Someone recently bought our

students are currently browsing our notes.


Alexander Bird Laws Of Nature Notes

PPE Notes > The Philosophy of Science and Social Science Notes

This is an extract of our Alexander Bird Laws Of Nature document, which we sell as part of our The Philosophy of Science and Social Science Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Oxford students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our The Philosophy of Science and Social Science Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

Alexander Bird - Philosophy of Science Chapter One: Laws of Nature


Aims of science including explaining, categorizing, detecting causes, measuring and predicting all rely upon 'the existence of laws'
* separate claim: these aims also rely upon the concept, theory of a law Laws of nature are things in the world which we try to discover - they are separate from our theories or statements of laws

Minimalism about laws - the simple regularity theory
* Laws are just regularities
* laws are nothing more than the collection of their instances
* this is an expression of empiricism - concepts should be explicable in terms of our experiences
* Simple regularity theory (SRT): it is a law that Fs are Gs if and only if all Fs are Gs
* but this is neither a sufficient nor a necessary account of laws - there are regularities that are not laws and laws that are not regularities Regularities that are not laws
* There are many regularities that are accidental, not law-like
* e.g. 'All persisting lumps of pure gold-195 have a mass less that 1000kg' is contingent
* whereas 'All persisting lumps of pure uranium-235 have a mass of less than 1000kg' is not contingent, it is a law of chemistry
# SRT cannot distinguish between genuine laws and mere coincidences
* We can create a contrived example e.g. describe Jane perfectly (such that only she fits the description) and then claim that all people matching that description play the oboe
* retort of the SRT minimalist:
# is it right to bundle a collection of properties together as one property?
* well, this is done by some things that we consider laws e.g. gas laws relate the pressure of a gas to the compound of its temperature and volume
# can one instance be regarded as a regularity?
* and there are presumably laws that cover e.g. the Big Bang, for which it is the only instance, or else the properties of transuranium elements with very short half lives, for which there is not observable regularity at all
* Another problem for the SRT minimalist: how to account for laws without instances
* the statement 'All Fs are Gs', if there are no Fs, is trivially true (according to logic)
# so how are we to distinguish the trivially true regularities that are laws from the trivially true regularities that aren't
* we can't, using SRT anyway
* Another problem for the SRT minimalist: how do we account for functional regularities?
* where a law refers to a continuum - e.g. the pressure of a gas, there are infinitely many points on the continuum, so such a law cannot be modelled on observed regularitiesthere will inevitable be gaps
# hence if we are to model such a law, we need to go beyond observed instances

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our The Philosophy of Science and Social Science Notes.