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The Logical Character of Natural Laws (An Examination of Kneale's View)

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Item Code: NAM970
Author: Nandita Chaudhuri
Publisher: Maha Bodhi Book Agency
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789380336923
Pages: 402
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 620 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The Logical Character of Natural Lows is a work on William Kneale’s theory of natural necessity, according to which laws of nature as formulated in science, even though they are established or accepted a posteriori, still ‘are or may be’ necessary. For this theory of opaque natural necessity Kneale draws inspiration from Locke’s account of natural laws in the Essay and paradoxically enough, from Kant’s theory of natural necessity as expounded in the Critique of judgment.

The work, as it proceeds, provides an explication of the notion of a posteriori necessity; it comes to highlight the peculiarity of perceptual object terminology through an examination of phenomenalism; it comes to discuss in the proper context the problem of counter factual conditionals; it is led to undertake a critique of the conventionalist theory of necessity; and it comes to consider certain other matters of interest like the logical positivists’ and the instrumentalists’ theory of natural laws.

The main objective of this work is to show that Kneale’s theory of natural necessity is fairly intelligible and eminently defensible.

This book will satisfy serious readers including students of philosophy interested in inductive logic and philosophy of science and for further work on classical philosophers, like Locke or Hume.

About The Author

Dr Nandita Chaudhuri had a brilliant academic record. She was the recipient of Gold medal and other medals and book prizes for standing first in the first class in M.A. Examination in Philosophy, conducted by the University of Calcutta in the year 1975. She had brilliant academic record at school and college level also. She joined Shri Shikshayatan College, an A grade college for women in the metropolis of Kolkata in the year 1980 and taught there till her last days. She was also a Guest Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, University of Calcutta for over 10 years and taught Logic and Ethics there. Though she had interest in all spheres of philosophy but areas of special interest for her were logic, philosophy of science and applied ethics. She obtained her Ph. D. Degree from the University of Calcutta, Kolkata in 2008. Her research on “Natural Necessity of Natural laws” was under the supervision of Acharya Brajen Seal Professor of Philosophy (University of Calcutta), Dr Kumudranjan Goswami.

She had also special interest in classical Indian dance forms. She got her training in Odissi classical dance from the renowned maestro of Odissi dance, Padmabhushan Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. She was a dance critic contributing dance reviews and articles on dances to The Telegraph, an English daily newspaper and Desh, a Bengali Magazine published by the Ananda Bazar Group. She had many outstanding publications to her credit, some of which have been included in this Book.


Nandita Chaudhuri prepared this work, under my supervision, as her thesis in Philosophy for the degree of Ph.D (Arts) of the University of Calcutta. The thesis was submitted in 2007, and she was admitted to the degree in 2008.

Unfortunately for us, however, Dr Nandita Chaudhuri is no more. She died of pneumonia on August 12, 2013.

As for her work in question, it has been sent to the press by her husband, Mr Ajit Kumar Sinha, who has informed me that the work is now at a much advanced stage of publication. It is now a matter of a few days for Nandita’s book to see the light of the day.

I feel honoured to be invited by Mr Sinha to write this Foreword for Nandita’s work. The work deals with William Kneale’s theory of natural necessity, according to which laws of nature as formulated in science, even though they are established or accepted a posteriori, yet “are or may be” necessary. It is admitted by him that we (men) have no theoretical insight into the necessity of natural laws; he maintains nevertheless that there are sufficiently strong philosophical considerations to warrant the assumption that they are principles of necessity. For this theory of opaque natural necessity Kneale draws inspiration from Locke’s account of laws in the Essay, and, paradoxically enough, from Kant’s theory of natural necessity as expounded in the Critique of Judgement.

It need hardly be stated that Nandita’s work is an important contribution to the literature on the philosophy of inductive logic. The work is so exceptionally well written that it can be read with pleasure and profit by any student of philosophy.


William Kneale’s theory of natural necessity is an important contribution to the literature on the nature - that is, as he calls it, the logical character - of natural laws. He is extremely cautious in the statement of his view. He takes the view that laws of nature as formulated in science, although they are established or accepted a posteriori, have a logical character such as to warrant the assumption that they ‘are or may be principles of necessity’.

The word ‘principles’ contained in the phrase ‘principles of necessity’, which is sometimes used by Kneale in the statement of his view, is explained in the Introductory Chapter (in 1.5.1).

