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Laws of Nature: Regularity vs. Necessitarianism
Posted: 24 March 2010 12:01 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I just finished reading this entry on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/lawofnat/

The article is clearly in favor of the Regularist view over Necessitarianism. One thing that I haven’t been able to figure out about the Regularists view is how they address causality in science. From what I could tell, they only address the universe from a descriptive position (as opposed to a prescriptive, physically necessary, “nomic” or “nomological” one). That’s fine and all, but how would the Regularist account for prediction in science? For example, would a Regularist have anything to say to someone who wants to create a perpetual motion machine? From what I could tell (I may be slow here), they can only talk about what has or hasn’t occurred as of yet. They wouldn’t be able to tell someone that the attempt would be fruitless. This seems like a rather obvious objection here, so I can only guess that I must be missing something in my understanding. Surely someone has brought this up, unless there’s some flaw in my understanding of the Regularist position. Can anyone enlighten me on this?

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Posted: 24 March 2010 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Kaizen - 24 March 2010 12:01 AM

I just finished reading this entry on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/lawofnat/

The article is clearly in favor of the Regularist view over Necessitarianism. One thing that I haven’t been able to figure out about the Regularists view is how they address causality in science. From what I could tell, they only address the universe from a descriptive position (as opposed to a prescriptive, physically necessary, “nomic” or “nomological” one). That’s fine and all, but how would the Regularist account for prediction in science? For example, would a Regularist have anything to say to someone who wants to create a perpetual motion machine? From what I could tell (I may be slow here), they can only talk about what has or hasn’t occurred as of yet. They wouldn’t be able to tell someone that the attempt would be fruitless.

Correct, not with perfect certainty.  However a regularist isn’t hung up on perfect certainty and leaves that for tautologous endeavors like math.  But perfect certainty isn’t necessary to operate in daily life nor in science.  More to the point, we do science because we are always to some degree uncertain.  When we become very certain we call it a law - but we leave open that possibility that we could be wrong. Otherwise, we’d have established dogma.

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Posted: 24 March 2010 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Another way to look at this is the necessitarian is engaging in metaphysics (more specifically, ontology).  The regularist is restricting himself to empirical endeavors (more specifically, science).  Science produces provisional explanatory models which can be used to make predictions.

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Posted: 24 March 2010 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Agreed with the premise of Kaizen’s OP. I do think that when one makes predictions based on past evidence (induction) one is implicitly assuming a version of necessitarianism, or what I would call universals.

Of course, the necessitarian will also be saying that the best evidence is for this universal, or this necessity; we could always be wrong about that ...

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Posted: 24 March 2010 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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the PC apeman - 24 March 2010 04:26 AM

Correct, not with perfect certainty.  However a regularist isn’t hung up on perfect certainty and leaves that for tautologous endeavors like math.  But perfect certainty isn’t necessary to operate in daily life nor in science.  More to the point, we do science because we are always to some degree uncertain.  When we become very certain we call it a law - but we leave open that possibility that we could be wrong. Otherwise, we’d have established dogma.

Another way to look at this is the necessitarian is engaging in metaphysics (more specifically, ontology).  The regularist is restricting himself to empirical endeavors (more specifically, science).  Science produces provisional explanatory models which can be used to make predictions.

The way I took the article, Regularists can’t talk about predictions at all. I do agree that we can make predictions while still maintaining a tentativeness about our approach. I see no problem there. I can see the Necessitarian arguing that they can account for mistakes in predictions because we can make mistakes about accurately and completely identifying nomological law. We probably should also consider that science is based in ontology, epistemology and metaphysics. Though its primary concern is in empirical matters, we can’t even get to that point unless we accept certain ontological, epistemological and metaphysical assertions.

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Posted: 24 March 2010 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 24 March 2010 07:09 AM

Of course, the necessitarian will also be saying that the best evidence is for this universal, or this necessity; we could always be wrong about that ...

Just noticed that I repeated what you said here in my last post.

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Posted: 24 March 2010 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Kaizen - 24 March 2010 02:16 PM

We probably should also consider that science is based in ontology, epistemology and metaphysics.

This makes no sense to me.  Taking physics as an umbrella term for the whole of science, how could metaphysics (and its branch ontology) be considered as a basis for physics?  If anything, physics could be a basis for metaphysics.

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Posted: 24 March 2010 11:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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the PC apeman - 24 March 2010 08:09 PM

This makes no sense to me.  Taking physics as an umbrella term for the whole of science, how could metaphysics (and its branch ontology) be considered as a basis for physics?  If anything, physics could be a basis for metaphysics.

