There seems to be an important relationship between physical properties (such as charge and mass) and laws of nature (such as Coulomb’s law and the law of universal gravitation). As David Lewis noted, the discovery of laws of nature and physical properties seems to go hand in hand: “For instance the discovery of the phenomena of electromagnetism and the laws governing them was inseparable from the discovery of the previously unknown, and very likely fundamental, properties of positive and negative charge” (Lewis 2009, 205). According to one particularly influential line of thought, properties explain laws because laws constitute the essences of properties (e.g., Bird 2007): what it is to instantiate the property charge, for example, is to behave in accordance with Coulomb’s law. Call this dispositional essentialism. I argue that there is something right and something wrong here: properties explain the laws of nature but not because laws constitute property essences. In fact, orthodox dispositional essentialism renders properties incapable of explaining laws and fails to achieve continuity with science. I thus develop and defend an alternative account of the explanatory relationship between properties and laws, which I argue, is explanatorily fruitful and continuous with actual scientific practice.
Founded in 1950, Philosophical Studies provides a periodical dedicated to work in analytic philosophy. The journal is devoted to the publication of papers in exclusively analytic philosophy, and welcomes papers applying formal techniques to philosophical problems. The principal aim is to publish articles that are models of clarity and precision in dealing with significant philosophical issues. The readers of the journal will be kept abreast of the central issues and problems of contemporary analytic philosophy.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No 771509. All project outputs are published Open Access. Website photo credit: Matt Lincoln Photography
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