, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 407-423

Who's Afraid of Ceteris-Paribus Laws? Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Them

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Abstract

Ceteris-paribus clauses are nothing to worry about; aceteris-paribus qualifier is not poisonously indeterminate in meaning. Ceteris-paribus laws teach us that a law need not be associated straightforwardly with a regularity in the manner demanded by regularity analyses of law and analyses of laws as relations among universals. This lesson enables us to understand the sense in which the laws of nature would have been no different under various counterfactual suppositions — a feature even of those laws that involve no ceteris-paribus qualification and are actually associated with exceptionless regularities. Ceteris-paribus generalizations of an‘inexact science’ qualify as laws of that science in virtue of their distinctive relation to counterfactuals: they form a set that is stable for the purposes of that field. (Though an accident may possess tremendous resilience under counterfactual suppositions, the laws are sharply distinguished from the accidents in that the laws are collectively as resilient as they could logically possibly be.) The stability of an inexact science's laws may involve their remaining reliable even under certain counterfactual suppositions violating fundamental laws of physics. The ceteris-paribus laws of an inexact science may thus possess a kind of necessity lacking in the fundamental laws of physics. A nomological explanation supplied by an inexact science would then be irreducible to an explanation of the same phenomenon at the level of fundamental physics. Island biogeography is used to illustrate how a special science could be autonomous in this manner.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.