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A pragmatist challenge to constraint laws

Andersen, Holly (2018) A pragmatist challenge to constraint laws. Metascience, 27 (1). pp. 19-25. ISSN 0815-0796

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Abstract

Meta-laws, including conservation laws, are laws about the form of more specific, phenomenological, laws. Lange distinguishes between meta-laws as coincidences, where the meta-law happens to hold because the more specific laws hold, and meta-laws as constraints to which subsumed laws must conform. He defends this distinction as a genuine metaphysical possibility, such that metaphysics alone ought not to rule one way or another, leaving it an open question for physics. Lange’s distinction marks a genuine difference in how a given meta-law can be used in explanations. Yet, I argue, it is not simply an empirical matter as to whether a given conservation law is a constraint or a coincidence. There is no set matter of fact about the world that determines this, and physics alone will not be able to return a determinate verdict on a law-by-law basis, even while there is a genuine difference between any given law as constraint and as coincidence. Rather, the difference marks different ways of treating the same law in a theoretical setting: by shifting the explanatory context, treating the same law as part of a different mathematical structure, it can be a genuine constraint and a genuine coincidence. The difference between constraint and coincidence relates to the way in which we use a law in specific theoretical and explanatory settings. Because the same law can appear in multiple contexts, it can be used in these genuinely different ways, without itself ‘‘really’’ being either one or the other as some atomistic empirical fact. Conservation laws as constraints and conservation laws as coincidences are both genuine theoretical roles that the same law can play. I conclude by considering how this pragmatist construal of constraints versus coincidences reveals how two parts of Lange’s work in this section of the book are unexpectedly independent of one another.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Andersen, Hollyholly_andersen@sfu.ca0000-0002-7950-8186
Keywords: pragmatism, constraints, Lange, laws
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Laws of Nature
Depositing User: Dr. Holly Andersen
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2022 04:08
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2022 04:08
Item ID: 20407
Journal or Publication Title: Metascience
Publisher: Springer
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11016-017-0251-5
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Laws of Nature
Date: 2018
Page Range: pp. 19-25
Volume: 27
Number: 1
ISSN: 0815-0796
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20407

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