Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Metaphysics, laws, and natural kinds: Minimalist approaches

Stephen Mumford and Matthew Tugby (eds): Metaphysics and science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, vii+244pp, £40 HB

  • 161 Accesses

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Note that Mumford (2012) examined the relationship between metaphysics and science. His views consistently favour the development of a maximalist metaphysics of science over a minimalist one. However, his distinction between armchair metaphysics and metaphysics of science becomes inevitably blurry. He claims, for instance, that a priori analytic metaphysicians believe that metaphysical theorising goes deeper than any other science in the knowledge of reality by merely exercising a priori reasoning. According to him, philosophers in this tradition address problems such as the nature of “substances, properties, changes, causes, possibilities, time, personal identity, nothingness, and emergence” (2012, p. 1). It suffices to say this in order to make my point clear: metaphysicians in this tradition endorse the view that the epistemic success of metaphysics goes beyond the achievement of empirical and theoretical scientific research, even though the history of both modern science and metaphysics deliver a good deal evidence for the contrary.

  2. 2.

    This is a very insightful remark, since most traditional philosophical accounts of laws have overlooked this feature of scientific laws. There are, however, in the literature some brilliant exceptions, like Smart’s (1985) cosmic coincidence approach to laws.


  1. Agassi, J. 1975. Science in flux. Dordrecht/Boston: Springer.

  2. Agassi, J. 1996. The place of metaphysics in the historiography of science. Foundations of Physics 26(4): 483–499.

  3. Armstrong, David. 1999. The causal theory of properties: properties according to Shoemaker, Ellis and others. Philosophical Topics 26: 25–37.

  4. Boyd, Richard. 1991. Realism, anti-foundationalism and the enthusiasm for natural kinds. Philosophical Studies 61: 127–148.

  5. Cartwright, Nancy. 1983. How the laws of physics lie. New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press.

  6. Cartwright, Nancy. 1999. The dappled world. A study of the boundaries of science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  7. Dupre, John. 1993. The disorder of things. Metaphysical foundations of the disunity of science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  8. Ellis, Brian. 2001. Scientific essentialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  9. Esfeld, Michael. 2007. Metaphysics of science: between metaphysics and science. Grazer Philosophysche Studien 74: 199–213.

  10. Giere, Ronald. 1999. Science without laws. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.

  11. Ladyman, James, Don Ross, David Spurret, and John Collier. 2007. Every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  12. LaPorte, John. 2004. Natural kinds and conceptual change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  13. Lewis, David. 1999. Papers in metaphysics and epistemology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  14. Maudlin, Tim. 2007. The metaphysics within physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  15. Mumford, Stephen. 2002. Laws in nature. New York/London: Routledge.

  16. Mumford, Stephen. 2012. Metaphysics. A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  17. Paul, Laurie A. 2006. In defence of essentialism. Philosophical Perspectives 20: 333–372.

  18. Quine, Willard v. O. 1960. Word and object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  19. Quine, Willard v. O. 1969. Ontological relativity and other essays. New York: Columbia University Press.

  20. Smart, Jack. 1985. Laws of nature and cosmic coincidences. The Philosophical Quarterly 35(140): 272–280.

  21. Soto, Cristian. 2013. Looking for a realist metaphysics of science. Metascience 22: 289–292.

  22. Soto, Cristian. 2014. The aim and scope of scientific metaphysics. Metascience 23: 117–123.

  23. Van Fraassen, Bas. 2002. The empirical stance. New Heaven/London: Yale University Press.

  24. Wartofsky, Marx. 1967. Metaphysics as heuristic for science. In Boston studies in the philosophy of science, vol. III, eds. R. Cohen, and M. Wartofsky, 123–172. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

  25. Weinberg, Stephen. 1994. Dreams of a final theory. The scientist’s search for the ultimate laws of nature. New York: Vintage.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Cristian Soto.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Soto, C. Metaphysics, laws, and natural kinds: Minimalist approaches. Metascience 24, 321–331 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11016-014-9932-5

Download citation