Between general and particular: Objections to the necessitarian theory of laws

Renato Cesar Cani


In this paper, I analyze the conception of laws of nature known as DTA theory. According to the proposal advanced by Dretske (1977), Tooley (1977) and Armstrong (1983), laws of nature ought to be identified as necessitation relations between universals. My aim is to argue that this notion cannot provide an adequate response to two major difficulties that are presented to any realist account of laws: the identification problem and the inference problem. More precisely, I hold that both Tooley’s Platonist theory of universals and Armstrong’s Aristotelian theory of universals collapse in the face of the inference problem, even though they offer elegant solutions to the identification problem. Basically, this problem consists in explaining how it is possible for statements about abstract relations between universals to entail statements about concrete regularities. I also maintain that the root of the drawbacks faced by the DTA theory lies in the distinction between nomological and metaphysical necessity, as well as the dissociation between the nature of a property and its causal profile. Finally, I point out that these drawbacks must not prevent us from searching for a realist understanding of the laws of nature.

Keywords: laws of nature, necessitation, inference problem, Tooley, Armstrong.

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ISSN: 1984-8234 - Best viewed in Mozilla Firefox

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