Department of History and Philosophy of Science
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Laws of Nature

Comprehensive Course Guide

Origin of "laws of nature"?
The “no laws” account
Regularity accounts
Necessitarian accounts
Resiliency accounts
Epistemic accounts
Laws as inference rules
The imputation account


Must laws be Humean supervenient?
Ceteris paribus laws
Are there laws in biology?
Laws in the social sciences
Laws, symmetries, and invariances in physics
General covariance and the laws of physics
How did the modern concept of laws of nature arise?

1. Zilsel, “The Genesis of the Concept of Physical Law,” Phil. Rev. 3 (1942) 245-279.

2. Needham, “Human Laws and the Laws of Nature in China and the West (I & II),” J. Hist. Ideas 12 (1951) 3-30, 194-230.

3. Oakley, “Christian Theology and the Newtonian Science: The Rise of the Concept of the Laws of Nature,” Church History 30 (1961) 433-455.

4. Ruby, “The Origins of Scientific ‘Law’,” J. Hist. Ideas XLVII (1986) 341-359. Reprinted  in Winert (ed.), Laws of Nature. Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific and Historical Dimensions (de Gruyter, 1995).

5. Milton, “Laws of Nature,” in Garber and Ayers (eds.), The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1998), 680-701.

The “no laws” account 1. Giere, “The Skeptical Perspective: Science Without Laws of Nature,” in Winert (ed.), Laws of Nature. Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific and Historical Dimensions (de Gruyter, 1995).

2. Giere, Science without Laws (University of Chicago Press, 1999), Ch. 5 (“Science  without Laws”) and Ch. 6 (“The Cognitive Structure of Scientific Theories”).

3.  van Fraassen, Law and Symmetries (Oxford University Press, 1989).

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Regularity accounts

A. Naive regularity account
1.  Swartz, The Concept of Law (Cambridge UP, 1985).

2.  Swartz, “The Neo-Humean Perspective: Laws as Regularities,” in Winert (ed.), Laws of Nature. Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific and Historical Dimensions (de Gruyter, 1995).

3. Armstrong, What Is a Law of Nature? (Cambridge University Press, 1983), Chs. 2-4.

B. The sophisticated regularity account
1. Ramsey, "Law and Causality," Foundations: Essays in Philosophy, Logic, Mathematics  and Economics (Humanities Press, 1978).

2.  Lewis, Counterfactuals (Harvard UP, 1978), pp. 72-77.

3.  Lewis, Philosophical Papers Vol. 1 (Cambridge UP, 1986), pp. xi-xvi.

4.  van Fraassen, Law and Symmetries (Oxford University Press, 1989), Ch. 3.

5.  Halpin, John, “Empiricism and Nomic Necessity,” Noûs 33 (1999), 630-643.

6.  Roberts, “‘Laws of Nature’ as an Indexical Term: A Reinterpretation of the Best-System Analysis,” Phil. Sci. 66 (1999) 3(supplement), S502-S511.

Necessitarian accounts  

A. Relations of contingent necessitation
1.  Dretske, "Laws of Nature," Phil. Sci. 44 (1977) 248-268.

2. Armstrong, What Is a Law of Nature? Cambridge University Press, 1984.

3. Tooley, "The Nature of Laws," Can. J. Phil. 4 (1977) 667-689.

4. van Fraassen, Law and Symmetries, (Oxford University Press, 1989). Ch. 5.

5. Carroll, J. Laws of Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1994.pp. 161-173.

B. Metaphysical necessity
1.  Swoyer, “The Nature of Natural Laws,” Aust. J. Phil. 60 (1982) 203-223.

2.  Bigelow, Ellis, and Lierse, “The World as One of a Kind: Natural Necessity and the Laws of Nature,” Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 43 (1992) 371-388.

3. Ellis and Lierse, “Dispositional Essentialism,” Aust. J. Phil. 72 (1994) 27-45.

C. Logical necessity
1. Ewing, Idealism: A critical Survey (Meuthen, 1974).

D. Natural necessity
1. Kneale, Natural Laws and Contrary-to-Fact Conditionals,” Analysis 10 (1950) 121-                      125.

2. Molnar, “Kneale's Argument Revisited,” Phil. Rev. 78 (1954) 79-89.

3. Pargeter, “Laws and Modal Realism,” Phil. Stud. 46 (1984) 335-347.

4. Vallentyne, “Explicating Lawhood,” Phil. Sci. 55 (1988) 589-613.

5. Mormann, "Accessibility, Kinds, and Laws: A Structural Explication," Phil. Sci. 61                        (1994) 389-406.

