Laws as Relations between Universals

Edited by Markus Schrenk (Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
Assistant editor: Florian J. Boge (Bergische Universität Wuppertal)
About this topic
Summary The idea that laws of nature do not connect just any kind of properties -- for example the property of being an object that the pope possesses or the property of looking red to a bull -- is old. Laws of nature, so the intuition, say something about the regular co-occurrence of real properties and not just any made up classes of things. One way to put this is to say that laws hold between universals, another to say that they hold between perfectly natural properties.
Key works David Armstrong has written key works on both universals and laws of nature and also their relation: Armstrong 1982Armstrong 1978Armstrong 1983.
Introductions M. Armstrong 2010
Related categories

113 found
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1 — 50 / 113
  1. Metaphysical Necessity in the Neo-Sadraian School and Assessment of Necessitarian Theories of the Laws of Nature.Javad Darvish Aghajani - forthcoming - Teorie Vědy / Theory of Science:1-25.
    To differentiate between the laws of nature and accidental generalizations, we must adopt a view of necessity that is capable of being realized in relationships existing among natural objects. In neo-Sadraian Islamic philosophy, metaphysical necessity is accepted as part of the cause-effect relationship. This paper compares the neo-Sadraian interpretation of necessity and necessitarian theories about the laws of nature, particularly essentialism and universal theory. By resorting to specific forms al-shûrat al-naw’iyyah, the origin of the essential properties of natural objects, I (...)
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  2. The Strong Arm of the Law: A Unified Account of Necessary and Contingent Laws of Nature.Salim Hirèche, Niels Linnemann, Robert Michels & Lisa Vogt - forthcoming - Synthese 199 (3-4):10211-10252.
    A common feature of all standard theories of the laws of nature is that they are "absolutist": They take laws to be either all metaphysically necessary or all contingent. Science, however, gives us reason to think that there are laws of both kinds, suggesting that standard theories should make way for "non-absolutist" alternatives: theories which accommodate laws of both modal statuses. In this paper, we set out three explanatory challenges for any candidate non-absolutist theory and discuss the prospects of the (...)
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  3. The laws of modality.Matthew Tugby - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-22.
    Nomic realists have traditionally put laws to work within a theory of natural modality, in order to provide a metaphysical source for causal necessitation, counterfactuals, and dispositions. However, laws are well-suited to perform other work as well. Necessitation is a widespread phenomenon and includes cases of categorial, conceptual, grounding, mathematical and normative necessitation. A permissive theory of universals allows us to extend nomic realism into these other domains. With a particular focus on grounding necessitation, it is argued that the sorts (...)
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  4. Unmanifested Powers and Universals.Ashley Coates - 2022 - Synthese 200 (2):1-22.
    According to a well-known argument against dispositional essentialism, the nature of unmanifested token powers leaves dispositional essentialists with an objectionable commitment to the reality of non-existent entities. The idea is that, because unmanifested token powers are directed at their non-existent token manifestations, they require the reality of those manifestations. Arguably the most promising response to this argument works by claiming that, if properties are universals, dispositional directedness need only entail the reality of actually existing manifestation types. I argue that this (...)
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  5. D.M. Armstrong: Sydney's Most Distinguished Philosopher: Life and Work.James Franklin - 2020 - Sydney Realist 41:1-6.
    David Armstrong (1926-2014) was much the most internationally successful philosopher to come from Sydney. His life moved from a privileged Empire childhood and student of John Anderson to acclaimed elder statesman of realist philosophy. His philosophy developed from an Andersonian realist inheritance to major contributions on materialist theory of mind and the theory of universals. His views on several other topics such as religion and ethics are surveyed briefly.
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  6. Platonic Laws of Nature.Tyler Hildebrand - 2020 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 50 (3):365-381.
    David Armstrong accepted the following three theses: universals are immanent, laws are relations between universals, and laws govern. Taken together, they form an attractive position, for they promise to explain regularities in nature—one of the most important desiderata for a theory of laws and properties—while remaining compatible with naturalism. However, I argue that the three theses are incompatible. The basic idea is that each thesis makes an explanatory claim, but the three claims can be shown to run in a problematic (...)
