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Look at what I've just read on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "There

Look at what I've just read on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "There are no laws of nature that hold just for the planet Earth (or the Andromeda Galaxy, for that matter), nor are there any that hold just for the Eighteenth Century or just for the Mesozoic Era." I agree that this looks absolutely true, but why is it so? I suppose science cannot prove that there is no fundamental law of physics that holds only in a small part of the universe or only during some short period. Sure, such a law would be unexplainable, at least scientifically unexplainable, but aren't ALL fundamental laws of physics unexplainable? That's why they are fundamental. If the above quotation is only stipulating some meaning of "laws of natures", isn't it arbitrary? Thank you.

I just wanted to add to Allen's remarks (with which I largely agree).

First, the claim that there are no laws of nature that hold just for (e.g.) the planet Earth may require the qualification "no fundamental laws of nature". After all, if it is a law of nature that like electric charges repel, then it is a law of nature that like electric charges on planet Earth repel. The latter is a derivative law, however. So there could easily be non-fundamental laws that hold just for the planet Earth.

Second, on Lewis's own version of the Best System view, the laws of nature must all be truths. There is no trade-off between "complete and perfect truth" and "greater generality." Of course, a modified version of Lewis's account might be more liberal.

Third, it could be that all fundamental laws of physics have no explanations (that's what makes them fundamental, as you say), and yet there is a reason why all fundamental laws of physics cover all of space-time and (to put it roughly) say the same things about every spatiotemporal region. It could be a meta-law of nature that all fundamental first-order laws of physics cover all of space-time and say the same things about every spatiotemporal region. This meta-law would explain why all first-order fundamental laws of physics have these properties. After all, if all of the first-order fundamental laws of physics are like this, then it seems like this fact would not be a coincidence. There would be a common "cause" for all of the first-order laws' being like this.

Finally, notice that we have moved here from laws of nature to laws of physics. Perhaps there are laws of "special sciences" that are restricted in space or in time.

Which branches of philosophy are more likely to be made redundant due to

Which branches of philosophy are more likely to be made redundant due to advances in science, and which ones are more likely to endure despite major advances in science? Joe W.

If we could answer your question, we would be able to predict the future direction of science. But science is full of surprises. Moreover, what gets called "science" (or math or logic) and what gets called "philosophy" is to some degree arbitrary. I don't think disciplinary boundaries are very important. What I do think is important is the questions themselves. So why not ask the questions and not worry about whether they are "science" or "philosophy"?

When does successful prediction provide strong evidence?

When does successful prediction provide strong evidence?

Here's a sort of rule-of-thumb answer that I find useful. Roughly, we should ask ourselves how surprising the evidence would be if the hypothesis were not true. Suppose the question is whether Harvey robbed the bank. Our evidence for Harvey being the thief is that a witness saw him outside the bank around the time of the robbery. If Harvey really is the robber, this isn't unlikely, but suppose Harvey works in the barber shop on the block where the bank is, and the time he was seen was a few minutes before opening time for the barber shop. Then seeing him outside the bank wouldn't be surprising even if he wasn't the robber. It's not strong evidence.

On the other hand, suppose the evidence is that a search of Harvey's apartment turns up a large bag of bills whose serial numbers identify them as the ones that were stolen.Then things look bad for Harvey. If he wasn't the robber, it would be surprising to find the money in his apartment. (Of course, this isn't conclusive proof. Maybe someone has planted the money to frame Harvey.)

That's the rough version. What really matters is the ratio of two probabilities: the probability of the evidence assuming the hypothesis is true (write that as p(E|H), and the probability of the evidence assuming the hypothesis is false (write that as p(E|not-H). The ratio


is called the likelihood ratio. The higher the likelihood ratio, the stronger the evidence.

There's a good deal more to be said, but the little test sketched here is especially useful in its negative form. If the evidence isn't surprising by this test, then it's not strong.

Is there a good definition of magic which does not rule out the existence of

Is there a good definition of magic which does not rule out the existence of magic, but also does not imply that actually magic exists? Magic cannot be "the ability to do impossible things", since this is a contradiction. I wonder if we could define magic as "the ability to violate the laws of physics". The problem is that if we discovered, for instance, that uttering "abracadabra" was a good way to make rabbits appear inside hats, he would have found a new law of physics, wouldn't we? And is it possible to argue that there is no magic without implying that most religions are false? My feeling is that the concept of magic has a reasonable sense only if we accept some religion: magic would be something like the wrong use of entities posited by such religion.

