Triangle of Law

We visualize laws of nature as bivalent: there are laws and then matter Рthe first control actions and the second are controlled. We can flesh this out in different ways (the laws might be separate from matter or immanent in it, matter might be really or notionally separate). Whatever this might explain, the laws also are  essentially three-cornered Рthe law (1) explains (or just is) the relation between initial conditions (2) and final outcomes (3).

Seeing laws in their essential triangularity makes them essentially relative and mediating which negotiate the initial realities with the results we get or expect. Absent this three-cornered account, we cannot explain nature as we actually find it. Law needs to enter into the concretion of what was the case and what comes to be in order to explain the concrete world. This is why cosmology can, given an outcome, account for it by changing the laws or changing the initial conditions.

On the bivalent account of law, all that is intelligible about nature is from law, and so we can imagine all the intelligible content of the world might be located in law. On the three-cornered account, law presupposes some sort of intelligible structure already given. Law cannot get behind the intelligible but can only work from it.



  1. October 24, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Could this be summarized as: initial conditions + law = final outcomes? Or would that oversimplify it? I guess it hinges on whether the law only explains or in fact is the relation. Is it merely descriptive or also instrumental?

    • October 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      Your equation is fine.

      If we say law is “merely descriptive” as opposed to being a separately existing ontological entity, this is fine – just another denial of Platonism. But to say that it means laws are without any immanent element in things themselves it is a radical anti-realism of the sort that runs afoul of the no miracles argument. Some real law is either in things or outside them.

      Saying the law is only the relation seems to mean that the things themselves have laws within themselves.

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