, Volume 195, Issue 3, pp 1337–1353 | Cite as

Transitivity, self-explanation, and the explanatory circularity argument against Humean accounts of natural law

  • Marc LangeEmail author


Humean accounts of natural lawhood (such as Lewis’s) have often been criticized as unable to account for the laws’ characteristic explanatory power in science. Loewer (Philos Stud 160:115–137, 2012) has replied that these criticisms fail to distinguish grounding explanations from scientific explanations. Lange (Philos Stud 164:255–261, 2013) has replied by arguing that grounding explanations and scientific explanations are linked by a transitivity principle, which can be used to argue that Humean accounts of natural law violate the prohibition on self-explanation. Lange’s argument has been sharply criticized by Hicks and van Elswyk (Philos Stud 172:433–443, 2015), Marshall (Philos Stud 172:3145–3165, 2015), and Miller (Philos Stud 172:1311–1332, 2015). This paper shows how Lange’s argument can withstand these criticisms once the transitivity principle and the prohibition on self-explanation are properly refined. The transitivity principle should be refined to accommodate contrasts in the explanans and explanandum. The prohibition on self-explanation should be refined so that it precludes a given fact p from helping to explain why some other fact q helps to explain why p. In this way, the transitivity principle avoids having counterintuitive consequences in cases involving macrostates having multiple possible microrealizations. The transitivity principle is perfectly compatible with the irreducibility of macroexplanations to microexplanations and with the diversity of the relations that can underwrite scientific explanations.


Scientific explanation Grounding Transitivity Humean accounts of natural law Laws of nature Multiple realizability Contrastive explanation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

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