Keyword Forum 4

Law, n.


a. In the sciences of observation, a theoretical principle deduced from particular facts, applicable to a defined group or class of phenomena, and expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions be present. In the physical sciences, and occasionally in others, called more explicitly law of nature or natural law.
The ‘laws of nature’, by those who first used the term in this sense, were viewed as commands imposed by the Deity upon matter, and even writers who do not accept this view often speak of them as ‘obeyed’ by the phenomena, or as agents by which the phenomena are produced.


Laws are assumed to exist from the apparent empirical regularity of the universe. These statements generalize the behavior of certain processes and objects in such a way that predictions about future behavior can be made. Laws are assumed to be inviolable and apply in all circumstances, regardless of location or time (e.g., gravity works exactly the same here on Earth as it would at any other point in the universe). What divides a law from a basic generalization of the sort given in the text ("all cigarettes in my case are made of Virginian tobacco") is a contested area that our readings this week investigate. The intrepid may wish to posit a "better" definition of a "law" in this context (or posit the reasons it cannot be defined if that is your belief) as your question response.

Logical Relation/Logical Necessity
Ayer begins his discussion by demonstrating that the emergence of laws proves a tricky problem for philosophers. In his brief historical overview, Ayer points to a sovereign figure as the once static point from which laws of nature gained stability. “The point…is that the sovereign is thought to be so powerful that its dictates are bound to be obeyed” (809). Yet, how did a sovereign representation of law gain the sense of necessity? Or, what is the source of laws describing universal phenomena that map onto the world and why are they a source of power?

Logic, and logical relations offer one philosophical answer to these questions. “It is impossible for anything that happens to contravene the laws of logic… If we break the rules according to which our method of description functions, we are not using it to describe anything” (810). Logic thus acts as a descriptive force in the world. Local relations, the connections between distinct laws of nature, bond events, phenomena, and experience.

Yet, philosophers of past have erred in Ayer’s eyes. They have conflated necessary connections of worldly phenomena with logical relations. A logical relation is one where a “conclusion follows from the premisses of a deductive argument” (810). This is a formulaic way of viewing the world, leading to the use of reason as the primary mechanism through which to sort out the universe. Ayer draws from Hume to point out the fallacy in relying on logical relations. For Hume human experience takes precedence in understanding the world – the result of an event is understood (and thus connected) cognitively. There is nothing inherent within conclusions created from logical relationships. More so, these relations can only describe known phenomena, there is no way of knowing if they hold true always (812).

Although Hume’s perspective dashes the possibility of logically related phenomena, some events prove logically necessary. Laws of nature often name or redefine the status of objects, things, or relationships. These beings become inherently coupled with the definitions of laws of nature (812 – 813). “The important point to notice is that, whatever may be the practical
or aesthetic advantages of turning scientific laws into logically necessary truths, it does not advance our knowledge, or in any way add to the security of our beliefs (813). For Ayer, relying on logic, logical relations, or the production of logical necessities as the basis for our laws of nature closes off science. These organizations of knowledge tell us more about the system itself rather advancing the possibilities of our current knowledge base. Thus, philosophers need to begin looking from the shores of logic to understand the emergence and origins of laws of nature.

“Non-instantial law”: instantiate: to represent (an abstract concept) by a concrete or tangible example (College Dictionary). “statements of law cover only what is actual, not what is merely possible.” (instantial law, 825). “non-instantial laws…refer not to hypothetical objects, or events, but only to the hypothetical consequences of instantial laws.” (825)

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