Physics and science in general have a necessary underlying philosophy that provide a context for it to make any sense whatsoever. This aids in the demarcation of science as well as helping establish why it should matter at all. Metaphysics must inevitably be addressed on some level (implicitly or otherwise) in order to get to the point of knowing what science is and why it holds any value. Sure, once physics gets off of the ground and provides reliable (justified) knowledge, it should be taken into consideration and lead to a type of symbiotic relationship.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Kaizen - 24 March 2010 11:07 PM
the PC apeman - 24 March 2010 08:09 PM

This makes no sense to me.  Taking physics as an umbrella term for the whole of science, how could metaphysics (and its branch ontology) be considered as a basis for physics?  If anything, physics could be a basis for metaphysics.

Physics and science in general have a necessary underlying philosophy that provide a context for it to make any sense whatsoever.

Yes, observation and reason.

This aids in the demarcation of science as well as helping establish why it should matter at all.

I think you’re drifting into ethics here.

Metaphysics must inevitably be addressed on some level (implicitly or otherwise) in order to get to the point of knowing what science is and why it holds any value.

I disagree but am open to argument for this position (though I see an unsettling parallel to theistic claims developing).

Say a group of curious people have observed swans for many years and, to date, all of the swans have been white.  Abby says the next swan they encounter will be white as well.  Barry says that the next one will be black and Charlie says the next will be bright blue. Debbie, a newcomer with no swan data at all, says the next swan will be white.  It seems to me that all four have made predictions and none of them have made any metaphysical claim. 

If I give you ABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABC and tell you its a portion of a larger string of characters, can you make any predictions about the larger string?  What metaphysics have you employed in doing so?

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Posted: 25 March 2010 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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the PC apeman - 25 March 2010 03:37 AM

I disagree but am open to argument for this position (though I see an unsettling parallel to theistic claims developing).

LOL, I certainly hope not. I’m one of the last people to sneak in a pseudo-god, but I guess we’ll see.

Metaphysics doesn’t play any really large roles in science/philosophy of, but an example is in the idea of causation. Whichever side one takes on the issue, they are addressing some degree of metaphysics. And I’ll go ahead and be so bold to claim that science concedes necessitarianism, ie induction, ie causation.

Say a group of curious people have observed swans for many years and, to date, all of the swans have been white.  Abby says the next swan they encounter will be white as well.  Barry says that the next one will be black and Charlie says the next will be bright blue. Debbie, a newcomer with no swan data at all, says the next swan will be white.  It seems to me that all four have made predictions and none of them have made any metaphysical claim. 

If I give you ABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABCABC and tell you its a portion of a larger string of characters, can you make any predictions about the larger string?  What metaphysics have you employed in doing so?

These trivial examples aside, induction is presumed by all functioning, living, conscious beings. Why is it that you look at your computer screen to read this post and type on the keyboard to respond, but not vice versa? Why are planes designed in specific ways? Why do large structures (buildings, bridges, etc) require the application of engineering knowledge?

Regarding the justification of induction, I believe I’ve come up with a non-circular justification which I’ve posted on these forums. Understandably, no one has read it. It’s fairly long and there’s no telling whether or not it’ll be worth the effort to read. The reason people have attempted to find a justification for induction is, plain and simple, because the majority of science (and practical, everyday knowledge in general) relies on it for it to be normative rather than simply descriptive.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Kaizen - 25 March 2010 11:18 AM

Metaphysics doesn’t play any really large roles in science/philosophy of, but an example is in the idea of causation. Whichever side one takes on the issue, they are addressing some degree of metaphysics. And I’ll go ahead and be so bold to claim that science concedes necessitarianism, ie induction, ie causation.

Causation, as I would use it, is the term for certain patterns or associations of empirical data.  Whenever X is observed, Y is then observed.  A conceptual, inductive model linking these data is referred to with the shorthand of ‘X causes Y.’  This is done without any speculation into, nor reliance upon, nor establishment of metaphysical claims. It is simply empirical.

These trivial examples aside, induction is presumed by all functioning, living, conscious beings. Why is it that you look at your computer screen to read this post and type on the keyboard to respond, but not vice versa? Why are planes designed in specific ways? Why do large structures (buildings, bridges, etc) require the application of engineering knowledge?

Regarding the justification of induction, I believe I’ve come up with a non-circular justification which I’ve posted on these forums. Understandably, no one has read it. It’s fairly long and there’s no telling whether or not it’ll be worth the effort to read. The reason people have attempted to find a justification for induction is, plain and simple, because the majority of science (and practical, everyday knowledge in general) relies on it for it to be normative rather than simply descriptive.

I have no reservations about using induction.  It produces desired results and I see no alternative for empirical data.  I don’t mean to devalue your work on induction but I’m having trouble seeing the relevance here.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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the PC apeman - 25 March 2010 01:50 PM

Causation, as I would use it, is the term for certain patterns or associations of empirical data.  Whenever X is observed, Y is then observed.  A conceptual, inductive model linking these data is referred to with the shorthand of ‘X causes Y.’  This is done without any speculation into, nor reliance upon, nor establishment of metaphysical claims. It is simply empirical…

...I have no reservations about using induction.  It produces desired results and I see no alternative for empirical data.  I don’t mean to devalue your work on induction but I’m having trouble seeing the relevance here.

