How (not) to think about idealisation and ceteris paribus -laws

Synthese 167 (1):183-201 (2009)
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"Semantic dispositionalism" is the theory that a speaker's meaning something by a given linguistic symbol is determined by her dispositions to use the symbol in a certain way. According to an objection by Kripke, further elaborated in Kusch :156–163, 2005), semantic dispositionalism involves ceteris paribus-clauses and idealisations, such as unbounded memory, that deviate from standard scientific methodology. I argue that Kusch misrepresents both ceteris paribus-laws and idealisation, neither of which factually "approximate" the behaviour of agents or the course of events, but, rather, identify and isolate nature's component parts and processes. An analysis of current results in cognitive psychology vindicates the idealisations involved and certain counterfactual assumptions in science generally. In particular, results suggest that there can be causal continuity between the dispositional structure of actual objects and that of highly idealised objects. I conclude by suggesting that we can assimilate ceteris paribus-laws with disposition ascriptions insofar as they involve identical idealising assumptions.

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Author's Profile

Robert Kowalenko
University of Witwatersrand

References found in this work

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement.Nancy Cartwright - 1989 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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