Lawful Humean explanations are not circular

Synthese 199 (3-4):6039-6059 (2021)
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A long-standing charge of circularity against regularity accounts of laws has recently seen a surge of renewed interest. The difficulty is that we appeal to laws to explain their worldly instances, but if these laws are descriptions of regularities in the instances then they are explained by those very instances. By the transitivity of explanation, we reach an absurd conclusion: instances of the laws explain themselves. While drawing a distinction between metaphysical and scientific explanations merely modifies the challenge rather than resolving it, I argue that it does point us towards an attractive solution. According to Humeanism, the most prominent form of the regularity view, laws capture information about important patterns in the phenomena. By invoking laws in scientific explanations, Humeans are showing how a given explanandum is subsumed into a more general pattern. Doing so both undermines a principle of transitivity that plays a crucial role in the circularity argument and draws out a central feature of the Humean approach to scientific explanation.



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Callum Duguid
Nottingham University

Citations of this work

Explanatory Pluralism in Normative Ethics.Pekka Väyrynen - forthcoming - Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics.
A new circularity in explanations by Humean laws of nature.Marc Lange - 2023 - Philosophical Studies 180 (3):1001-1016.
Are Humean Laws Flukes?Barry Loewer - forthcoming - In Michael Townsen Hicks, Siegfried Jaag & Christian Loew (eds.), Humean Laws for Human Agents. Oxford University Press.

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