What Would Hume Say? Regularities, Laws, and Mechanisms

In Phyllis Ilari & Stuart Glennan (eds.), Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanistic Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 157-168 (2017)
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Abstract
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 laws that mechanisms cannot subsume, one epistemically optimistic and one pessimistic, both broadly Humean. Do note that this piece is not primarily Hume exegesis; it is more of a riff in the key of Hume.
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2016-08-16

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