Explaining the modal force of natural laws

  • Andreas BartelsEmail author
Paper in Philosophy of the Natural Sciences
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. EPSA17: Selected papers from the biannual conference in Exeter


In this paper, I will defend the thesis that fundamental natural laws are distinguished from accidental empirical generalizations neither by metaphysical necessity (e.g. Ellis 1999, 2001; Bird in Analysis, 65(2), 147–155, 2005, 2007) nor by contingent necessitation (Armstrong 1983). The only sort of modal force that distinguishes natural laws, I will argue, arises from the peculiar physical property of mutual independence of elementary interactions exemplifying the laws. Mutual independence of elementary interactions means that their existence and their nature do not depend in any way on which other interactions presently occur. It is exactly this general physical property of elementary interactions in the actual world that provides natural laws with their specific modal force and grounds the experience of nature’s ‘recalcitrance’. Thus, the modal force of natural laws is explained by contingent non-modal properties of nature. In the second part of the paper, I deal with some alleged counterexamples to my approach: constraint laws, compositional laws, symmetry principles and conservation laws. These sorts of laws turn out to be compatible with my approach: constraint laws and compositional laws do not represent the dynamics of interaction-types by themselves, but only as constitutive parts of a complete set of equations, whereas symmetry principles and conservation laws do not represent any specific dynamics, but only impose general constraints on possible interactions.


Modal force Natural laws Elementary interactions Necessity 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Explaining the Modal Force of Natural LawsUniversity of BonnBonnGermany

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