The Inconsistency of Empiricist Argumentation Concerning the Problem of the Lawfulness of Nature

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 17:131–142 (1986)
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The well-known empiricist apories of the lawfulness of nature prevent an adequate philosophical interpretation of empirical science until this day. Clarification can only be expected through an immanent refutation of the empiricist point of view. My argument is that Hume’s claim, paradigmatic for modern empiricism, is not just inconsequent, but simply contradictory: Empiricism denies that a lawlike character of nature can be substantiated. But, as is shown, anyone who claimes experience to be the basis of knowledge (as the empiricist naturally does), has, in fact, always already presupposed the lawfullness of nature, i.e. has assumed the ontology of a nature lawful in itself. If lawfulness is, more closely, understood as dependency on conditions, then the functional character of the laws of nature is involved with the consequence that verification is not to be taken as a mere repetition of measurements but as clarification of the conditional structure of the physical process. Furthermore the functionality of the laws of nature also includes a statement on their invariance (relative to certain transformations) and so their lawlikeness. This throws a new light on the problem of induction. Seen in this way it is hardly surprising that the notorious neglect of the functional aspect in empiricism has led to fundamental problems with the concept of the law of nature.

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Dieter Wandschneider
Rwth Aachen University, Germany


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