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  7. Ideal Laws, Counterfactual Preservation, and the Analyses of Lawhood.Peter Tan - 2020 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 98 (3):574-589.
    This paper presents a unified argument against three widely held contemporary analyses of lawhood—Humean reductionism about laws, the dispositionalist view of laws, and the view of laws as relation...
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  8. No God, No Powers.James Orr - 2019 - International Philosophical Quarterly 59 (4):411-426.
    One common feature of debates about the best metaphysical analysis of putatively lawful phenomena is the suspicion that nomic realists who locate the modal force of such phenomena in quasi-causal necessitation relations between universals are working with a model of law that cannot convincingly erase its theological pedigree. Nancy Cartwright distills this criticism into slogan form: no God, no laws. Some have argued that a more plausible alternative for nomic realists who reject theism is to ground laws of nature in (...)
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  9. Are Laws of Nature Consistent with Contingency?Nancy Cartwright & Pedro Merlussi - 2018 - In Walter Ott & Lydia Patton (eds.), Laws of Nature. Oxford, UK:
    Are the laws of nature consistent with contingency about what happens in the world? That depends on what the laws of nature actually are, but it also depends on what they are like. The latter is the concern of this chapter, which looks at three views that are widely endorsed: ‘Humean’ regularity accounts, laws as relations among universals, and disposition/powers accounts. Given an account of what laws are, what follows about how much contingency, and of what kinds, laws allow? In (...)
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  10. Teoria praw przyrody Armstronga wobec problemów identyfikacji i inferencji.Joanna Luc - 2018 - Diametros 55:132-157.
    One of the modern approaches to the laws of nature regards them as relations between universals. The most advanced version of such an approach has been presented by D. M. Armstrong. The aim of this paper is to reconstruct and interpret Armstrong’s conception but also to evaluate his theory and to point out what expectations from it are inadequate. My point of reference are two objections to Armstrong’s ideas, namely the problems of identification and inference. I claim that Armstrong’s theory (...)
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  11. Armstrong’s Theory of Laws and Causation: Putting Things Into Their Proper Places.S. M. Hassan A. Shirazi - 2018 - Problemos 94:61.
    [full article, abstract in English; abstract in Lithuanian] Armstrong’s theory of laws and causation may be articulated as something like the following, which we may refer to as the received view: “Laws are intrinsic higher-order relations of ensuring between properties. The instantiation of laws is identical with singular causation. This identity is a posteriori.” Opponents and advocates of this view, believe that it may fairly and correctly be attributed to Armstrong. I do not deny it; instead I seek to reconsider (...)
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  12. Armstrong on Probabilistic Laws of Nature.Jonathan D. Jacobs & Robert J. Hartman - 2017 - Philosophical Papers 46 (3):373-387.
    D. M. Armstrong famously claims that deterministic laws of nature are contingent relations between universals and that his account can also be straightforwardly extended to irreducibly probabilistic laws of nature. For the most part, philosophers have neglected to scrutinize Armstrong’s account of probabilistic laws. This is surprising precisely because his own claims about probabilistic laws make it unclear just what he takes them to be. We offer three interpretations of what Armstrong-style probabilistic laws are, and argue that all three interpretations (...)
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  13. Is the Humean Defeated by Induction? A Reply to Smart.Eduardo Castro - 2016 - Philosophia 44 (2):435-446.
    This paper is a reply to Benjamin Smart’s : 319–332, 2013) recent objections to David Armstrong’s solution to the problem of induction : 503–511, 1991). To solve the problem of induction, Armstrong contends that laws of nature are the best explanation of our observed regularities, where laws of nature are dyadic relations of necessitation holding between first-order universals. Smart raises three objections against Armstrong’s pattern of inference. First, regularities can explain our observed regularities; that is, universally quantified conditionals are required (...)
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  14. Natural Properties, Necessary Connections, and the Problem of Induction.Tyler Hildebrand - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96:668-689.
    The necessitarian solution to the problem of induction involves two claims: first, that necessary connections are justified by an inference to the best explanation; second, that the best theory of necessary connections entails the timeless uniformity of nature. In this paper, I defend the second claim. My arguments are based on considerations from the metaphysics of laws, properties, and fundamentality.
