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Beebee, Helen. The non-governing conception of laws of nature
2000, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56: 571-594.
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Added by: Jamie Collin

Abstract: Recently several thought experiments have been developed (by John Carroll amongst others) which have been alleged to refute the Ramsey-Lewis view of laws of nature. The paper aims to show that two such thought experiments fail to establish that the Ramsey-Lewis view is false, since they presuppose a conception of laws of nature that is radically at odds with the Humean conception of laws embodied by the Ramsey- Lewis view. In particular, the thought experiments presuppose that laws of nature govern the behavior of objects. The paper argues that the claim that laws govern should not be regarded as a conceptual truth, and shows how the governing conception of laws manifests itself in the thought experiments. Hence the thought experiments do not constitute genuine counter-examples to the Ramsey-Lewis view, since the Humean is free to reject the conception of laws which the thought experiments presuppose.

Comment: Good primary or secondary reading for advanced undergraduate or graduate philosophy of science or metaphysics courses; or any course where laws of nature are relevant (for instance, a course considering the contemporary impact of Hume).

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Cartwright, Nancy. The Dappled World: A study of the Boundaries of Science
1999, Cambridge University Press.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez

Publisher’s Note: It is often supposed that the spectacular successes of our modern mathematical sciences support a lofty vision of a world completely ordered by one single elegant theory. In this book Nancy Cartwright argues to the contrary. When we draw our image of the world from the way modern science works – as empiricism teaches us we should – we end up with a world where some features are precisely ordered, others are given to rough regularity and still others behave in their own diverse ways. This patchwork makes sense when we realise that laws are very special productions of nature, requiring very special arrangements for their generation. Combining classic and newly written essays on physics and economics, The Dappled World carries important philosophical consequences and offers serious lessons for both the natural and the social sciences.

Comment: Really important work in the topic of the laws of nature and scientific modelling. The book requires a pretty thorough understanding of both philosophical method and matters of science. Recommended for postgraduate courses in philosophy of science.

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Cartwright, Nancy. Where Do Laws of Nature Come From?
1997, Dialectica 51(1): 65-78.
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Added by: Jamie Collin

Summary: Cartwright explains and defends the view that causal capacities are more fundamental than laws of nature. She does this by considering scientific practice: the kind of knowledge required to make experimental setups and predictions is knowledge of the causal capacities of the entities in those systems, not knowledge of laws of nature.

Comment: A good introduction to Cartwright's views and the position that causal capacities are real and more fundamental than laws of nature. Useful reading for both undergraduate and graduate courses in philosophy of science and metaphysics.

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D. Mitchell, Sandra. Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity and Policy
2009, The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez

Publisher’s Note: In Unsimple Truths, Sandra Mitchell argues that the long-standing scientific and philosophical deference to reductive explanations founded on simple universal laws, linear causal models, and predict-and-act strategies fails to accommodate the kinds of knowledge that many contemporary sciences are providing about the world. She advocates, instead, for a new understanding that represents the rich, variegated, interdependent fabric of many levels and kinds of explanation that are integrated with one another to ground effective prediction and action. Mitchell draws from diverse fields including psychiatry, social insect biology, and studies of climate change to defend “integrative pluralism” – a theory of scientific practices that makes sense of how many natural and social sciences represent the multi-level, multi-component, dynamic structures they study. She explains how we must, in light of the now-acknowledged complexity and contingency of biological and social systems, revise how we conceptualize the world, how we investigate the world, and how we act in the world.

Comment: The first five chapters, dealing with scientific methodology and epistemology could serve for undergraduate courses in general philosophy of science. The last chapter dedicated to integrative pluralism, is more specialized and thus more suitable for postgraduate courses.

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Demarest, Heather. Fundamental Properties and the Laws of Nature
2015, Philosophy Compass 10(5) 224-344.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez

Abstract: Fundamental properties and the laws of nature go hand in hand: mass and gravitation, charge and electromagnetism, spin and quantum mechanics. So, it is unsurprising that one’s account of fundamental properties affects one’s view of the laws of nature and vice versa. In this essay,the author surveys a variety of recent attempts to provide a joint account of the fundamental properties and the laws of nature. Many of these accounts are new and unexplored. Some of them posit surprising entities, such as counterfacts. Other accounts posit surprising laws of nature, such as instantaneous laws that constrain the initial configuration of particles. These exciting developments challenge our assumptions about our basic ontology and provide fertile ground for further exploration.

Comment: The article introduces in a simple way some fundamental concepts such as ‘law of nature’, ‘properties’, the notion of ‘categorical’ and ‘dispositional’ or the distinction between the governing and the systems approaches. It could serve as an introduction for those undergraduates that have never heard of these concepts before, or as a further reading for those in need of clarification. Some examples of modern fundamental physics are used as examples.

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Massimi, Michela, John Peacock. The origins of the universe: laws, testability and observability in cosmology
2014, in M. Massimi (ed.), Philosophy and the Sciences for Everyone. Routledge.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez

Summary: How did our universe form and evolve? Was there really a Big Bang, and what came before it? This chapter takes the reader through the history of contemporary cosmology and looks at how scientists arrived at the current understanding of our universe. It explores the history of astronomy, with the nebular hypothesis back in the eighteenth century, and in more recent times, Einstein’s general relativity and the ensuing cosmological models. Finally, it explains the current Standard Model and early universe cosmology as well as the experimental evidence behind it.

Comment: This chapter could be used as an introductory reading to philosophy of cosmology. It provides a general overview of the history of cosmology and of the philosophical problems (laws, uniqueness, observability) that stood in the way of cosmology becoming a science. It is recommendable for undergraduate courses.

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Mitchell, Sandra. Dimensions of scienctific law
2000, Philosophy of Science 67(2): 242-265.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez

Abstract: Biological knowledge does not fit the image of science that philosophers have developed. Many argue that biology has no laws. Here I criticize standard normative accounts of law and defend an alternative, pragmatic approach. I argue that a multidimensional conceptual framework should replace the standard dichotomous law/ accident distinction in order to display important differences in the kinds of causal structure found in nature and the corresponding scientific representations of those structures. To this end I explore the dimensions of stability, strength, and degree of abstraction that characterize the variety of scientific knowledge claims found in biology and other sciences.

Comment: Really interesting paper that examines the nature of scientific laws by focusing on the case of laws in biology. It would be recommendable to read Carnap's analysis of the acceptance of different linguistic forms within science before reading this article. Could be used as a paper for a senior undergraduate course or for postgraduate courses in Philosophy of Science.

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Overall, Christine. Miracles as Evidence Against the Existence of God
1985, The Southern Journal of Philosophy 23(3): 3447-353.
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Added by: Emily Paul, Contributed by: Helen De Cruz

Abstract: An assumption in debates about the philosophical significance of miracles is that if a miracle (a violation of natural law or a permanently inexplicable event) were to occur, it would be evidence for the existence of the Christian God. The paper explores reservations by several philosophers about this connection between God and miracles, and presents arguments to show that if a miracle would occur there would be good reason to deny that God exists.

Comment: Great text that would spark a lot of debate. Could be a core reading for a unit on miracles or on agnosticism/atheism. If the latter, this would be particularly useful if miracles had already been discussed. Could be discussed alongside Hume on Miracles.

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