Nowadays a theory of natural necessity is sometimes called ‘natural necessitarianism’. This phrase is accordingly sometimes used in the present work also.

The main objective of this work is to show that Kneale’s theory of natural necessity is fairly intelligible and eminently defensible.

The general line of inquiry followed in this work may be briefly described in the following way.

Chapter One is Introductory. Certain preliminary matters are explained and a brief statement of Kneale’s theory of natural necessity is given in this Chapter. Some of the main considerations in favour of this theory are stated here and an attempt is made to show that the notion of a posteriori necessity is not absurd.

Kneale’s theory of natural necessity is derived substantially from Locke’s account of natural laws. Chapter Two is accordingly devoted to an exegetical and critical study of Locke’s theory of natural necessity, as Kneale and some other scholars find it in his Essay.

The Humean objection to the Lockean theory of natural necessity is analysed into two points, and Kneale’s reply to the objection with respect to both the points is explained and examined in Chapter Three. The conclusions drawn in this Chapter are intended to throw light on what has come to be known as K theory of natural necessity in usual discussions of the nature of natural laws.

The main alternatives to the theory of natural necessity have been considered seriously by Kneale. In Chapter Four his critique of the Humean Regularity theory of natural laws comes up for discussion. What is known as ‘Kneale’s criticism’ in this connection in the literature on the subject is explained and assessed in detail in this Chapter.

To meet Kneale’s criticism some sophisticated versions of the Regularity theory of laws of nature have been formulated by critics of the necessity theory. These are examined in Chapter Five.

In Chapter Six, Whitehead’s Restricted Generalization theory of natural laws, which is an important alternative to both the Humean Regularity theory and Kneale’s Necessity theory of laws of nature, is taken up for an examination.

The Prescription theory of natural laws is opposed to all other theories of laws of nature, in so far as it maintains that law-sentences do not express propositions which are either true or false, but only certain rules or prescriptions for the guidance of our expectations. Kneale’s examination of this theory comes to be studied critically in Chapter Seven.

Chapter Eight contains a discussion of some Instrumentalist theories which are not specifically considered by Kneale in his critique of prescriptionism regarding natural laws.

Certain difficulties in Kneale’s theory of natural law are considered and answered in Chapter Nine. Kant’s theory of natural necessity, which is formulated ‘in his third Critique, and the influence of which on Kneale is not frequently noted, is an important topic treated in this Chapter, where some other matters also are considered.

A Concluding Note on the whole work is added.

The present work has been prepared under the supervision of Dr Kumudranjan Go swami (now retired) Acharya B. N. Seal Professor of Philosophy, Calcutta University. I wish to thank him for his aid, advice, and criticism.

Thanks are due to Professor Norman Swartz of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, for his advice on certain points and encouragement.

To my colleagues in the Department of Philosophy, Calcutta University, where I am a part-time teacher, I wish to express my thankfulness for the interest they have shown in my work.

I am grateful to the administrative authorities of Shri Shikshayatan College, Kolkata, for kindly granting me study leave for preparation of this work. To the Librarian of this College I remain thankful for allowing me to keep beside me some important books as long as I needed them for use in this work.

I am again indebted to the Librarian, Darsan Bhavan, Visva Bharati for making easily available to me certain important books and journals which have been utilized in this work.

My thanks are due also to Jessica Thein Tin and Manas Raha for much help in other ways during preparation of this work.

My obligations to previous authors have all been acknowledged in the proper places. If I have dared to criticize some of my superiors in this work, it is because I believe that criticism is another way of paying homage.


1.1 The Meaning of ‘Natural Laws’ in Kneale, and the Problem of the Importance of Natural Laws

Kneale states what he himself means by ‘laws’ - that is, natural laws - as follows :

... I understand ... by ‘laws’ any uniformities in nature such as we assume when making inferences to the unobserved, apart from those which can be established by summative induction. In the usage of the scientists the term is sometimes reserved for uniformities which are considered especially important because many others can be derived from them, but I am deliberately using the word . . . in a wide sense.

Kneale’s meaning is clear enough. For him as for many others, natural scientists are interested in making rational inferences from observed to unobserved matters of fact (since we must guide our behaviour by such inferences), but our inferences to the unobserved cannot be rational without at least tacit reliance on laws .