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  15. Universals, Laws, and Governance.Matthew Tugby - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (5):1147-1163.
    Proponents of the dispositional theory of properties typically claim that their view is not one that offers a realist, governing conception of laws. My first aim is to show that, contrary to this claim, if one commits to dispositionalism then one does not automatically give up on a robust, realist theory of laws. This is because dispositionalism can readily be developed within a Platonic framework of universals. Second, I argue that there are good reasons for realist dispositionalists to favour a (...)
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  16. The One and the Many.Curtis L. Hancock - 2015 - Review of Metaphysics 69 (2):233-259.
    If contemporary philosophers of science could transcend the skepticism that seems to have become obligatory in modern epistemologies, they could restore a comprehensive vision of science that would be a boon to science and scientific education. Science is not mere knowledge. Science is knowledge of something that is necessary and universal because its causes are understood. This was Aristotle’s conception of science, a conception which includes knowledge of substances and the first ontological principles of things. St. Thomas Aquinas refined this (...)
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  17. Magnitudes: Metaphysics, Explanation, and Perception.Christopher Peacocke - 2015 - In Annalisa Coliva, Volker Munz & Danièle Moyal-Sharrock (eds.), Mind, Language and Action: Proceedings of the 36th International Wittgenstein Symposium. De Gruyter. pp. 357-388.
    I am going to argue for a robust realism about magnitudes, as irreducible elements in our ontology. This realistic attitude, I will argue, gives a better metaphysics than the alternatives. It suggests some new options in the philosophy of science. It also provides the materials for a better account of the mind’s relation to the world, in particular its perceptual relations.
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  18. Half-Hearted Humeanism.Aaron Segal - 2015 - Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 9:262-305.
    Many contemporary philosophers endorse the Humean-Lewisian Denial of Absolutely Necessary Connections (‘DANC’). Among those philosophers, many deny all or part of the Humean-Lewisian package of views about causation and laws. I argue that they maintain an inconsistent set of views. DANC entails that (1) causal properties and relations are, with a few possible exceptions, always extrinsic to their bearers, (2) nomic properties and relations are, with a few possible exceptions, always extrinsic to their bearers, and (3) causal and nomic properties (...)
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  19. Laws, the Inference Problem, and Uninstantiated Universals.Bradley Rives - 2014 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 52 (4):496-520.
    The difficulties facing Humean regularity accounts of laws have led some philosophers to a theory that takes laws to be necessitation relations between universals. In this paper I evaluate David Armstrong's version of this theory by considering two of its key elements: its solution to the so-called “Inference Problem” and its denial of uninstantiated universals. After considering some potential problems with each of these elements on their own, I argue that Armstrong's solution to the Inference Problem and his denial of (...)
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  20. On Induction: Time-Limited Necessity Vs. Timeless Necessity.Eduardo Castro - 2013 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 33 (3):67-82.
    Abstract: This paper defends David Armstrong’s solution to the problem of inductionb against Helen Beebee’s attack on that solution. To solve theproblem of induction, Armstrong contends that the timeless necessity explanation is the best explanation of our observed regularities, whereas Beebee attempts to demonstrate that the time-limited necessity explanation is an equally good explanation. Allegedly, this explanation blocks Armstrong’s solution. I demonstrate that even if the time-limited ecessity explanation were an equally good explanation of our observed regularities, this explanation does (...)
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  21. Laws of Nature and Tooley's Cases / As leis da natureza e os casos de Tooley.Rodrigo Cid - 2013 - Manuscrito 36 (1):67-101.
    The purposes of this paper are: (1) to present four theories of the nature of natural laws, (2) to show that only one of them is capable of adequately answering to Tooley's Cases, and (3) indicate why these cases are relevant for our ontology. These purposes are important since the concept of "natural law" is used in many (if not all) realms of natural science and in many branches of philosophy; if Tooley's cases are possible, they represent situations that must (...)
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  22. The laws of nature and Tooley's cases / As leis da natureza e os casos de Tooley.Rodrigo Cid - 2013 - Manuscrito: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 36:67-101.
