Question Forum 4

1) Ayer’s concluding argument states that “the difference between our two types of generalization lies not so much on the side of the facts which make them true or false, as in the attitude of those who put them forward” (829). Describe what Ayer means by attitude and what the purpose this distinction serves within his argument.

2) Think back to the Goodman reading from last week. How does Ayer’s discussion of 'Laws of Nature' align (or not) with Goodman’s ‘New Riddle of Induction’? How does a comparative reading of the two pieces help you to clarify logical difficulties associated with prediction or inference?

3) What it at stake in the existence (or nonexistence) of natural laws? What happens to science when natural laws are assumed but cannot be relied upon? Similarly, what is at stake if natural laws exist but cannot be deduced?

4) Nancy Cartwright states “…the fundamental laws of physics do not describe true facts about reality.” She further elaborates “…then it must be physics which is the second rate science.” She contrasts physics with biology and engineering to help guide these conclusions (871-873). What are her main points in this contrast and how does this position differ from that put forth by Ayer?

Annie Patrick's Response
I will attempt to answer question number one. However, before I proceed with my attempt, I would like to point out that even Ayer states that his “explanation is indeed sketchy” (831), which I find interesting.
Prior to introducing the concept of attitude, Ayer brings up two generalizations: the generalizations of law and the generalizations of fact and proposes to distinguish the two. He does not believe that distinguishing the two generalization based on their “entailment of subjunctive conditionals” (829) will suffice. Therefore, he proposes to address this by examining the attitude of those individuals that claim a fact to be true or false. Also, before the reading, I take Ayer’s definition of attitude to be synonymous to a person’s beliefs because he refers to the beliefs that a person may hold in affecting a law and fact. From the reading, I was able to discern the four following statements in how beliefs and attitudes are intertwine with facts and laws:
1. A person can believe a generalization to be true without certain, thus leaving their interpretation open.
2. One may believe something as a law of nature which can possibly be affected due to belief in another law (830).
3. We do not accept the propositions that express the laws of nature to be unconditional true
4. There are exceptions to laws that are counted as tacit knowledge
Therefore, I think that Ayer’s meaning of attitude is a collection of the above beliefs that contribute to distinguishing generalizations of law and fact.

Marie Stettler Kleine's Response
Question 3-ish

The thrust of Ayer’s argument in his piece What is a Law of Nature? is that we create laws of nature in order to make sense of our observations so that we can have a rule that is “impossible to disobey (pg.818).” We have a functional relationship with laws due to our inability to stray from them. They are frame-setting generalizations that we look to in order to set our conditions of our believing in them or others to make sense of new observations (pg. 829-830). Laws also make conflicting observations to common generalizations impossible. They are limiting factors in how we explain and conceptualize how we interact with the natural world. That’s not to say that they don’t have an actual and practical use!

Stepping away from Ayer’s argument in particular, laws of nature give us better predictions. If we can sum up our past observations, who’s to say that laws that we use do not better describe what we will see in the future? This, I argue, is built into Ayer’s claim that these laws of nature work if and only if certain conditionals are maintained. These conditions are used in order to promote validity in solution-making that depend on these laws; I mean—-this is the stuff that thermodynamics is made of after all! When we are making observations (scientists or otherwise) it does not seem unreasonable that we also take note of the external factors that could influence what we are seeing and in turn our ability to make generalizations about it.

Ironically, the pairing of laws of nature with these conditions is everything that the scientific realist fears. If we are setting out to make bold universal claims about the world around us, why do we have to muddy them with our insistence that there are conditions that these are contingent upon? I think that’s something of a rhetorical question posed for STS’ers to giggle about quietly as they strive to get paid to describe these contingencies ad nauseam.

Ayer, A.J. “What is a law of Nature” Philosophy of Science, edited by Martin Curd, J.A. Cover, and Christopher Pincock, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 816-832.

Ezra Awumey

Natural laws aid us in characterizing the universe in order to make predictions about it. These predictions hold only if regularity or uniformity in nature is assumed. If linking principles or natural laws did not exist, it would be impossible or at the very least very difficult to determine what the relationships between observable phenomena are.

While we have great reason to conclude that there are laws that connect natural phenomena because certain events seem to be invariably conjoined, it does not follow that nature is bound to these laws. Rather, when we make these generalizations we are making generalizations about the laws themselves, not the phenomena they describe. It is unclear that pure reason and observation are a sufficient basis for making law-like generalizations about the relationships of natural phenomena.

When natural laws are assumed but cannot be relied upon, the science based on these laws is unstable. If a law is unable to account for the observations it is concerned with, the means of testing are usually examined for errors and if no error is found, the law is either reformulated or discarded. (Assuming that an unreliable law is one that fails to explain relevant phenomena.)

If natural laws exist but cannot be deduced then it is unclear that is actually a natural law. Non-instantial laws may accurately describe events that relate to entities that supervene on the natural world, but they fail to account for any observable phenomena and cannot be considered natural laws. What the ideal gas law assumes cannot be found in the natural world. However, its derivations do serve to inform how gasses tend to act in the natural world.

Ayer, A.J. “What is a law of Nature” Philosophy of Science, edited by Martin Curd, J.A. Cover, and Christopher Pincock, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 816-832.

Kian's answer to Question 4:

Ayer points out that generally it is believed that the law of nature does not allow for exceptions, and that if an exception is shown to be genuine, the supposed law of nature will be refuted (831). For a proposition to be considered a law, de facto constancies in events or properties or processes of different types that are conjoined with one another must exist. In his essay, Ayer explains this point by trying to distinguish the difference between generalizations of law and generalizations of fact. One needs to take into consideration the “subjunctive conditionals” when believing that generalizations of law cover possible as well as actual cases. Laws of nature could have tacitly provided for exceptions. In other words, some exceptions to the law of nature are tacitly understood, and if the exception was not previously known, “we often regard it as qualifying rather than refuting the law” (831). Hence a law of nature can be considered law that is true when scientists can logically explain the exceptions associated with the law.
Using the above point as a basis for her arguments, Cartwright questions scientists’ and realists’ view that “the law of nature describe how physical systems behave” and their view that physics is the ideal model for science, that physical laws are paradigms upon which all other “second rate” laws are to be modelled (Cartwright, 871). She contends that if a law has exceptions, then it cannot be considered a “true” law. Since physics have exceptions, it cannot be considered as the ideal example and a superior law of nature. In this case, physics is not superior to other sciences such as biology and engineering. This would also mean that the fundamental laws of physics “do not tell what the objects in their domain do” and they do not provide true descriptions of reality because physics is not exceptionless (Cartwright, 872).

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