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Posts Tagged ‘fundamentality

Laws before facts

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Does the universe come “facts first” or “laws first”? That is, in terms of metaphysical priority, do the non-nomic facts determine what the laws of nature are, or are the laws at the ground floor determining what the non-nomic facts are? (Or maybe neither grounds the other; I’ll ignore this view for now.) The best-known example of a facts-first theory is Lewis’s “best system” account: to be a law of nature is to be a member of the set of generalizations over the non-nomic facts that has the best balance of simplicity and strength. Here are two rough-and-ready arguments against an account like that. The first is the circularity argument I gestured at a few weeks ago:

  1. The laws explain the non-nomic facts.
  2. If Y explains X, then X does not explain Y.
  3. If X grounds Y, then X explains Y.
  4. So the non-nomic facts don’t ground the laws.

And this is the second:

  1. The non-nomic facts are many and disparate; the laws are simple and few.
  2. Prefer metaphysical theories that are simpler and more parsimonious at the fundamental level.
  3. So prefer laws-first to facts-first metaphysics.

The second premise is a methodological principle, rather than a general metaphysical claim (hence the imperative). It’s a ceteris paribus principle, and so the conclusion is a ceteris paribus conclusion: there is a presumption in favor of laws-first accounts.

Thoughts?

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Written by Jeff

April 18, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Fatalism and fundamentality

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Here’s another argument for fatalism (from a conversation with Dean Zimmerman):

  1. If P is true, then P is true in virtue of some Q which is fundamentally true.
  2. If P is true in virtue of Q, and Q is necessarily true, then P is necessarily true.
  3. Whatever is fundamentally true is necessarily true.
  4. Therefore, if P is true then P is necessarily true.

Understand “P is necessarily true” as “P cannot be changed”. The conclusion is that whatever is a fact cannot be changed. Thus if there are facts about the future, then the future is fixed, so that no one can do anything about it.

The most suspicious premise of the three is the third—and indeed, I think it is false. But it does have some tug. I think the tug comes from a principle of sufficient reason (PSR):

  1. If P is contingently true, then there is some further reason for why P is true.
  2. If P is fundamentally true, then there is no further reason for why P is true.
  3. So if P is fundamentally true, then P is necessarily true.

The full argument is more or less Leibniz’s. It is unsound, since this version of the PSR is false (though I think there is a good methodological principle in the neighborhood). But I won’t defend this claim right now.

For now I just want offer a sociological speculation: I suspect that something like this kind of reasoning is what drives people to views like presentism in order to rescue our freedom. Suppose that there are future things; why would their existence threaten our power to make it such that there be different things instead? Existing future things would threaten this freedom, if tenseless existence facts are fundamental (at least for fundamental sorts of things), and the fundamental facts could not be changed. The right thing to say to this is that (some) fundamental facts, including tenseless existence facts, can be changed.

(I heard a good joke today—Adam Elga attributed it to Steve Yablo: “Everyone talks about how people could have done otherwise. But why doesn’t anyone?”)

Written by Jeff

October 13, 2008 at 12:00 am