, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 19–25 | Cite as

A pragmatist challenge to constraint laws

Marc Lange: Because without cause: Non-causal explanation in science and mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, xxii+489 pp, $74.00 HB
  • Holly Andersen

Meta-laws, including conservation laws, are laws about the form of other, more specific or phenomenological, laws. Lange distinguishes between meta-laws as coincidences, where the meta-law happens to hold because the more specific laws hold, and meta-laws as constraints to which subsumed laws must conform. He defends this distinction as a genuine metaphysical possibility, such that metaphysics alone ought not to rule one way or another, leaving it an open question for physics.

Lange’s distinction marks a genuine difference in how a given meta-law can be used in explanations, if it were a constraint rather than a coincidence. Yet, I will argue, it is not simply an empiricalmatter as to whether a given conservation law, for instance, is a constraint or a coincidence. There is no set matter of fact about the world that determines this, and physics alone will not be able to return a determinate verdict on a law-by-law basis, even while there is a genuine difference between that given law...



Much thanks to two groups: the students in the 2017 Explanation and Causation Simon Fraser University philosophy seminar for such lively discussions and invaluable assistance in working through this material; and the audience at the “Unifying the Debates” 2017 workshop at IHPST in Paris organized by Daniel Kostic. I am grateful for the opportunity to live and work on unceded Coast Salish territory.


  1. Andersen, Holly. 2016. Complements, not competitors: causal and mathematical explanations. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, axw023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Lange, Marc. 2012. What makes a scientific explanation distinctively mathematical? The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64(3): 485–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Lange, Marc. 2017. Because without cause: non-causal explanations in science and mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PhilosophySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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