47 (1):545-557.
    The independence problems for functionalism stem from the worry that if functional properties are defined in terms of their causes and effects then such functional properties seem to be too intimately connected to these purported causes and effects. I distinguish three different ways the independence problems can be filled out – in terms of necessary connections, analytic connections and vacuous explanations. I argue that none of these present serious problems. Instead, they bring out some important and over-looked features of functionalism.
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  19. Two Concepts of Law of Nature.Brendan Shea - 2013 - Prolegomena 12 (2):413-442.
    I argue that there are at least two concepts of law of nature worthy of philosophical interest: strong law and weak law. Strong laws are the laws investigated by fundamental physics, while weak laws feature prominently in the “special sciences” and in a variety of non-scientific contexts. In the first section, I clarify my methodology, which has to do with arguing about concepts. In the next section, I offer a detailed description of strong laws, which I claim satisfy four criteria: (...)
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  20. Mechanisms, Laws, and Regularities.Holly K. Andersen - 2011 - Philosophy of Science 78 (2):325-331.
    Leuridan (2010) argued that mechanisms cannot provide a genuine alternative to laws of nature as a model of explanation in the sciences, and advocates Mitchell’s (1997) pragmatic account of laws. I first demonstrate that Leuridan gets the order of priority wrong between mechanisms, regularity, and laws, and then make some clarifying remarks about how laws and mechanisms relate to regularities. Mechanisms are not an explanatory alternative to regularities; they are an alternative to laws. The existence of stable regularities in nature (...)
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  21. Initial Conditions as Exogenous Factors in Spatial Explanation.Clint Ballinger - 2008 - Dissertation, University of Cambridge
    This dissertation shows how initial conditions play a special role in the explanation of contingent and irregular outcomes, including, in the form of geographic context, the special case of uneven development in the social sciences. The dissertation develops a general theory of this role, recognizes its empirical limitations in the social sciences, and considers how it might be applied to the question of uneven development. The primary purpose of the dissertation is to identify and correct theoretical problems in the study (...)
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  22. Classifying contingency in the social sciences: Diachronic, synchronic, and deterministic contingency.Clint Ballinger - unknown
    This article makes three claims concerning the concept of contingency. First, we argue that the word contingency is used in far too many ways to be useful. Its many meanings are detrimental to clarity of discussion and thought in history and the social sciences. We show how there are eight distinct uses of the word and illustrate this with numerous examples from the social sciences and history, highlighting the scope for confusion caused by the many, often contradictory uses of the (...)
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