Defending deductive nomology


In recent years philosophy of science has seen a resurgence of interest in metaphysical issues, especially those concerning laws, causation,and explanation. Although this book takes only the latter two words for its title, it is also about laws of nature. It is divided into three sections: the first is on causation, the second is on laws, and the third is on explanation: this is entirely appropriate because the debates about them are closely related. Ever since Hume argued that causation is nothing more than regularities, laws have been more respectable than causes in philosophy. Perhaps this is also because science is replete with specially named laws which seem to play a central role in theories and explanations. Yet, as many philosophers have recently pointed out, contrary to Russell’s famous pronouncement that causation is a relic of a bygone age (quoted p. 3 by Psillos), the contemporary special sciences are very much concerned with the identification and investigation of all manner of causal structures. This raises the question of whether the apparent causal powers attributed to kinds in the special sciences are anything over and above a way of talking about the result of the operations of physical laws governing their microconstituents. Hence the logical empiricist’s project of showing how the laws of the special sciences reduce to those of physics. On their view, explanation, and in particular causal explanation, is nothing more than argument using the laws of nature as premises. However, this coveringlaw model of explanation has been subjected to intense criticism, and there have been attempts to construct alternatives that rely on the idea that to explain an event is to cite its real cause, where this cause need not be subsumed under any law. Since the demise of logical empiricism, or at least the waning of its influence, there has been a proliferation of theories about laws, causation and explanation, many of which differ radically from one another.



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