So you don’t see that by using prediction (induction), you’re conceding a form of necessitarianism? A purely descriptive account of something by definition says nothing about prediction, unless of course you’re describing a “nomological law.” By using causation for prediction, you’re overlapping into metaphysical territory.

The point was that to concede causation is to concede a type of necessitarianism and therefore overlap into metaphysics. Without which science cannot get off of the ground. Your induction questions in your last post were beginning to delve into justification for specific inductive inferences, so I mentioned the thread I started along with why it needs to be justified.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 03:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Kaizen - 25 March 2010 03:06 PM

So you don’t see that by using prediction (induction), you’re conceding a form of necessitarianism?

Correct.  I do not see that concession.  Can you help me to see it your way?  As I see it, both the regularist and the necessitarian create explanatory/predictive models through reason applied to evidence, the most convincing we call laws.  The regularist stops here.  The necessitarian projects that model into an ontology.  I don’t see the benefit of doing that.

By using causation for prediction, you’re overlapping into metaphysical territory.

You keep asserting this but are not convincing me.  How or where do you see my definition of causation overlapping into metaphysics?

Your induction questions in your last post were beginning to delve into justification for specific inductive inferences, so I mentioned the thread I started along with why it needs to be justified.

Obviously I intended you to use induction but I don’t need you to justify doing so.  My goal was to provide examples so that you could point out the metaphysical content or overlap.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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the PC apeman - 25 March 2010 03:24 PM

Correct.  I do not see that concession.  Can you help me to see it your way?  As I see it, both the regularist and the necessitarian create explanatory/predictive models through reason applied to evidence, the most convincing we call laws.  The regularist stops here.  The necessitarian projects that model into an ontology.  I don’t see the benefit of doing that.

Strictly speaking, causation is never witnessed. We have only witnessed correlates. David Hume covers this in his problem of induction. To invoke causation is to do more than simply describe an event. It is also generally considered that causation is a matter of metaphysics:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-metaphysics/

From wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysics):

The metaphysician also attempts to clarify the notions by which people understand the world, including existence, objecthood, property, space, time, causality, and possibility.

Obviously I intended you to use induction but I don’t need you to justify doing so.  My goal was to provide examples so that you could point out the metaphysical content or overlap.

Science requires induction, which requires causation, which overlaps into metaphysics (as seen above). I saw the swan question as leading into a discussion of why one might predict a white swan over others, but maybe I read too far into the post.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 05:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Kaizen - 25 March 2010 04:00 PM

Strictly speaking, causation is never witnessed. We have only witnessed correlates.

Are you claiming there is more to causation than the observed correlation?  I’m not.  (Neither am I claiming that there isn’t more.)  Did you read my definition?  Do you find overlap with metaphysics in my definition of causation?  I don’t see it.

David Hume covers this in his problem of induction. To invoke causation is to do more than simply describe an event. It is also generally considered that causation is a matter of metaphysics:

Perhaps, but not by me.  You may engage with these references and authors rather than me if you wish.

Science requires induction, which requires causation, which overlaps into metaphysics (as seen above).

Assigning me arguments that I do not hold is not convincing me to accept this assertion you keep making.  Sorry.

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Posted: 25 March 2010 07:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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the PC apeman - 25 March 2010 05:58 PM

Are you claiming there is more to causation than the observed correlation?  I’m not.  (Neither am I claiming that there isn’t more.)  Did you read my definition?  Do you find overlap with metaphysics in my definition of causation?  I don’t see it.

“Correlation” was actually an inappropriate description on my part. We can only observe events occurring and cannot see any relationship other than coincidence. We may have to agree to disagree here, but the fact is, your acceptance of causation (and/or correlation, whichever you prefer) falls outside of a purely descriptive account. You’re implicitly saying that when one billiard ball hits another, the 2nd billiard ball will react according to physics, by the very act that you can maintain a conversation with me through the internet. You can say that that’s not “absolute”, which I would agree with since fallible minds probably cannot make infallible statements.

Perhaps, but not by me.  You may engage with these references and authors rather than me if you wish.

I’m simply bringing up relevant references regarding the topic at hand. If we were discussing what topics fall under the category of “biology”, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to refer to a book on biology or see what the general consensus among biologists is. If you tell me that cells don’t fall under biology and I show you a biology book that contradicts that claim and you tell me that I’m not talking about your usage, that wouldn’t make any sense. Feel free to have the last word on this, but you’re failing to see the implications of your position.

[ Edited: 25 March 2010 07:13 PM by Kaizen ]
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