Intuitions and Assumptions in the Debate over Laws of Nature

In Walter R. Ott & Lydia Patton (eds.), Laws of Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 1-17 (2018)
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The conception of a ‘law of nature’ is a human product. It was created to play a role in natural philosophy, in the Cartesian tradition. In light of this, philosophers and scientists must sort out what they mean by a law of nature before evaluating rival theories and approaches. If one’s conception of the laws of nature is yoked to metaphysical notions of truth and explanation, that connection must be made explicit and defended. If, on the other hand, one’s aim is to disentangle laws from truth or from explanation, that must be stated and defended as well. If philosophers do not make such assumptions, intuitions, and methodological commitments clear, then it will be impossible to identify the source of disagreement in debates about the laws of nature. Are the conflicts rooted in disagreement about the conclusions reached, or do the background commitments of the combatants block any resolution to the dispute in principle or in practice?

Author Profiles

Walter Ott
University of Virginia
Lydia Patton
Virginia Tech


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