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Reconsidering the Role of Bridge Laws In Inter-Theoretical Reductions


The present paper surveys the three most prominent accounts in contemporary debates over how sound reduction should be executed. The classical Nagelian model of reduction derives the laws of the target-theory from the laws of the base theory plus some auxiliary premises (so-called bridge laws) connecting the entities of the target and the base theory. The functional model of reduction emphasizes the causal definitions of the target entities referring to their causal relations to base entities. The new-wave model of reduction deduces not the original target theory but an analogous image of it, which remains inside the vocabulary of the base theory. One of the fundamental motivations of both the functional and the new-wave model is to show that bridge laws can be evaded. The present paper argues that bridge laws—in the original Nagelian sense—are inevitable, i.e. that none of these models can evade them. On the one hand, the functional model of reduction needs bridge laws, since its fundamental concept, functionalization, is an inter-theoretical process dealing with entities of two different theories. Theoretical entities of different theories (in a general heterogeneous case) do not have common causal relations, so the functionalization of an entity—without bridge laws—can only be executed in the framework of its own theory. On the other hand, the so-called images of the new-wave account cannot be constructed without the use of bridge laws. These connecting principles are needed to guide the process of deduction within the base theory; without them one would not be able to recognize if the deduced structure was an image of the target theory.

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The research presented in this paper was supported by the Sorabji Graduate Bursary Fund, King’s College London; Eötvös Scholarship from the Hungarian State; and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Scholarship, University of Edinburgh. The author is grateful to David Papineau, Yen-Yane Shih, Tihamér Margitay, George Kampis, Jonas Christensen and Jesper Kallestrup for their valuable commentaries.

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Correspondence to Peter Fazekas.

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Fazekas, P. Reconsidering the Role of Bridge Laws In Inter-Theoretical Reductions. Erkenn 71, 303–322 (2009).

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  • Causal Role
  • Base Theory
  • Theoretical Expression
  • Theoretical Term
  • Analogue Relation