Do Statistical Laws Solve the ‘Problem of Provisos’?
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In their influential paper “Ceteris Paribus, There is No Problem of Provisos”, Earman and Roberts (Synthese 118:439–478, 1999) propose to interpret the non-strict generalizations of the special sciences as statistical generalizations about correlations. I call this view the “statistical account”. Earman and Roberts claim that statistical generalizations are not qualified by “non-lazy” ceteris paribus conditions. The statistical account is an attractive view, since it looks exactly like what everybody wants: it is a simple and intelligible theory of special science laws without the need for mysterious ceteris paribus conditions. I present two challenges to the statistical account. According to the first challenge, the statistical account does not get rid of so-called “non-lazy” ceteris paribus conditions. This result undermines one of the alleged and central advantages of the statistical account. The second challenge is that the statistical account, qua general theory of special science laws, is weakened by the fact that idealized law statements resist a purely statistical interpretation.
KeywordsStatistical Generalization Special Science Objective Probability Statistical Account Actual Correlation
I am grateful to Laura Franklin-Hall, Andreas Hüttemann, Marc Lange, Barry Loewer, Edouard Machery, John T. Roberts, Michael Strevens, and Jonathan Schaffer for extremely helpful conversations about the draft of this paper. Thanks to Maria Kronfeldner for, among other fruitful criticisms, drawing my attention to several non-trivial hidden premises in the debate on cp-laws, of which I was unaware at the time. Thanks for the indispensable intellectual and moral support of the Bürogemeinschaft in Cologne: Siegfried Jaag and Markus Schrenk. I am also indebted to audiences in Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Pittsburgh, and to two anonymous referees. Especially, I would like to thank Matthias Unterhuber for his dedication and his professional attitude in the process of editing this special issue. Last but certainly not least, thanks to Hannes Leitgeb for supporting Matthias’ and my editorial work.
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