Drewery, Alice, and . Essentialism and the Necessity of the Laws of Nature

2005, Synthese 144(3): 381-396.

Abstract: In this paper the author discusses and evaluates different arguments for the view that the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary. She conclude that essentialist arguments from the nature of natural kinds fail to establish that essences are ontologically more basic than laws, and fail to offer an a priori argument for the necessity of all causal laws. Similar considerations carry across to the argument from the dispositionalist view of properties, which may end up placing unreasonable constraints on property identity across possible worlds. None of her arguments preclude the possibility that the laws may turn out to be metaphysically necessary after all, but she argues that this can only be established by a posteriori scientific investigation. She argues for what may seem to be a surprising conclusion: that a fundamental metaphysical question – the modal status of laws of nature – depends on empirical facts rather than purely on a priori reasoning.

Comment: An excellent paper that could serve as further or specialized reading for postgraduate courses in philosophy of science, in particular, for modules related to the study of the laws of nature. The paper offers an in-depth discussion of essentialist arguments, but also touches upon many other fundamental concepts such as grounding, natural kinds, dispositions and necessity.