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Humean supervenience and best-system laws

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Abstract:

David Lewis has proposed an analysis of lawhood in terms of membership of a system of regularities optimizing simplicity and strength in information content. This article studies his proposal against the broader background of the project of Humean supervenience. In particular, I claim that, in Lewis's account of lawhood, his intuition about small deviations from a given law in nearby worlds (in order to avoid backtracking and epiphenomena) leads to the conclusion that laws do not support (certain) counterfactuals and do not bestow nomic necessity on (certain) facts induced by these laws. Support of counterfactuals and nomic necessity, however, are widely held to be important aspects of the concept of lawhood. In my view, therefore, it is not possible to abandon these criteria in any satisfactory analysis of the notion of laws of nature. In a final section, I suggest that the whole project of Humean supervenience is misleading. It does not sufficiently take notice of the important role that reasoning about contrary-to-fact situations plays in modern scientific practice.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02698590220145089

Publication date: 2002-07-01

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