The importance of laws as general principles is sometimes questioned, however. Thus some philosophers argue that we can make inferences directly from particulars to particulars. For example, J. S. Mill does so in his System of Logic. He says that ‘we much oftener conclude from particulars to particulars directly, than through the intermediate agency of any general proposition’. Thus, he argues, we constantly reason from ourselves to others or from one person to another, without troubling ‘to erect our observations into general maxims of human or external nature’. For example, a village mother whose Lucy got better after taking a particular medicine suggests to another mother that she had better give her child such-and-such a medicine. Kneale has, as is to be expected, given his own comments on Mill’s view.

Kneale contends that if Mill means only that we often take laws for granted without explicitly stating them, Mill’s view is correct, though the view is incorrect if it is thought that we can make inferences to the unobserved without at least tacitly relying on laws. Kneale says: ‘Even astrologers, crystal-gazers, British Israelites, Buckmanites, and people who claim second sight take, laws for granted when they make their predictions. He admits that if we could directly perceive future events, no law would indeed be required as a premiss, but he points out that this sort of clairvoyance would be a kind of perception or observation, not a method of making inferences beyond observation, and so would not come within the scope of the present discussion.

Attention should perhaps be drawn here to ‘one truly eccentric view’, which, D. M. Armstrong says, has been pointed out to him by Peter Forrest. On this view, although there are regularities or uniformities in nature, there are no laws. According to this view although nature is not law-governed, we may still make reliable inferences to the unobserved by luck or for some other reason. This view, obviously, evades the above argument. For the view may be called the ‘Disappearance view of law’.

It is not difficult to set aside this view, as Armstrong has pointed out. In the first place, what good reason is there for us to think that the world is regular? In the second place, there is the problem of Induction, which this view has to face. Kneale would particularly insist on this second argument. He says: ‘One of the principal aims of natural scientists when they practise induction is to make possible rational inferences from observed to unobserved matters of fact, and, in particular, prediction, or inference to the future’. The expression ‘when they practise induction’ is noteworthy. It is clear that Kneale would not be disturbed, as Armstrong is not, by the aforementioned ‘eccentric’ View.

1.2 Types of Laws of Nature

The present work which is concerned with examining Kneale’s view about the logical character of natural laws must take into account, not laws of one type, but laws of different types. Some of the older philosophers assumed that all science must be a search for causal laws. For Kneale, this assumption is ‘a mistake’. He has clearly pointed out the limits to the notion of cause in natural science. It is, indeed, true that many formulated laws of nature are causal, but scientists have also formulated many other laws of nature which cannot be considered causal laws in any customary sense.

Kneale says:

Many laws of nature formulated by scientists are indeed laws of causal connexion ... between types of events, e.g. the generalization that friction causes a rise of temperature ... But ... there are many laws of nature which cannot be expressed as causal connexions, for example, that all mammals are vertebrates, and causal laws appear to be more common in the less-advanced sciences.

Although it has been emphasized that many laws of nature are non-causal in order to indicate that an explanation can be quite satisfactory even if the law cited is not in the usual sense causal, the impression, however, must not be left, on the other hand, that examination of causal laws with regard to their logical status in some cases according to the context can have no general bearing on, or value towards, the logical status of non-causal natural laws.

Now as for non-causal laws, there are again many types which are distinguishable. No claim is, however, made that the classification of non-causal laws of nature is exhaustive, and Kneale says that the so-called different types of non-causal laws ‘may not even be mutually exclusive’. The classification suggested by him may nevertheless be of some use as showing, as he says, ‘that some of the older logicians have over-simplified their accounts of induction’.

  Foreword v
  Preface vii
Chapter One Introductory 1-21
Chapter Two On Locke’s Theory of Natural Necessity 25-50
Chapter Three Kneale’s Reply to Hume’s Objection to the Lockean Theory of Natural Necessity 55-73
Chapter Four Kneale’s Critique of the Regularity Theory of Natural Laws 75-104
Chapter Five Some ‘Sophisticated’ Versions of the Regularity Theory Considered: An Excurcus 111-152
Chapter Six Kneale’s Critique of Whitehead’s Regionalism Regarding Natural Laws 155-188
Chapter Seven Kneale’s Critique of the Prescription Theory of Natural Laws 193-229
Chapter Eight Some Versions of ‘Instrumentalism’ Examined (Some Additional Discussion) 233-256
Chapter Nine A Final Estimate of Kneale’s Theory) of Natural Necessity 259-277
  Notes 280
  Concluding Note 285
  Appendix I 287
  Appendix II 327
  Appendix III 351
  Bibliography 371
  Index 381

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