Here in St. Louis, we are having a reading group on Marc Lange’s interesting Laws and Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics, and the Laws of Nature (OUP, 2009).
The book is motivated by the observation that there seems to be a tight connection between laws and counterfactuals. As everyone knows, laws support counterfactuals in a way that accidental truths do not. Lange offers a novel and interesting way to account for this link: he argues that laws are a “stable set of truths” in a way that sets of accidental truths are not. What this means is that unlike sets of accidental truths, all laws are still true under any counterfactual supposition that is consistent with their all being true.
Lange begins with this connection between laws and counterfactual and, in the course of the book, turns it into an ontological dependence between laws and counterfactual truths. He posits the existence of ontologically primitive “subjunctive facts” and argues that those are the truthmakers for law statements. I have only read the first two (out of four) chapters, so don’t ask me how to make sense of the notion of a “subjunctive fact” yet. But I do have a comment on the early part of the book.
Lange discusses some apparent counterexamples to his thesis of the “stability” of laws. Such counterexamples include David Lewis’s view that at least when dealing with deterministic situations, any ordinary counterfactual supposition requires a violation of the laws (a “miracle”).
(Lange discusses these counterfactuals only in a 9 pp. long footnote (Chap 1, fn. 29). That seems odd. It seems that given the relevance of these counterexamples to Lange’s view, he should have discussed them in the main text.)
I’m not entirely convinced by Lange’s response to the counterexamples (and also by some of the arguments in the main text that are similar in structure). Obviously I cannot do justice to the issue here, but very briefly, Lange seems to argue along the following lines: true, there are counterfactual suppositions that are consistent with the laws but under which the laws are violated, at least in some “worlds”; however, intuitively, under the same counterfactual suppositions, the “worlds” in which the laws are violated are more dissimilar from our world than the “worlds” in which the laws are not violated, and this still supports the stability of laws. Even granting the relevant intuitions, I suspect that the intuitions about similarity between “worlds” that ground the relevant judgments are generated, in turn, by knowledge of which truths are and are not laws. In other words, the counterfactual judgments that are supposed to support the claim that laws form a stable set (in a way that accidents do not) seem to depend on knowing which truths are lawful and which are not. So I am not convinced that Lange has found a noncircular way to connect laws and counterfactuals, contrary to what he suggests in his book. (Circularity is not a problem, unless you want to ontologically ground the laws in the counterfactuals, as Lange does.) Am I missing something? If anyone has insights on this matter, I’d be interested to hear them.
(Another odd choice: John Roberts is in the same department as Lange at UNC Chapel Hill and has published extensively on laws [including his own book on laws: The Law-Governed Universe, OUP 2009]. Even though Roberts is acknowledged at least four times in the book for having contributed this or that point, none of Roberts’ publications are cited by Lange. It’s hard not to wonder how that came about.)
All this being said, Lange’s book is thought-provoking and worth reading.