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Lawlessness and Miles Davis

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 by bcnjake

Brandon seems to be making a lot of hay over the fact that any distinctly biological generalizations are contingent and therefore not universally true.  If they’re not universally true (i.e. the “rules” can be broken), then they cannot be laws.  But suppose you’re a scientific anti-realist like Cartwright, van Frassen, etc.  At this point, the whole problem seems to dissolve, since anti-realists don’t expect laws to be true; obviously false but explanatory generalizations are extrapolated from a limited set of causal histories.  Obviously, one might take exception to the “laws don’t have to be true” criterion, but assume that you’re okay with this.  Is there any other reason to lose sleep over the contingency thesis?  I can’t think of one, but I’m also inclined to endorse anti-realism.

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2 Responses to “Lawlessness and Miles Davis”

  1. Is Cartwright saying that all laws are *false*? Which would mean that, if you have the specified conditions, you don’t always get the predicted results. Or is she saying that laws are never *applicable*? Which would mean that the conditions the laws are talking about never exist in the real world. I’m guessing it’s more the second one.

  2. It’s actually both (the second concern follows from the first). Cartwright argues that laws are true *and* explanatory only in cases of causal laws – which is to say x caused y. Scientific laws are extrapolated from causal observations and broadened as Ceteris Paribus laws. But CP laws, strictly speaking, are false, except in very rare circumstances. Objects don’t strictly obey the law of gravitation, Columb’s law, Hardy-Weinberg, Mendel’s law, etc. Maybe, though, you’re thinking that these are cases where CP laws don’t apply where C~P conditions exist. But if that’s the case, then you would still need to explain things like laws governing transistors, which are considered just as explanatory but aren’t even predictively accurate under CP conditions.

    If you’re curious about her view, check out “The Truth Doesn’t Explain Much” and “For Phenomenological Laws”. Both should be available via Philosopher’s Index.

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