It's an interesting question, and I think it's best considered the context of times and settings in which the idea of magic was taken seriously. I also doubt that there's a lot to be gained by looking for a full-blown definition, but we can learn something by looking at broad commonalities.

First on the bit about magic words and rabbits. If it turned out that saying the right words in the right way could make rabbits appear in hats, then we would have discovered a new regularity in the world, though whether we had discovered a new law of physics is a lot more doubtful. After all, the regularities of the special sciences aren't usually classed as laws of physics, even though physics has to be consistent with them.* We might want to say that this regularity is "natural" because all the events take place in nature (saying the words, the rabbit appearing...) but it wouldn't follow that it wasn't magical. Older notions of magic explicitly included a concept of natural magic.

What counted as "natural magic?" There's no tidy answer, but part of the background was the idea of an "occult quality." "Occult" here means "hidden." The behavior of lodestones (magnets) would have counted as a case of natural magic on some views. From the point of view of Renaissance thinkers, the operation of the lodestone depended on hidden properties. It also acted over distances, which tended to be characteristic of things that were labeled magical.

Neoplatonic thought had room for a concept of magic. The reason was that everything was in contact with everything else by virtue of everything being contained within/infused with the World Soul.

Was this a religious idea? There's no easy answer. It wasn't associated with any particular religion, but it clearly had a strong kinship with ideas that we think of as religious.

Some particularly important magical ideas were bound up with astrological beliefs. Belief in "astral influences" was very common in the ancient world and in the Renaissance. Some of these influences were considered benign. The Renaissance neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino wrote quite charmingly about the things one needed to do to capture these beneficial astral influences—particularly the solar influences. But there was nothing especially "religious" about these beliefs. They were part of a broadly accepted view of how nature worked.

Some astral magic was more problematic. It called for commanding not-merely-human beings to do one's bidding. This was "demonic" magic. Were the demons supernatural? There's no good, simple answer. They were one of the kinds of things taken to populate the world, but their realm was the super-lunar—beyond the moon. The Church certainly objected to demonic magic, but one could believe in the existence of the beings themselves whether or not one was a Christian.

A good deal of what we might call folk magic didn't have much in the way of theory about it at all. My mother told a story of having had a wart removed from her hand by having it "charmed." In one version of the wart charm, the charmer would "buy" the wart for a penny. Many people believed that this worked without any particular view about how it worked. But they would likely have been willing to call it magic.

All this is just the tip of a large and very fascinating iceberg. But the most important lesson to draw is that there neither is nor ever was a single, unified conception of "magic." Magic is an excellent example of a "family resemblance" notion. Furthermore, many magical ideas existed against a background of broader views about the cosmos that have either faded entirely or exist only in attenuate from among contemporary, educated people. But even here we need to be careful. There are thoughtful, intelligent twenty-first century people who would tell you that they believe that there's such a thing as magic. Such people tend to believe more broadly that the mind can influence matter in ways that you and I might reject. However, many of these people wouldn't see any necessary conflict between their own views and science. Their particular views about science might be mistaken (for example, might include misunderstandings of quantum theory) but it wouldn't be because what they believe is somehow essentially incompatible with science.

Occasionally I'll hear philosophers trying to make claims about the concept of magic. My experience tends to be that what they say is crude, ahistorical and far too simple. If you want to get an idea of what it would be like to be a contemporary believer in magic, I'd highly recommend Tanya Luhrmann's book Persuasions of the Witch's Craft. It's a rich ethnographic study by a philosophically-informed anthropologist. And if you'd like a better understanding of magical ideas in the Renaissance, you might want to have a look at Frances Yates' The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, among other of her works. Yates' scholarship certainly has its critics, but it's hard to read her work without getting a glimpse of a much richer idea about what "magic" might once have meant.


*Notice, by the way: I didn't say that the upper-level laws need to be consistent with physics. If we discovered a new psychological regularity that didn't fit with what physics tells us, then if the regularity really was stable and robust, it would represent a problem for physics, not for psychology. The regularities are what they are.)

The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this:

The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this: Suppose i ask you to choose a random word from English dictionary. And I tell you to find its definition. Now the definition of the word will also contains some set of words. I ask you to find the definition of all words taking one at a time. The definition of this second word will also contain some set of words, so you have to repeat this definition finding until you reach a word which has already been defined. Now you take the second word from the definition of the very first word you chose and keep repeating this process. As there are finite number of words in English dictionary, you will reach a point where there is nothing to define. Hence, if a set of definitions(in this case the English dictionary) there are finite definitions for each unknown. Accordingly, if our laws of universe are finite, then there will be finite answers to explain the entire universe. Or we can say existence of each physical process can be satisfactorily...

