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Capacities, explanation and the possibility of disunity

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Nancy Cartwright argues that so-called capacities, not universal laws of nature, best explain the often complex way events actually unfold. On this view, science would represent a world that is fundamentally "dappled", or disunified, and not, as orthodoxy would perhaps have it, a world unified by universal laws of nature. I argue, first, that the problem Cartwright raises for laws of nature seems to arise for capacities too, so why reject laws of nature? Second, that in so far as there is a problem, it concerns the role of counterfactuals in explanation; I then briefly propose a simple model of counterfactual explanation. Finally, I investigate how a sophisticated version of the regularity theory of laws of nature (that of Ramsey-Lewis) can be neutral between the empirical hypotheses that the world is unified, and that the world is disunified.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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