    The purposes of this paper are: (1) to present four theories of the nature of natural laws, (2) to show that only one of them is capable of adequately answering to Tooley’s Cases, and (3) indicate why these cases are relevant for our ontology. These purposes are important since the concept of “natural law” is used in many (if not all) realms of natural science and in many branches of philosophy; if Tooley’s cases are possible, they represent situations that must (...)
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  23. Can Primitive Laws Explain?Tyler Hildebrand - 2013 - Philosophers' Imprint 13:1-15.
    One reason to posit governing laws is to explain the uniformity of nature. Explanatory power can be purchased by accepting new primitives, and scientists invoke laws in their explanations without providing any supporting metaphysics. For these reasons, one might suspect that we can treat laws as wholly unanalyzable primitives. (John Carroll’s *Laws of Nature* (1994) and Tim Maudlin’s *The Metaphysics Within Physics* (2007) offer recent defenses of primitivism about laws.) Whatever defects primitive laws might have, explanatory weakness should not be (...)
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  24. Tooley’s Account of the Necessary Connection Between Law and Regularity.Tyler Hildebrand - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 166 (1):33-43.
    Fred Dretske, Michael Tooley, and David Armstrong accept a theory of governing laws of nature according to which laws are atomic states of affairs that necessitate corresponding natural regularities. Some philosophers object to the Dretske/Tooley/Armstrong theory on the grounds that there is no illuminating account of the necessary connection between governing law and natural regularity. In response, Michael Tooley has provided a reductive account of this necessary connection in his book Causation (1987). In this essay, I discuss an improved version (...)
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  25. Armstrong and van Fraassen on Probabilistic Laws of Nature.Duncan Maclean - 2012 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 42 (1):1-13.
    In What is a Law of Nature? (1983) David Armstrong promotes a theory of laws according to which laws of nature are contingent relations of necessitation between universals. The metaphysics Armstrong develops uses deterministic causal laws as paradigmatic cases of laws, but he thinks his metaphysics explicates other sorts of laws too, including probabilistic laws, like that of the half-life of radium being 1602 years. Bas van Fraassen (1987) gives seven arguments for why Armstrong’s theory of laws is incapable of (...)
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  26. Lange and Laws, Kinds, and Counterfactuals.Alexander Bird - 2011 - In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke & Matthew H. Slater (eds.), Carving Nature at its Joints. MIT Press.
    In this paper I examine and question Marc Lange’s account of laws, and his claim that the law delineating the range of natural kinds of fundamental particle has a lesser grade of necessity that the laws connecting the fundamental properties of those kinds with their derived properties.
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  27. The Ultimate Argument Against Armstrong's Contingent Necessitation View of Laws.Amy Karofsky - 2011 - Metaphilosophy 42 (5):723-733.
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  28. Interfering with Nomological Necessity.Markus Schrenk - 2011 - Philosophical Quarterly 61 (244):577-597.
    Since causal processes can be prevented and interfered with, law-governed causation is a challenge for necessitarian theories of laws of nature. To show that there is a problematic friction between necessity and interference, I focus on David Armstrong's theory; with one proviso, his lawmaker, nomological necessity, is supposed to be instantiated as the causation of the law's second relatum whenever its first relatum is instantiated. His proviso is supposed to handle interference cases, but fails to do so. In order to (...)
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  29. Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics.D. M. Armstrong - 2010 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press UK.
    In his last book, David Armstrong sets out his metaphysical system in a set of concise and lively chapters each dealing with one aspect of the world. He begins with the assumption that all that exists is the physical world of space-time. On this foundation he constructs a coherent metaphysical scheme that gives plausible answers to many of the great problems of metaphysics. He gives accounts of properties, relations, and particulars; laws of nature; modality; abstract objects such as numbers; and (...)
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  30. Natural Laws, Modality and Universals.José Tomás Alvarado Marambio - 2010 - Epistemologia 33:207-234.
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  31. Must the Fundamental Laws of Physics Be Complete?Marc Lange - 2009 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78 (2):312-345.
    The beauty of electricity, or of any other force, is not that the power is mysterious and unexpected, touching every sense at unawares in turn, but that it is under law... Michael Faraday, Wheatstone's Electric Telegraph's Relation to Science (being an argument in favour of the full recognition of Science as a branch of Education), 1854.