This is a first-rate question, if a little complicated, and deserves a longer (first-rate) answer. But it's Thanksgiving so I have to be brief! First your point about the dictionary is quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein (and maybe Augustine) made roughly similar or closely related observations -- but partly in service of recognizing that ultimately for language/meaning to work we must connect (some) words not merely to other words but to 'reality' (or at least our perceptions thereof) -- we have some 'ostensive' definitions whereby we assign the meaning of a word by relating it directly to some object or object of perception ... (Not that that is problem-free itself, but it attempts to break the cycle of words-words definitions). Second, I'm not entirely clear on the analogy you make between the definition case and that of physical laws (and not clear whether the point I just made about ostensive definitions would apply in some analogous way to the laws). But apart from the analogy I can say you also have your finger on a very deep issue about explanation etc. -- and one response might be to point out that while perhaps we can explain various particular events by reference to the physical laws constitutiong the framework, that general strategy won't explain the laws themselves -- that at some point explanation of the system itself requires going outside the system (perhaps there's the analogy to ostensive definition) -- I think the great medieval thinker Maimonides made a point similar to this -- ultimately using it either as part of an argument to believe in the existence of God (as something outside the physical system that could explain the physical system), or at least to recognize that you can't apply the normal model of explanation of normal events back to explain the 'beginning' of the universe, creation ex nihilo .... Does this mean a 'theory of everything' isn't possible? Well, of course, better ask the physicists that. Pretty clearly such a theory would also have to explain itself ... (or else perhaps could a Theory of Everything include God etc.)? .... Anyway much more to say here, but many deep points are raised in your question ....

hope this is useful!


It is commonly believed that what falls under the domain of science is what is

It is commonly believed that what falls under the domain of science is what is "objective". I put "objective" in quotation marks for the following reasons: everything we perceive is not immune to our circumstances, for example, the school we went, the home we grew up in, our interests and beliefs, what book we read recently, who our friends are... (I could go on and on), secondly, we perceive everything through our mind, or consciousness, which is widely considered subjective. So here is my question: How can we consider something that we perceive to be objective, if we perceive it through something that is, if not completely, in many ways, subjective? (The quote from the Woody Allen movie "Love and Death" comes to mind: Subjectivity is objective. If it is, then how? Or is it objectivity that is subjective? Or neither?)

You are right that science is often described as an "objective" pursuit. But the word "objective" has multiple meanings. It could mean independent of the specific characteristics of particular individuals, or independent of the general characteristics of human minds more generally. It could mean "standardized"; it could mean "reasonable"; it could mean "true." The kind of paradoxes about objectivity that you are thinking about typically result (in my opinion) from unclarity or equivocation on the word "objective." Best to pick a specific meaning and stick with it, or (my preference) avoid the use of the term altogether. Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison's 2007 book "Objectivity" describes the historical emergence of our ideas about objectivity.

Does the acceptance of scientific naturalism commit one to the view that the

Does the acceptance of scientific naturalism commit one to the view that the universe is devoid of all meaning?

There are at least two ways to interpret your question:

(1) Does scientific naturalism imply that no meaning at all exists anywhere in the universe?

(2) Does scientific naturalism imply that the universe itself has no meaning?

I think the answer to (1) is pretty clearly no. By "scientific naturalism," I presume you mean the denial of supernaturalism, i.e., the denial that any nonphysical minds or causes exist. On that reading, scientific naturalism is compatible with the fact that you meant something by your question (your question isn't meaningless) and the fact that I mean something by this answer to it. Nor does scientific naturalism imply that nothing is ever non-linguistically meaningful: it allows that an experience (say, of great music) can be meaningful to someone. What holds for the concept of meaning holds, I'd say, for the concept of purpose as well.

I think the answer to (2) is pretty clearly yes. But what could it mean, anyway, to say that the universe itself has some meaning? The universe isn't literally a linguistic item that could be linguistically meaningful, nor is it literally an experience that could be meaningful to one of its inhabitants. What's probably meant, instead, is that the universe as a whole has some purpose. My sense is that people who want the universe as a whole to have some purpose think that a "cosmic purpose" would put an end to questions of the form "Why bother?" or "What's so great about that?" -- questions whose persistence troubles them. In this short magazine article, I argue that they're mistaken.

