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Marc Lange, University of North Carolina

Friday, November 9, 2007
5:00 AM
2306 Mason Hall

Laws and meta-laws of nature

Abstract: How can we take the apparent difference between laws and accidents in their behavior under counterfactual suppositions and use it to reveal what makes natural laws special? That is the challenge that I will take up in this paper. After explaining how I propose to meet this challenge, I will examine some of the payoffs of my proposal. I will use the laws' special relation to counterfactuals to account for the law's necessity; I will explain how the laws, despite being contingent, qualify as possessing a species of the same genus as, say, logical necessity. I will also use my proposal to account for the laws' relation to objective chances, the laws' character as a unified system, and the laws' explanatory power.

Finally, I will turn to meta-laws: laws of nature concerning the laws of nature. The most well-known meta-laws are symmetry principles in physics. I will explain how the relation between first-order laws and counterfactual conditionals is replicated one level higher in the relation between meta-laws and counterfactual conditionals. That relation distinguishes meta-laws from coincidental regularities among the laws.