pp 1–10 | Cite as

What if there are laws of nature? Reflections on van Fraassen’s Laws and Symmetry

Bas C. van Fraassen: Laws and Symmetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, 410pp, £31.49 PB
  • Stathis PsillosEmail author
Review Essay

Bas van Fraassen’s Law and Symmetry is a tour de force. Thirty years after its appearance, it remains as fresh and topical as when it was published. Not only does it offer a systematic and thorough critique of all the then extant philosophical theories of lawhood, it also poses two problems—the inference problem and the identification problem—that any theory of laws of nature should solve, if it is to be an adequate theory. The book is a gem when it comes to the issues of probability and chance in science. It also advances some of the major themes that constitute van Fraassen’s empiricist approach to science: the critique of inference to the best explanation as a rule of belief revision; the new voluntarist epistemology; the semantic view of theories; and the role of symmetries in theory construction. In this anniversary review, I will limit my attention to van Fraassen’s criticism of the category of law of nature, which remains as timely as ever.

Metaphysics for post-Kantian...



  1. Descartes, Rene. 1998. The World and Other Writings. In Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, ed. Stephen Gaukroger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Leibniz, G.W. 1989. In Philosophical Papers and Letters, ed. L.E. Loemker, 2nd ed. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Malebranche, Nicolas. 1997. The Search after Truth. In Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (trans: Lennon, T.M. and Olscamp, P.J.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Mill, John Stuart. 1882. A System of Logic, 8th ed. New York: Harper & Brothers.Google Scholar
  5. Psillos, Stathis. 2018. Laws and Powers in the Frame of Nature. In Laws of Nature, ed. Lydia Patton and Walter R. Ott, 80–107. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Psillos, Stathis. Forthcoming. From Natures to Laws of Nature. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  7. Psillos, Stathis, and Eirini Goudarouli. 2019. Principles of Motion and the Absence of Laws of Nature in Hobbes’s Natural Philosophy. HOPOS, The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of AthensAthensGreece

Personalised recommendations