The strong arm of the law: a unified account of necessary and contingent laws of nature

Synthese 199 (3-4):10211-10252 (2021)
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A common feature of all standard theories of the laws of nature is that they are "absolutist": They take laws to be either all metaphysically necessary or all contingent. Science, however, gives us reason to think that there are laws of both kinds, suggesting that standard theories should make way for "non-absolutist" alternatives: theories which accommodate laws of both modal statuses. In this paper, we set out three explanatory challenges for any candidate non-absolutist theory and discuss the prospects of the two extant candidates in light of these challenges. We then develop our own non-absolutist theory, the essentialist DTA account, which combines the nomic-necessitation or DTA account with an essentialist approach to metaphysical modality in order to meet the three explanatory challenges. Finally, we argue that the distinction between kinematical and dynamical laws found in physical theories supports both non-absolutism in general and our proposed essentialist DTA view in particular.

Author Profiles

Robert Michels
Universidade de Lisboa
Salim Hirèche
University of Geneva (PhD)
Niels Linnemann
University of Geneva
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