Are there laws of nature?

Who has read “The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science” by Nancy Cartwright? If you have, what are your thoughts?

Nancy Cartwright is a realist about physical things and causality but an anti-realist about physical laws. She thinks laws are often useful descriptions about the capacities of things, but themselves have no ontological status. At the same time, her account of causality is quite robust, seems to border on unabashed Aristotelianism.

I think she has some profound insights, but there are aspects of her account that I don’t understand, and would love to get some help with. Let me know what you think.


I have read several papers of Cartwright’s stuff (including parts of The Dappled World), and am sympathetic to Aristotelian views of the laws of nature.

See this older thread for related discussion: What are Laws of Nature?


Hmm, I may need to read that book. I have read some of what she writes, but I have not read this book.

I agree that there are no laws of nature. What we call “laws of science” are human constructs. We do not read them from nature.

Yes, it is possible that there could be a God. And it is possible that such a God could create laws. But, as best I can tell, we do not have any way of finding such laws. The best we can do is construct our own way of understanding reality.

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I’ll just add that I have now purchased the book (Nancy Cartwright: The Dappled World). I bought Kindle edition. But it will take a while to read.

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I finally got around to watching this video. It’s great. I like how Feser connects the Aristotelian philosophy of scientific laws and causes to the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). Have you seen Michael Della Rocca’s essay on the PSR?

Or Shamik Dasgupta’s essay on rationalism (an atheist’s perspective)? I think the way he draws out the metaphysics of grounding does not work so well with universal scientific laws, and much better with capacities.

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