, Volume 79, Supplement 10, pp 1833–1847 | Cite as

Do Ceteris Paribus Laws Exist? A Regularity-Based Best System Analysis

  • Matthias UnterhuberEmail author


This paper argues that ceteris paribus (cp) laws exist based on a Lewisian best system analysis of lawhood (BSA). Furthermore, it shows that a BSA faces a second trivialization problem besides the one identified by Lewis. The first point concerns an argument against cp laws by Earman and Roberts. The second point aims to help making some assumptions of the BSA explicit. To address the second trivialization problem, a restriction in terms of natural logical constants is proposed that allows one to describe regularities, as specified by basic generics (e.g. ‘birds can fly’) and universals (e.g. ‘all birds can fly’). It is argued that cp laws rather than strict laws might be a part of the the best system of such a regularity-based BSA, since sets of cp laws can be both (a) simpler and (b) stronger when reconstructed as generic non-material conditionals. Yet, if sets of cp laws might be a part of the best system of a BSA and thus qualify as proper laws of nature, it seems reasonable to conclude that at least some cp laws qualify as proper laws of nature.


Logical Constant Indicative Conditional Trivialization Problem Natural Language Generic Bare Plural 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was carried out as a part of the DFG Research Unit FOR 1063 and supported by the DFG Grant SCHU1566/7-1. I thank Alexander Reutlinger, Markus Schrenk, Ludwig Fahrbach, Gerhard Schurz, Paul Thorn, Nancy Cartwright, Michael Strevens, Wolfgang Spohn, Kevin Kelly, Vera Hoffmann-Kolss, and Andreas Hüttemann for their valuable comments. In addition, I greatfully acknowledge two anonymous reviewers for their substantial comments, which pushed me towards a clearer and more thorough exposition of the present ideas.


  1. Adams, E. W. (1970). Subjunctive and indicative conditionals. Foundations of Language, 6, 89–94.Google Scholar
  2. Asher, N., & Pelletier, F. J. (2012). More truths about generic truth. In A. Mari, C. Beyssade, & F. del Prete (Eds.), Genericity (pp. 312–333). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brewka, G. (1991). Nonmonotonic reasoning. Logical foundations of commonsense. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Callender, C., & Cohen, J. (2010). Special sciences, conspiracy and the better best system account of lawhood. Erkenntnis, 73, 427–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cartwright, N. (2002). In favor of laws that are not ceteris paribus after all. Erkenntnis, 57, 425–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohen, J., & Callender, C. (2009). A Better Best System Account of lawhood. Philosophical Studies, 145, 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Delgrande, J. P. (1988). An approach to default reasoning based on a first-order conditional logic. Revised report. Artificial Intelligence, 36, 63–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Delgrande, J. P. (1998). On first-order conditional logics. Artificial Intelligence, 105, 105–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Earman, J., Roberts, J., & Smith, S. (2002). Ceteris paribus lost. Erkenntnis, 57, 281–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Earman, J., & Roberts, J. T. (1999). Ceteris paribus, there is no problem of provisos. Synthese, 118, 439–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fodor, J. A. (1991). You can fool some people all of the time, everything else being equal; hedged laws and psychological explanations. Mind, 100, 19–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hollander, M. A., Gelman, S. A., & Star, J. (2002). Children’s interpretation of generic noun phrases. Developmental Psychology, 38, 883–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hüttemann, A. (2014). Ceteris Paribus Laws in Physics. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9637-6.
  14. Lakatos, I. (1970). Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In I. Lakatos & A. Musgrave (Eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (pp. 91–195). Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lange, M. (1993). Natural laws and the problem of provisos. Erkenntnis, 38, 233–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Leslie, S.-J. (2008). Generics. Cognition and acquisition. The Philosophical Review, 117, 1–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Lewis, D. (1986). Postscript to “A subjectivist’s guide to objective chance”. In Philosophical Papers (Vol. 2, pp. 114–132). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Lewis, D. (1998). Adverbs of quantification. Papers in philosophical logic (pp. 5–20). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lewis, D. (1999a). Humean supervenience debugged. Papers in metaphysics and epistemology (pp. 224–247). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lewis, D. (1999b). New work for a theory of universals. Papers in metaphysics and epistemology (pp. 8–55). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nickel, B. (2009). Generics and the ways of normality. Linguistics and Philosophy, 31, 629–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nickel, B. (2014). The role of kinds in the semantics of ceteris paribus laws. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9637-6.
  24. Pearl, J. (1988). Probabilistic reasoning in intelligent systems. Networks of plausible inference. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. (Revised Second Printing).Google Scholar
  25. Pelletier, F. J., & Asher, N. (1997). Generics and defaults. In J. van Benthem & A. ter Meulen (Eds.), Handbook of logic and language (pp. 1125–1177). Amsterdam: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pemberton, J., & Cartwright, N. (2014). Ceteris paribus laws need machines to generate them. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9639-4.
  27. Reutlinger, A. (2014). Do statistical laws solve the problem of provisos? Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9640-y.
  28. Reutlinger, A., Schurz, G., Hüttemann, A. (2011). Ceteris paribus laws. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
  29. Roberts, J. T. (2014). CP-law statements as vague, self-referential, self-locating, statistical, and perfectly in order. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9641-x.
  30. Schrenk, M. (2007). The metaphysics of ceteris paribus laws. Frankfurt am Main: Ontos.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schrenk, M. (2008). A Lewisian theory for special science laws. In D. Bohse, K. Dreimann, & S. Walter (Eds.), Selected papers contributed to the sections of GAP.6, 6th international congress of the Society for Analytic Philosophy (pp. 121–131). Paderborn: Mentis.Google Scholar
  32. Schrenk, M. (2014). Better best systems and the issue of CP-laws. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9642-9.
  33. Schurz, G. (2002). Ceteris paribus laws. Classification and Deconstruction. Erkenntnis, 57, 351–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schurz, G. (2014). Ceteris paribus and ceteris rectis laws. Content and causal role. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9643-8.
  35. Sider, T. (2012). Writing the book of the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Silverberg, A. (1996). Psychological laws and non-monotonic logic. Erkenntnis, 44, 199–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Spohn, W. (2012). The laws of belief, ranking theory and its philosophical applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Strevens, M. (2014). High-level exceptions explained. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-014-9644-7.
  39. Unterhuber, M. (2013). Possible worlds semantics for indicative and counterfactual conditionals? A formal philosophical inquiry into Chellas-Segerberg Semantics. Ontos: Frankfurt am Main.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Unterhuber, M., & Schurz, G. (2013). The new Tweety puzzle. Arguments against monistic Bayesian approaches in epistemology and cognitive science. Synthese, 190, 1407–1435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Düsseldorf Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science (DCLPS), Department of PhilosophyHeinrich Heine University DüsseldorfDüsseldorfGermany

Personalised recommendations