Philosophical Studies

, Volume 176, Issue 10, pp 2657–2679 | Cite as

Humean laws, explanatory circularity, and the aim of scientific explanation

  • Chris DorstEmail author


One of the main challenges confronting Humean accounts of natural law is that Humean laws appear to be unable to play the explanatory role of laws in scientific practice. The worry is roughly that if the laws are just regularities in the particular matters of fact (as the Humean would have it), then they cannot also explain the particular matters of fact, on pain of circularity. Loewer (Philoso Stud 160:115–137, 2012) has defended Humeanism, arguing that this worry only arises if we fail to distinguish between scientific and metaphysical explanations. However, Lange (Philoso Stud 165:255–261, 2013, Synthese 195:1337–1353, 2018) has argued that scientific and metaphysical explanations are linked by a transitivity principle, which would undercut Loewer’s defense and re-ignite the circularity worry for the Humean. I argue here that the Humean has antecedent reasons to doubt that there are any systematic connections between scientific and metaphysical explanations. The reason is that the Humean should think that scientific and metaphysical explanation have disparate aims, and therefore that neither form of explanation is beholden to the other in its pronouncements about what explains what. Consequently, the Humean has every reason to doubt that Lange’s transitivity principle obtains.


Laws of nature Humeanism Lewis Scientific explanation Metaphysical explanation Transitivity 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington University in St. LouisSalemUSA

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