Woods cut from trees have certain physical properties that a reductionist might

Woods cut from trees have certain physical properties that a reductionist might claim are expressions of atomic or sub-atomic phenomena (mostly empty space, though we experience wood as hard). Since the tree is alive can reductionism account for the role of organic life in organizing or directing (e.g., cell division) those physical properties? I think that a physicist cannot fully explain the macroscopic properties of wood (e.g., hard) by material reduction without recourse to life sciences that are beyond his/her realm of study. What I am proposing is that reductionism fails via category error when applied to life or consciousness.

I think you raise a great point. This is an area that is much debated, so my response should not be considered the official philosophical position. I think the direction of your thinking is sound. If we are to limit ourselves to the world as described and explained in an ideal physics, there is quite a lot of reality that seems to go missing. Actually, the very practice of physics seems to involve a great deal of phenomena (scientists making observations, constructing theories, exercising reason, and so on) that may not fit in very well with the picture of nature produced by physics (or a philosophy that gives primacy or exclusive authority to physics). Anyway, back to your point, I think you are right that to address living creatures and plants requires the life sciences (minimally). And we will need more to describe and explain events such as you and I writing and reading, and so on (psychological descriptions and explanations...). Of special interest to some, perhaps many philosophers is whether might be "bridge laws" --laws of nature that link what we discover in physics with what we discover in biology. So, some philosophers hold that the most fundamental causal events at the micro-level are so configured that they can account for (or determine) the emergence of what we discover in chemistry, biology, and so on. The danger of a reductive project that would locate causes really at the micro-level and not permit what some call top-down causation (when, say, the hardness of a mature tree might causally explain why the tree is not the host of certain birds) is not itself a robust (or as solid, sorry for the pun) sample of causation. That sounds odd, so let me try one more time:

At the macro level, it appears that you and I do things such as plant trees for, say, ecological reasons. In a common sense way, it seems that such an activity would explain why lots of atomic and sub-atomic particles are shifted about in our world. The reason why all the physical constituents of our bodies moved from an urban area to the country was for reasons. However, if the underlying cause was atomic and sub-atomic, then we are in the odd position of realizing that no atoms or sub-atomic parts reason or have beliefs, desires, and so on. In other words, if our explanations gave primacy to physics, we seem to undermine what appears to be a solid, common sense way of understanding ourselves as agents.

In regards to deductivism and the work of Karl Popper, it's possible to deduce

In regards to deductivism and the work of Karl Popper, it's possible to deduce statements which are consistent with science's current understanding of something. These statements are hypotheses and some are testable, and hence scientific, and others are not testable, and hence they are unscientific. It seems to me in economics the profession is fond of deducing many statements from their models which are untestable. What is the purpose of this exercise? What can be the goal of deducing untestable statements other than to eventually arrive at something which is testable? Is there a word for these untestable statements besides "unscientific hypotheses?" Thank you.

Karl Popper thought that theories (hypotheses) could be tested by using them to deduce testable consequences. Many theories and hypotheses are quite abstract (physics and economics are good examples of abstract theories) and other assumptions are often needed in order to use them to deduce testable consequences. That's fine--the assumptions just need to be stated in advance and to be plausible. Popper would say that when e.g. economic theories are used to make predictions about the market, they are indeed testable, because the predictions can fail. Popper would have trouble with economists who make predictions which fail and who then don't take the failure seriously enough. Failed predictions point to the falsity of either the theory or the assumptions. Dogmatic scientists (those who want to defend their pet theories past the point of plausibility) always blame the assumptions, even when this is implausible. Popper urges scientists to consider blaming their own theories for failed predictions. If they are not willing to blame their own theories, then they are not really testing them.

I am relatively new to philosophy, as I am in an introductory philosophy class.

I am relatively new to philosophy, as I am in an introductory philosophy class. My question is what made Francis Bacon's scientific method scientific since he was a lawyer or more into politics being he was more a political person than a scientist? I guess what I am saying is why is Francis Bacon's scientific method considered more scientific than it was political? Thank you.

Francis Bacon advocated the use of inductive reasoning in science. Inductive reasoning is going from particular observations to general conclusions. It is an empiricist method, and contrasts with the more rationalist methods of the time, such as the work of Descartes. Is there is a political dimension to the logic of inductive reasoning (or to its specific implementations)? You'd have to make that case; prima facie, going from specific observations to general claims is a logical/methodological rather than a political method.