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  32. Regularity Theory and Inductive Scepticism: The Fight Against Armstrong.Benjamin Smart - 2009 - Lyceum 11 (1).
  33. David Armstrong.Stephen Mumford - 2007 - Routledge.
  34. Nomic Universals and Particular Causal Relations: Which Are Basic and Which Are Derived?John Bolender - 2006 - Philosophia 34 (4):405-410.
    Armstrong holds that a law of nature is a certain sort of structural universal which, in turn, fixes causal relations between particular states of affairs. His claim that these nomic structural universals explain causal relations commits him to saying that such universals are irreducible, not supervenient upon the particular causal relations they fix. However, Armstrong also wants to avoid Plato’s view that a universal can exist without being instantiated, a view which he regards as incompatible with naturalism. This construal of (...)
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  35. Relations Between Universals,or Divine Laws?Richard Swinburne - 2006 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (2):179 – 189.
    Armstrong's theory of laws of nature as relations between universals gives an initially plausible account of why the causal powers of substances are bound together only in certain ways, so that the world is a very regular place. But its resulting theory of causation cannot account for intentional causation, since this involves an agent trying to do something, and trying is causing. This kind of causation is thus a state of an agent and does not involve the operation of a (...)
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  36. The Ultimate Argument Against Armstrong's Contingent Necessitation View of Laws.A. Bird - 2005 - Analysis 65 (2):147-155.
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  37. The Ultimate Argument Against Armstrong’s Contingent Necessitation View of Laws.Alexander Bird - 2005 - Analysis 65 (2):147-55.
    I show that Armstrong’s view of laws as second-order contingent relations of ‘necessitation’ among categorical properties faces a dilemma. The necessitation relation confers a relation of extensional inclusion (‘constant conjunction’) on its relata. It does so either necessarily or contingently. If necessarily, it is not a categorical relation (in the relevant sense). If contingently, then an explanation is required of how it confers extensional inclusion. That explanation will need to appeal to a third-order relation between necessitation and extensional inclusion. The (...)
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  38. Armstrong and the Modal Inversion of Dispositions.Toby Handfield - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (220):452–461.
    D. M. Armstrong has objected that the Dispositionalist theory of laws and properties is modally inverted, for it entails that properties are constituted by relations to non-actual possibilia. I contend that, if this objection succeeds against Dispositionalism, then Armstrong's nomic necessitation relation is also modally inverted. This shows that at least one of Armstrong's reasons for preferring a nomic necessitation theory is specious.
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  39. Necessary Laws.Max Kistler - 2005 - In Jan Faye, Paul Needham, Uwe Scheffler & Max Urchs (eds.), Nature’s Principles. Springer. pp. 201-227.
    In the first part of this paper, I argue against the view that laws of nature are contingent, by attacking a necessary condition for its truth within the framework of a conception of laws as relations between universals. I try to show that there is no independent reason to think that universals have an essence independent of their nomological properties. However, such a non-qualitative essence is required to make sense of the idea that different laws link the same universals in (...)
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  40. The Bookkeeper and the Lumberjack. Metaphysical Vs. Nomological Necessity.Markus Schrenk - 2005 - In G. Abel (ed.), Kreativität. XX. Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie. Sektionsbeiträge Band 1. Universitätsverlag der Technischen Universität.
    The striking difference between the orthodox nomological necessitation view of laws and the claims made recently by Scientific Essentialism is that on the latter interpretation laws are metaphysically necessary while they are contingent on the basis of the former. This shift is usually perceived as an upgrading: essentialism makes the laws as robust as possible. The aim of my paper—in which I contrast Brian Ellis’s Scientific Essentialism and David Armstrong’s theory of nomological necessity—is threefold. (1) I first underline the familiar (...)
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  41. Natural Laws, Universals, and the Induction Problem.Edward Slowik - 2005 - Philosophia 32 (1-4):241-251.
