D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no pun intended) of A-Laws is that they seem to explain why there should be regularity in the world at all, whereas L-Laws simply state the regularities. Armstrong-type theories posit that there is actually something out there which makes the regularities occur. Now, despite Armstrong's naturalist/physicalist claims, this thing must be transcendent and non-physical (not any more so than Armstrong's "states of affairs," but that's another story).
Philosophers usually talk for simplicity about laws of the form "all Fs are Gs" or "all Fs are followed by Gs," but, of course, the real laws that physicists talk about are not like this at all. The real laws are things like F=ma or K=(1/2)mv^2. (Note that I say the real laws are like this - we don't actually live in a Newtonian universe, so these are not examples of actual natural laws, or at least not fundamental ones - macrophysics is usually considered by philosophers to be one of the "special sciences" like geology or psychology, and these are supposed to follow from the true theory of microphysics, whatever that might be.) It is not clear to me (perhaps because I haven't read the positive part of Armstrong's book What is a Law of Nature? - I've only read the critique of "naive regularity theory" so far) how Armstrong's specific claim (not held by all Armstrong-type theories) that laws are relations between universals is supposed to deal with these sorts of laws, which aren't actually about Fs being Gs. As a result, there doesn't seem to be any reason why we should posit multiple laws of nature: why not just conjoin them?
If we do this, we've got a transcendent, non-physical entity responsible for the orderliness and regularity of the world, "and this all men call God." Hmm...
Of course, if you are concerned about confusing this entity which, for all we know, is impersonal with personal conceptions of God or with some religious theory, you might not want to give it that name, but at the very least you've got the Heraclitean logos (not to be confused with the Johannine logos), a fundamental ordering principle of the universe, and this certainly seems to be a god-like thing. Of course, if we were actually positing God in a more traditional sense, he is supposed to be a necessary being and to create freely, so this would explain why the laws are as they are, but, whatever the case, we seem to have here at the very least something that might be reasonably described as an impersonal, disinterested (small-g) god, and maybe we've got a good deal more than that.
(For the record, I believe in a sort of regularity theory instead, despite believing that God wills at every moment that the laws hold; this is because I believe that laws are strictly identical with true law statements, where these statements are purely descriptive in nature, or something like that.)Posted by Kenny at March 26, 2007 6:30 PM
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