The oldest solution to the circularity problem for Humeanism about the laws of nature

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Abstract

According to Humeanism about the laws, the laws of nature are nothing over and above certain kinds of regularities about particular facts (the “Humean mosaic”). Humeanism has often been accused of circularity: according to scientific practice laws often explain their instances, but on the Humean view they also reduce to the mosaic, which includes those instances. In this paper I formulate the circularity problem in a way that avoids a number of controversial assumptions routinely taken for granted in the literature, and against which many extant responses are therefore ineffective. I then propose a solution that denies the alleged Humean commitment that laws are explained by their instances. The solution satisfies three desiderata that other solutions don’t: it provides independent motivation against the idea that Humean laws are explained by their instances; it specifies the sense in which Humean laws are nonetheless “nothing over and above” their instances; and it gives an alternative account of what does explain the laws, if not their instances. This solution, I will argue, is not only the simplest but also the oldest one: it appeals only to tools and theses whose first appearance predates the earliest statements of the circularity problem itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8933-8953
Number of pages21
JournalSynthese
Volume198
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Best system theory
  • Circularity
  • Explanation
  • Humeanism
  • Laws of nature
  • Theoretical virtues
  • Unification

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