    This paper contends that some of the recent critical appraisals of universals theories of natural laws, namely, van Fraassen's analysis of Armstrong's probabilistic laws, are largely ineffective since they fail to disclose the incompatibility of universals and any realistic natural law setting. Rather, a more profitable line of criticism is developed that contests the universalists' claim to have resolved the induction problem (i.e., the separation of natural laws from mere accidental regularities), and thereby reveals the universals' philosophically inadequate concept of (...)
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  42. The Argument From Laws of Nature Reassessed.Richard Swinburne - 2004 - In M. Ruse & W. Dembski (eds.), Debating Design: From Darwin to Dna. Cambridge University Press.
    I analyze different accounts of laws of nature: the Hume-Lewis regularity account, the Armstrong-Tooley relations between universals account, and my preferred account in terms of the powers and liabilities of individual substances. On any account it is most unlikely a priori that a universe would be governed by simple laws of nature. But if there is a God, it is quite probable that he will choose to create free agents of limited power, and to put them in a universe governed (...)
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  43. Dretsky and Armstrong on Regularity Analyses and Explanation.Barry Ward - 2004 - Southwest Philosophy Review 20 (1):193-200.
  44. What is a Law of Nature? The Broken-Symmetry Story.Yuri Balashov - 2002 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 40 (4):459-473.
    I argue that the contemporary interplay of cosmology and particle physics in their joint effort to understand the processes at work during the first moments of the big bang has important implications for understanding the nature of lawhood. I focus on the phenomenon of spontaneous symmetry breaking responsible for generating the masses of certain particles. This phenomenon presents problems for the currently fashionable Dretske-Tooley-Armstrong theory and strongly favors a rival nomic ontology of causal powers.
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  45. The Dretske-Tooley-Armstrong Theory of Natural Laws and the Inference Problem.Joan Pag - 2002 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (3):227 – 243.
    In this article I intend to show that the inference problem, one of the main objections raised against the anti-Humean theory of natural laws defended by Dretske, Tooley and Armstrong ("DTA theory" for short), can be successfully answered. First, I argue that a proper solution should meet two essential requirements that the proposals made by the DTA theorists do not satisfy. Then I state a solution to the inference problem that assumes a local immanentistic view of universals, a partial definition (...)
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  46. The Dretske–Tooley–Armstrong Theory of Natural Laws and the Inference Problem.Joan Page`S. - 2002 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 16 (3):227-243.
    In this article I intend to show that the inference problem, one of the main objections raised against the anti-Humean theory of natural laws defended by Dretske, Tooley and Armstrong (?DTA theory? for short), can be successfully answered. First, I argue that a proper solution should meet two essential requirements that the proposals made by the DTA theorists do not satisfy. Then I state a solution to the inference problem that assumes a local immanentistic view of universals, a partial definition (...)
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  47. Going Through the Open Door Again: Counterfactual Versus Singularist Theories of Causation.D. M. Armstrong - 2001 - In Gerhard Preyer (ed.), Reality and Humean Supervenience: Essays on the Philosophy of David Lewis. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 163--176.
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  48. EI Realismo Nómico de Universales: Algunos Problemas (Nomical Universal Realism: Some Problems).Joan Pagès - 2001 - Theoria 16 (3):559-582.
    EI desarrollo de su teoría de las leyes como relaciones entre universales condujo a Armstrong a establecer un marco metafísico general mas complejo que el que sus anteriores trabajos presentaban. En este artículo se exponen los aspectos principales de la metafísica de particulares y universales exigida por la identificación original de Armstrong de las leyes con estados de cosas universales. Además, se presentan diversas dificultades que pueden hallarse en su propuesta, y algunas soluciones para las mismas. Los temas principales que (...)
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  49. Alien Individuals, Alien Universals, and Armstrong’s Combinatorial Theory of Possibility.Susan Schneider - 2001 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 39 (4):575-593.
    Armstrong's combinatorialism, in his own words, is the following project: "My central metaphysical hypothesis is that all there is is the world of space and time. It is this world which is to supply the actual elements for the totality of combinations. So what is proposed is a Naturalistic form of a combinatorial theory."2 Armstrong calls his central hypothesis "Naturalism." He intends his well−known theory of universals to satisfy this thesis. He now attempts to give a naturalistic theory of modality.
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  50. Comment on Smart.D. M. Armstrong - 1999 - In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 171--172.
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