Symposium ‚Lawish Generalizations in the Special Sciences‘

EPSA 2011 in Athens, 5 – 8 October (

Organizers: Andreas Hüttemann, Alexander Reutlinger

Speakers and Talks:
1. Andreas Hüttemann and Alexander Reutlinger: “Against Probabilistic and Normic Explications of Special Science Laws”
2. Jonathan Cohen and Craig Callender: “Special Sciences Laws and Fundamental Laws: A Unified Approach”
3. Daniel Steel: “Extrapolation and Ceteris Paribus”
4. Julian Reiss: “Measuring Lawhood in the Social Sciences (Especially Economics)”

Abstract of the Symposium:
Many philosophers are convinced that the fundamental laws of physics crucially differ from generalizations in special sciences. Fundamental physical laws are usually assigned the features of being universal, exceptionless, time-symmetric, global and complete, while generalizations in the special sciences are understood to be non-universal, to have exceptions, to be hedged by a ceteris paribus clause, to be time-asymmetric, local and incomplete. In the recent debate (especially in the 2002 volume on ceteris paribus laws by Earman, Glymour and Mitchell), a considerable amount of energy has been devoted to (a) emphasizing the differences between fundamental physical laws and ?generalizations? in the special sciences (to the effect that the latter do not deserve to be called ?laws?), and (b) to illuminate the meaning of the ceteris paribus clause. These are, certainly, important issues. However, focusing exclusively on these questions seems to blur and postpone a more interesting question: given that the special sciences are successful, how is it possible that statements in fundamental physics and statements in the special sciences play a similar role ? despite the differences between fundamental laws and special science generalizations?
Despite their different features, laws in fundamental physics and generalizations in the special sciences are important because they serve to pursue the same goals: they are statements used to explain and to predict phenomena, they provide knowledge of how to successfully manipulate the systems they describe, and they support counterfactuals etc. Statements in the special sciences that play these roles in scientific practice, one might call lawish statements (similarly, Mitchell 2000). Contrary to the traditional understanding of what it is to be a law, being lawish does neither require universality nor other characteristic features of fundamental physical laws.
In this symposium, we provide metaphysical and methodological accounts explaining how statements in the special sciences can perform a lawish function.

Alexander Reutlinger, Alexander.Reutlinger[at]