E. Non-reductive realism
1. Carroll, J. Laws of Nature.  Cambridge University Press, 1994.    

Resiliency accounts

1. Skyrms, B. Causal Necessity (Yale UP, 1980).

2. Skyrms and Lambert, “The Middle Ground: Resiliency and Laws in the Web of Belief,” in Winert (ed.), Laws of Nature. Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific and Historical Dimensions (de Gruyter, 1995).

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Epistemic accounts 1. Urbach, P. “What Is a Law of Nature? A Humean Answer,” Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 39 (1988) 193-210.

2. Hitchcock, C. “Urbach on the Laws of Nature,” Analysis 52 (1992) 61-64.

3.  Urbach, P. “Reply to Hitchcock,” Analysis 52 (1992) 65-68.

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Laws as inference rules

1. Alexander, “General Statements as Rules of Inference,” Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 2.

2. Sellars, “Inference and Meaning,” Mind  (1953) 313-338.

3. Musgrave, “Wittgensteinian Instrumentalism,” Theoria 46 (1980) 65-105.

4. Lange, “Lawlikeness,” Nous 27 (1993) 1-21.

5. Lange, Natural Laws in Scientific Practice (Oxford University Press, 2000).

The imputation account

1. Rescher, Scientific Explanation (Free Press, 1970).

Must laws be Humean supervenient? 1. Maudlin, “Why Be Humean?” pre-print.

2.  Lowerer, “Humean Supervenience,” Phil. Topics 24 (1997) 101-126.

3. Earman and Roberts, “Contact with the Nomic: Two Challenges for Deniers of Humean                 Supervenience Laws of Nature,” pre-print.

4. Lewis, “Humean Supervenience Debugged,” Mind 103 (1994) 473-490.

5. Halpin, “Legitimizing Chance: The Best System Approach to Probabilistic Laws in  Physical Theory,” Aust. J. Phil 72 (1994) 317-338.

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Ceteris paribus laws


1. Schiffer, “Ceteris Paribus Laws,” Mind 100 (1991) 1-17.

2. Lange, “Natural Laws and the Problem of Provisos,” Erkenntnis 38 (1993) 233-248.

3. Pitroski and Rey, “When Other Things Aren't Equal: Saving Ceteris Paribus Laws from Vacuity,” Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 46 (1995) 81-110.

4. Earman and Roberts, “Ceteris Paribus There Are No Provisos,” Synthese 118 (1999) 439- 478.

5.  Smith, “Violated Laws, Ceteris Paribus Clauses, and Capacities,” Synthese in press.


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Are there laws in biology? 1. Beatty, “The Evolutionary Contingency Thesis,” in Wolters and Lennox (eds.), Concepts, Theories, and Rationality in the Biological Sciences (Universitatsverlag Konstanz/University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995).

2. Carrier, “Evolutionary Change and Lawlikeness,” ibid.

3. Schaffner, K. “Comments on Beatty” ibid.

4. Lange, M. “Are There Natural Laws Concerning Particular Biological Species?” J. Phil. XCII  (1995) 430-451.

5. Sober, E. “Two Outbreaks of Lawlessness in Recent Philosophy of Biology,” PSA 96, Vol. 2.


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Laws in the social sciences

1. Dray, Laws and Explanations in History (Oxford UP, 1957).

2. Hempel, “Explanation in Science and History,” in Colodny (ed.), The Frontiers of  Knowledge (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962).

3. MacIntyre, “The Character of Generalizations in the Social Sciences and Their Lack of Predictive Power,” in After Virtue (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984).


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Laws, symmetries, and invariances in physics



1. van Fraassen, Law and Symmetries. (Oxford University Press, 1989).

2. Morrison, M. “The New Aspect: Symmetries as Meta-Laws,” in Winert (ed.), Laws of Nature. Essays on the Philosophical, Scientific and Historical Dimensions (de Gruyter, 1995).

3. Kosso, “Symmetry Arguments in Physics,” Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci 30 (1999) 479-492.

4. Kosso, “The Empirical Status of Symmetries in Physics,” Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 51 (2000) 81- 98.

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The status of the requirement of general covariance for the laws of physics

1. Norton, “General Covariance and the Foundations of General Relativity: Eight Decades of Dispute,” Rep. Prog. Phys. 56 (1993) 791‑858.

2. Earman, “Once More General Covariance,” pre-print.


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