Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 2, pp 433–443 | Cite as

Humean laws and circular explanation

  • Michael Townsen Hicks
  • Peter van Elswyk


Humeans are often accused of accounting for natural laws in such a way that the fundamental entities that are supposed to explain the laws circle back and explain themselves. Loewer (Philos Stud 160(1):115–137, 2012) contends this is only the appearance of circularity. When it comes to the laws of nature, the Humean posits two kinds of explanation: metaphysical and scientific. The circle is then cut because the kind of explanation the laws provide for the fundamental entities is distinct from the kind of explanation the entities provide for the laws. Lange (Philos Stud 164(1):255–261, 2013) has replied that Loewer’s defense is a distinction without a difference. As Lange sees it, Humeanism still produces a circular explanation because scientific explanations are transmitted across metaphysical explanations. We disagree that metaphysical explanation is such a ready conduit of scientific explanation. In what follows, we clear Humeanism of all charges of circularity by exploring how different kinds of explanation can and cannot interact. Our defense of Humeanism begins by presenting the circularity objection and detailing how it relies on an implausible principle about the transitivity of explanation. Then, we turn to Lange’s (Philos Stud 164(1):255–261, 2013) transitivity principle for explanation to argue that it fairs no better. With objections neutral to the debate between Humeanism and anti-Humeanism, we will show that his principle is not able to make the circularity objection sound.


Laws Humeanism Explanation Transitivity 



For helpful comments and/or conversation, we thank Thomas Blanchard, Marco Dees, Erik Hoversten, Barry Loewer, Jonathan Schaffer, Alex Skiles, Christopher Weaver, Tobias Wilsch, and participants in the philosophy of science and metaphysics reading groups at Rutgers University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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