2.46 Laws

Category: Philosophy of Science

Keywords: regularity, laws, paribus, ceteris, nomic, regularities, generalizations, miracle, generalization, law, accidental, event, match, deterministic, counterfactuals

Number of Articles: 201
Percentage of Total: 0.6%
Rank: 73rd

Weighted Number of Articles: 282.2
Percentage of Total: 0.9%
Rank: 54th

Mean Publication Year: 1977.8
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1970.9
Median Publication Year: 1981
Modal Publication Year: 1971

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.0429)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Explanation (0.046)
Topic with Least Overlap: Beauty (0.00027)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Population Ethics (0.00094)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the lawstopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1876 when 2.2% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1914 when 0.2% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.46 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.111: Laws.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Lawstopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 0.7%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 0.7%. Ethics - 0.4%. Philosophical Review - 0.7%. Analysis - 0.9%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.1%. Journal of Philosophy - 0.9%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 0.6%. Philosophy of Science - 1.6%. Noûs - 1.2%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 0.7%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 1.3%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1876 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 2.2% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1904 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.2% of the articles.

Figure 2.112: Laws articles in each journal.

Table 2.99: Characteristic articles of the laws topic.
Table 2.100: Highly cited articles in the laws topic.


This looks like a small topic, but that’s largely because it gets squeezed between so many other topics. It ends up as a natural philosophy of science topic, though most of the topics around it are in metaphysics. The weighted number of articles is so much higher than the raw number because so many papers in other topics are also in large part about laws.

For instance, papers about explanation in a broadly Hempelian tradition are often classified as being about explanation, even if they are in no small part about laws as well. See, for example, this paper which is very squarely in the Hempelian tradition.

Table 2.101: Carl G. Hempel, “The Function Of General Laws In History.”
Subject Probability
Explanation 0.2479
Laws 0.1926
Verification 0.1061
Methodology of science 0.1037
History and culture 0.0857
Definitions 0.0670
Theory testing 0.0608
Marx 0.0484
Analytic/synthetic 0.0268

And some papers about the necessity of laws get classified as either papers about modality or, less commonly, chemistry.

Table 2.102: Alexander Bird, “On Whether Some Laws Are Necessary.”
Subject Probability
Chemistry 0.2821
Laws 0.2320
Modality 0.1396
Mechanisms 0.0598
Ontological argument 0.0419
Arguments 0.0416
Ordinary language 0.0405
Knowledge 0.0308
Composition and constitution 0.0291

Some papers that are largely about laws are also largely about chances and get put there.

Table 2.103: Marc Lange, “Do Chances Receive Equal Treatment Under The Laws? Or: Must Chances Be Probabilities?.”
Subject Probability
Chance 0.3606
Laws 0.2047
Composition and constitution 0.1351
Formal epistemology 0.0412
Arguments 0.0378
Kant 0.0350
History and culture 0.0296
Quantum physics 0.0266
Modality 0.0247
Temporal paradoxes 0.0213

Many papers that are about laws are also about causation and other topics.

Table 2.104: Bas C. Van Fraassen, “Armstrong, Cartwright, And Earman On Laws And Symmetry.”
Subject Probability
Causation 0.1435
Ordinary language 0.1007
Laws 0.0946
Meaning and use 0.0792
Methodology of science 0.0740
Composition and constitution 0.0615
Theories and realism 0.0467
Modality 0.0420
Models 0.0381
Physicalism 0.0362
Concepts 0.0333
Space and time 0.0311
Personal identity 0.0251
Idealism 0.0205

And, of course, there are plenty of papers about laws in the topics on the special science.

Table 2.105: Robert N. Brandon, “Does Biology Have Laws? The Experimental Evidence.”
Subject Probability
Evolutionary biology 0.2419
Laws 0.1755
Theory testing 0.1372
Methodology of science 0.1111
Ordinary language 0.0814
Models 0.0467
Explanation 0.0428
Analytic/synthetic 0.0376
Sets and grue 0.0341

The same does happen in the other direction. Some papers that are about several of these topics do get classified (barely) in the laws of nature topic.

Table 2.106: David Lewis, “Counterfactual Dependence And Time’s Arrow.”
Subject Probability
Laws 0.2379
Modality 0.2346
Ordinary language 0.2085
Time 0.1563
Causation 0.0387
Vagueness 0.0225

But mostly it’s the other way around. And that makes sense. As interesting as laws of nature are as a topic in their own right, a huge part of their philosophical interest comes from the role they play in clarifying other things we care about. And that’s what the model reflects.