Short Answer Questions (submit online)
- Explain the regularity view of laws, and why natural regularities are not sufficient to define a law of nature.
- What is the Dispositional view of laws, and how does Chalmers' causal view of laws provide an example?
- Explain how the Best Systems view of laws distinguishes a mere regularity from a true law of nature.
For Further Discussion
- In what sense "constrain"? It is clear how social laws constrain us to act in a civilised way (some of the time). It is equally clear how a train track constrains the motion of a train.
- Can you think of any similar sense in which the laws of nature constrain natural phenomena? Is this even the right word to use?
- How would a dispositionalist provide an answer to this question?
- How would the Best Systems account provide an answer?
- Can you think of any reasonable alternative sense in which the laws of nature might be said to constrain natural phenomena?
- Are regularities laws? It is not a law that the earth should have one moon. It's just an accident of nature. One first attempt to account for this is to propose that laws are regularities.
- What exactly does it mean to be a regularity? Try to give an answer in plain English, or using terms like those we used in class.
- If we know what a regularity is, then we ought to say when the same kind of regularity occurs. Under what circumstances are two regularities the same?
- As an example, suppose that Alice always chooses a green coffee cup, while Bob always chooses a yellow one. These might be viewed as the same kind of regularity in the following sense: Given a choice of cup, the person always chooses their favourite colour. On this view, the two choices are both equally regularities. But are they also equally laws of nature (i.e. both laws or both non-laws)?
- Consider instead the following two regularities: 1) When testing the composition of a 6 ton mass, one will determine that it is not gold; and 2) When testing the composition of a 6 ton mass, one will determine that it is not uranium-235. Are they also equally laws of nature?
- What (if anything) distinguishes the gold/uranium case from the green/yellow case?
- Causal Dispositions. Chalmers argues that "causal powers" allow one to distinguish a law from a non-law. Consider the following dispositions, which one might think of as describing a causal power.
Which (if any) of these causal dispositions characterise laws and why? Are there causal dispositions that should not be considered laws? Are there laws that should not be considered causal dispositions?
- The tendency of objects to fall down in the earth's gravitational field.
- The tendency of a hot cup of tea to cool to room temperature.
- The ability of a deer population to reproduce.
- The tendency of cigarettes to cause cancer.
- Mike Tyson's disposition to punch Donnie Long in the face.
- Add your own causal dispositions here
- The Best Systems Account. The Best Systems account says that a statement is a law if it is an axiom in the deductive system that is the best combination of simplicity and strength.
- This account is suppose to satisfy the Empiricist Requirement on Laws, that whatever laws are, they must depend only on the set of all particular empirical facts of the actual world. Does it succeed? In what sense does the Best Systems account of laws satisfy the empiricist requirement?
- In order to make this account clear and precise, we need a precise definition of "strength." It might be predictive strength, or it might be explanatory strength. Choose your favourite theory in the natural or social sciences. What makes a theory strong?
- We need a precise definition of simplicity as well. What makes a theory simple?
- Can you imagine any circumstances under which two scientists might disagree about which is the Best System? Does this help or hurt the Best Systems account of laws?