Laws of Nature Don't Have Ceteris Paribus Clauses, They Are Ceteris Paribus Clauses

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Abstract

Laws of nature are properly (if controversially) conceived as abstract entities playing a governing role in the physical universe. Dispositionalists typically hold that laws of nature are not real, or at least are not fundamental, and that regularities in the physical universe are grounded in the causal powers of objects. By contrast, I argue that dispositionalism implies nomic realism: since at least some dispositions have ceteris paribus clauses incorporating uninstantiated universals, and these ceteris paribus clauses help to determine their dispositions' ranges of manifestation, there are indeed abstracta which play a governing role in the physical universe. After addressing several objections (including the objection that such ‘laws’ lack sufficient independence/externality from the dispositions to count as genuinely governing), I go on to consider some broader implications of this conclusion for other debates in metaphysics and the philosophy of science.

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