Project

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Causal properties and laws of nature in the philosophy of science

English title Causal properties and laws of nature in the philosophy of science
Applicant Esfeld Michael
Number 132389
Funding scheme ProDoc
Research institution Section de Philosophie Faculté des Lettres Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.10.2010 - 30.09.2015
Approved amount 322'322.00
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Keywords (9)

causal properties; dispositions; laws; special sciences; causation; philosophy of mind; philosophy of science; physics; psychology

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
According to the causal theory of properties, it is essential for a property to play a certain causal role. On this basis, the central aim of the project is to enquire into the relationship between properties and laws of nature. There are two conflicting positions discussed in the current literature: according to the one position, the commitment to the causal theory of properties makes a realism about laws superfluous. According to the other position, laws are derived from the properties, revealing what the properties can do. The project is concerned with arguments for this latter position. One central aim is to work out how adopting a realist attitude towards laws paves the way for strengthening the connection between the causal theory of properties, which is a metaphysical position in the first place, and scientific practice. This aim shall be achieved through two case studies, one in the domain of the philosophy of physics (causal properties, laws and conserved quantities), the other one in the domain of the philosophy of psychology (causal properties in the sense of functional properties, laws as vindicating the scientific status of psychology).
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Anchoring causal connections in physical concepts
Hubert Mario (2014), Anchoring causal connections in physical concepts, in Galavotti Maria Carla (ed.), Springer, Dordrecht, 501-509.
Reductionism today
Esfeld Michael (2013), Reductionism today, in Galavotti Maria Carla (ed.), Springer, Cham, 89-101.
The ontology of Bohmian mechanics
Esfeld Michael, Lazarovici Dustin, Hubert Mario, Dürr Detlef (2013), The ontology of Bohmian mechanics, in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 64, 19.
Causal realism
Esfeld Michael (2012), Causal realism, in Dennis Dieks et al. (ed.), Springer, Dordrecht, 157-168.
Marrying the merits of Nagelian reduction and functional reduction
Esfeld Michael, Sachse Christian, Soom Patrice (2012), Marrying the merits of Nagelian reduction and functional reduction, in Acta Analytica, 27(2), 217-230.
The conserved quantity theory of causation and entangled states
Sprickerhof Jakob, The conserved quantity theory of causation and entangled states, in Tilman Sauer (ed.), Max Planck Research Library for the History and Development of Knowledge, Berlin.
The physics and metaphysics of primitive stuff
Esfeld Michael, Lazavorici Dustin, Lam Vincent, Hubert Mario, The physics and metaphysics of primitive stuff, in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 026.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Ludwig Maximilians Universität München Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Quantum physics without observers III Talk given at a conference Dispositions in Bohmian mechanics 22.04.2013 Bielefeld, Germany Hubert Mario; Esfeld Michael;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Summer School in Philosophy of Physics: Probabilities in Phyiscs 21.07.2014 Saig, Germany
Summer school Physics and Philosophy of Time 24.07.2013 Saig, Germany
John Heil, The universe as we find it 01.05.2013 Lausanne, Switzerland
The metaphysics of contemporary physics 24.05.2012 Lausanne, Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
118603 Causalité mentale, fonctionnalisme et métaphysique de la causalité 01.12.2007 ProDoc
149650 The metaphysics of physics: natural philosophy 01.11.2013 Project funding

Abstract

According to the causal theory of properties, it is essential for a property to play a certain causal role. In brief, insofar as properties are certain qualities, they are dispositions or powers to produce certain specific effects. Based on earlier SNF projects of the applicant, this project starts from recalling the main arguments for the causal theory of properties, applied to all properties, including the fundamental physical ones. These are purely metaphysical as well as scientific arguments.The central aim of the project is to enquire into the relationship between properties and laws of nature. There are two conflicting positions discussed in the current literature: according to the one position, conceiving the properties as being causal in themselves makes a realism about laws superfluous. According to the other position, laws supervene on or are derived from the properties, revealing what the properties can do. We shall side with the latter position and develop in the first place the following argument: causal properties (dispositions, powers) constitute the ontological ground floor. Nonetheless, we have a cognitive access to the properties only through the salient regularities which we observe, that is, only through our hypotheses about laws of nature. In other words, we discern the identity conditions of properties through the laws in which we take them to figure.Against this background, we shall work out how adopting a realist attitude towards laws paves the way for strengthening the connection between the causal theory of properties, which is a metaphysical position in the first place, and scientific practice. Laws are central to science, notably to fundamental science. The causal theory of properties answers the question where the laws of nature come from, instead of simply accepting them as primitive, namely as supervening on the fundamental dispositions or powers by revealing what they can do. No subjective criteria enter into this supervenience claim. By stating what the properties can do, the laws explain why the distribution of the fundamental properties develops in the way in which it develops in fact (causal explanation and explanation by unification), thereby taking the position of laws in scientific practice into account.The second aim of the project is to go into the issue of determinism and objective probabilities. Laws reveal the power to produce something that properties bestow on their bearers (objects or events). We will examine the significance of deterministic laws as well as probabilistic laws on this basis, going notably into the ontological grounding of the propensity theories of probabilities.The third aim is to link the philosophy of fundamental science with the philosophy of the special sciences as regards causal properties and laws. Drawing on the results of the first SNF ProDoc project of the applicant, we shall notably focus on the philosophy of psychology. Our intention is to make a case for realism with respect to the special sciences, including psychology, in the following manner: if the dispositions in which the special sciences trade do not have a categorical basis, but are identical with configurations of physical dispositions (causal properties), then we are in the position to firmly establish their reality. By the same token, we thereby have a basis for making a case for there really being laws in the special sciences and accounting for their specific character qua ceteris paribus laws.
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