Laws of Nature

Interest Relativism in the Best System Analysis of Laws

Synthese (2016)
Availability: Open Access

Lewis’ Best System Analysis (BSA) of laws of nature is often criticized on the grounds that what it means to be the "best" system is too subjective for an analysis of lawhood. Recent proponents of the BSA have embraced the view’s close connection to the particulars of scientific practice despite the objection. I distinguish two compatible versions of the objection: one opposed to mind or subject dependence and the other opposed to relativity. The BSA can answer both. Answering the anti-relative version of Armstrong’s objection requires that the BSA be no more or less relative than is required by scientific practice. A spectrum of relativity is introduced with extremes of minimally and maximally relative variants of the BSA, and extant variants of the BSA are located on it. Lastly, I sketch what work remains to be done with respect to Armstrong’s objection for BSA proponents depending on where in the spectrum of relativity they hope to locate their view.

Relativizing Laws to Kinds and Facts

in progress
Availability: upon request

Callender and Cohen’s (2009, 2010) Better Best System (BBS) analysis of laws of nature distinguishes itself from the Lewis’ Best System Analysis (BSA) by the introduction of kind relativity. In the BBS, a best system competition is run for every set of kinds K to yield K-relative laws. This allows for the satisfaction of several desiderata that are normally troublesome for the BSA and its variants. I argue in this paper for a fact-relative extension of the BBS, the Kind and Fact Relative Systems analysis (KFRS), on the grounds that it can do all the same good work and more. The fact relativity of the KFRS allows for sets of laws to be determined relative to subsets of all facts, and is indispensable in the satisfaction of two desiderata introduced here. The first desideratum calls for the regularities that appear in interfield interactions to be accommodated as laws. I describe work on the border between biology and physics in which there is an interest in kinds from both fields (compound eyes and photons) but not all the facts related to the interesting kinds. The second desideratum calls for an egalitarian distinction between fundamental and special science laws. Fact relativity fits perfectly the standard distinction between fundamental laws as exceptionless and special science laws as ceteris paribus laws. Furthermore, fact relativity offers a new way of reconciling that standard distinction with the possibility of fundamental laws that have exceptions.

Language Privileging in the BSA

in progress
Availability: coming soon

Two problems have driven proponents of the Best System Analysis (BSA) of laws of nature to require language privileging when identifying laws. The first is the trivial system problem, according to which there exists a system that is guaranteed to be the best, but whose axioms and theorems are undeserving of the title "law". The second is the immanent comparisons problem, according to which there are no appropriate measures for comparing two systems expressed in different languages. Neither of these problems are as bad as they seem. Regarding the trivial systems problem, I argue that it is rooted in bad assumptions about the measures that determine the best system. Regarding the the immanent comparisons problem, I distinguish between a language being necessary or sufficient for the expression of a system, and show how the problem only applies at the level of a sufficient language. This reduces the extent to which language privileging is required, and has particularly significant implications for relativized variants of the BSA. 

Aesthetics & Philosophy of Art

Moderate Deflationism for Literary Cognitivism

in progress
Availability: upon request

One defense of literary cognitivism has been to argue that a cognitively valuable work of literature possesses that value in virtue of it being a thought experiment that helps to refine or reorganize one’s concepts (e.g. Carroll 2002, Elgin 2007). Davies (2007, 2010) similarly takes cognitively valuable literature to consist in thought experiments, but argues that saying as much does not provide a full fledged defense of literary cognitivism because it fails to adequately answer the no-evidence and no-argument challenges posed by anti-cognitivists. To answer these challenges, Davies looks to accounts of the cognitive value of thought experiments in science, and the "moderate inflationary" accounts in particular. I will argue in this paper that a defense of literary cognitivism may also be extracted from competing "moderate deflationary" accounts of scientific thought experiments (esp. Norton 1996).


A Cortical Substrate for Memory-Guided Orienting in the Rat

Neuron (2011)
With J.C. Erlich and C.D. Brody.
Availability: Science Direct

Anatomical, stimulation, and lesion data have suggested a homology between the rat frontal orienting fields (FOF) (centered at +2 AP, ±1.3 ML mm from Bregma) and primate frontal cortices such as the frontal or supplementary eye fields. We investigated the functional role of the FOF using rats trained to perform a memory-guided orienting task, in which there was a delay period between the end of a sensory stimulus instructing orienting direction and the time of the allowed motor response. Unilateral inactivation of the FOF resulted in impaired contralateral responses. Extracellular recordings of single units revealed that 37% of FOF neurons had delay period firing rates that predicted the direction of the rats' later orienting motion. Our data provide the first electrophysiological and pharmacological evidence supporting the existence in the rat, as in the primate, of a frontal cortical area involved in the preparation and/or planning of orienting responses.