Workshop on Grounding and the Laws of Nature, June 2019

On 4-5 June 2019, the FraMEPhys project hosted a two-day international workshop on Grounding and the Laws of Nature at the University of Birmingham.

The day before the workshop, 3 June, we hosted Mark Pexton (Durham) to talk about “Contextuality, Emergence and Unification in Physics” as part of the FraMEPhys Seminar series.

Tuesday 4th June

09.15 – 10.30
Michael Hicks (Köln): “Contrastivism and Explanation”
Comments: Vera Matarese (Czech Academy of Sciences)

Many philosophers hold that explanation is contrastive: A’s explaining B consists in A rather than A’ (some other option A is contrasted with) explaining B rather than B’. We explain why we went to the store partially by showing why we didn’t stay home; the relevant contrast (staying home) helps determine what’s a suitable explanation. In this paper, I’ll show how contrastivism about explanation connects to current debates about the explanatory power of laws. Some philosophers, most prominently Skow, hold that the laws do not explain first-order events, but instead ground explanatory relations. By carefully examining the relevant contrasts in these meta-explanations, I’ll argue that the truth of the laws is not a part of the explanans. I’ll then connect this conclusion to circularity worries around Humean laws.

10.45 – 12.00
Erica Shumener (Pittsburgh): “Governance and Necessitation”
Abstract: In this paper, I offer a new account of what it is for the laws of nature to govern. I argue that deterministic laws govern when they (along with initial conditions) productively necessitate which events occur. I define productive necessitation, and I argue that this account of governance can capture what it means for the laws of nature to guide or direct the evolution of events. Finally, I maintain that once we understand governance in the way I suggest, we can understand why it is important for the laws of nature to govern: the laws must govern in order to have explanatory power.

12.15 – 13.30
Zee Perry (Colorado): “Nothing in the Rule Book Says a Dog Can’t Play Basketball”

13.30 – 14.30
Lunch

14.30 – 15.45
Nina Emery (Mt. Holyoke): “The Governing Conception of Laws”
Comments: Henry Taylor (Birmingham)
Abstract: In her paper, “The Non-Governing Conception of Laws,” Helen Beebee argues that it is not a conceptual truth that laws of nature govern their instances, and that this fact insulates Humeans about laws of nature from some of the most pressing objections against that view. I agree with the first claim, but not the second. For although it is not a conceptual truth that laws govern, the view that laws govern follows straightforwardly from an important, though under-appreciated, principle that constrains scientific theory choice, and the principles that constrain scientific theory choice ought to constrain theory choice in metaphysics as well. I then show how the specific understanding of governance that plays a role in this argument raises serious concerns for Humeans about laws of nature.

16.00 – 17.15
Alastair Wilson (Birmingham): “Counterpossible Reasoning in Physics”
This talk explores three ways in which physics may involve us in counterpossible reasoning: by assessing the consequences of impossible theories, by invoking impossible interventions in the characterization of causal structure and by invoking impossible interventions in the characterization of grounding structure. It is argued that while the first role is dispensable, the latter two roles present a substantial challenge to necessitarian accounts of laws. A framework of impossible worlds provides one potential response to the challenge.

17.00 – 22.00
Dinner at Cherry Reds

Wednesday 5th June

09.15 – 10.30
Tuomas Tahko (Bristol): “Laws of Metaphysics for Essentialists”
Abstract: There is a line of thought gathering momentum which suggests that just like causal laws govern causation, there needs to be something in metaphysics that governs metaphysical relations. Such ‘laws of metaphysics’ would be counterfactual-supporting general principles that are responsible for the explanatory force of metaphysical explanations. There are various suggestions about how such principles could be understood. They could be based on what Kelly Trogdon calls grounding-mechanical explanations, where the role that grounding mechanisms play in certain metaphysical explanations mirrors the role that causal mechanisms play in certain scientific explanations. Another approach, by Jonathan Schaffer, claims to be neutral regarding grounding or essences (although he does commit to the idea that metaphysical explanation is ‘backed’ by grounding relations). In this paper I will assess these suggestions and argue that for those willing to invoke essences, there is a more promising route available: the unificatory role of metaphysical explanation may be accounted for in terms of natural kind essences.

10.45 – 12.00
John Roberts (North Carolina): “Laws of Nature and Effectiveness of Methods: Who Grounds Whom?”

12.15 – 13.30
Harjit Bhogal (Maryland): “Two Conceptions of Explanation and the “Postmodal” Approach to Metaphysics”
Comments: Dan Marshall (Lingnan)
Abstract: Imagine we see three ravens and we notice something interesting — they are all black. This pattern needs an explanation. If we then see ten ravens that are all black this needs explaining even more — increasing the generality of the pattern just increases the need for explanation. So if we find out that all ravens are black this pattern needs explaining even more. And if we find out that in all possible worlds all ravens are black — that is, necessarily all ravens are black — this needs explaining yet more! So, such modal facts need explaining, presumably by postmodal facts, like ground or essence. (Unless we have a pattern subsumption view of explanation, in which case things are more complicated.) 

13.30 – 15.00
Lunch and finish