Empirical laws, regularity and necessity

H. Koningsveld

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In this book I have tried to develop an analysis of the concept of an empirical law, an analysis that differs in many ways from the alternative analyse's found in contemporary literature dealing with the subject.

1 am referring especially to two well-known views, viz. the regularity and necessity views, which have given rise to many interesting papers and books within the philosophy of science.

In developing my own views, it very soon became clear to me that the mere restatement of these alternative views, followed by a discussion of their defects and an explanation of my own view, would not suffice to show what 1 regard as basically unsound in these views.

If we seriously consider the well-known difficulties facing the regularity view, we have to consider the possibility that the time has arrived to stop our attempts to solve, by means of patch-work additions, the fundamental problem of empirical laws within the traditional context of logical positivist doctrines.

I have tried to find a solution which is based on a different philosophical context, the main incentive being that the discouraging results of the customary attempts to solve the problem might have been the outcome of the fundamental philosophical setting within which the problem had been formulated and within which everyone looked for a solution. The problem of empirical laws is not a problem existing by its own rights - it is shaped by an underlying point of view or theoretical framework.

For this reason I have started with a brief sketch of the logical positivist context. However, I want to stress the fact that my intention was not to offer an historical exposition, but an exposition which becomes meaningful when related to the subsequent arguments concerning empirical laws.

The notion of direct or theory-free observation has been taken as the fundamental characteristic of the logical positivist point of view. This view has been further characterised by means of five theses, among which is the thesis that observational terms are isolated or theory-independent units of extensional meaning. These terms are then supposed to be the starting-points of meaning and the end-points of confirmation, and these very characteristics mark the privileged position such terms have in a logical positivist philosophy.

The post-positivist view, on the other hand, is characterised by the opposing notion of theory-loaded observation. This notion leads to other conclusions which radically oppose some of the theses of logical positivism. The notion of theory- loaded observation itself, although often clearly stated, has not yet been systematically elucidated, and I have made an attempt to do this in ch. I after my sketch of the logical positivist context. This seemed to me to be necessary in order to make my post-positivist point of view as clear as possible, before tackling the problem of empirical law itself.

I have paid special attention to the lawlikeness of concepts and their confirmation and falsification.

These epistemological issues are followed by a separate examination of Goodman's riddle in ch. II, because it lies somewhere between the lawlikeness of concepts and the lawlikeness of laws. If Goodman's riddle is taken as a serious problem, as I think it should, it is primarily a problem of concept or theory formation and not a problem of induction.

In ch. III the regularity view has been examined and the well-known difficulties related to such a view are considered, assuming the knowledge gained in ch. I. This has led to some interesting results, especially in connection with the analysis of counterfactuals and the confirmation of 'normal' singular conditionals, to which I return in the last chapter.

Three different views of the necessity view are briefly stated and investigated in ch. IV. RESCHER'S view is, I think, close to mine, which has been developed in ch. V. However, there are fundamental epistemological differences between our views.

In the last chapter I have given my own analysis of the concept of an empirical law, which should not be taken as a synthesis of a regularity and a necessity view, but as opposed to both. It is, as far as particulars may count, the result of an analysis of the concepts 'regularity' and 'necessity'. I have tried to argue that the greatest shortcoming of the regularity view lies in the fact that the proponents of such a view have not been really concerned with the concept of 'regularity' itself. They usually take this concept to be intuitively clear enough to serve as basis for their analysis. Their attacks upon the necessity view are based on the reproach that 'necessity' is a very obscure concept, and that it should, therefore, be avoided in the philosophy of science. We could, however, reproach them in a similar way, since the concept of 'regularity' is anything but clear.

One may say that an empirical law formulates a 'regularity in nature', but we can only do justice to the function a law has in science, if we are ready to view this regularity as a necessary connection, which does not exist in an observer-independent reality, but in a theoretically co-constituted empirical world.

This investigation does not pretend to answer all questions concerning empirical laws. It should, therefore, not be regarded as complete, but neither should the arguments and suggestions be regarded as completely free from ambiguity.

Much remains to be done in order to offer a generally acceptable theory and better understanding.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Meyer, A.M.T., Promotor, External person
Award date13 Apr 1973
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publication statusPublished - 1973
Externally publishedYes


  • knowledge
  • research
  • methodology
  • empiricism
  • scientific research

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