Nebraska Academy of Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, Volume 3 (1976).


Copyright 1976 by author(s).


What it is for a statement to be a scientific law has been widely discussed and debated in the philosophy of science. Not only is the question interesting in itself, but it is essential that this question be answered if a complete analysis of such things as scientific explanation and prediction are to be given. The purpose of this paper will be to put forward an analysis of the phrase "X is reasonably classified as a scientific law at time t" in such a way as to highlight certain pragmatical aspects of scientific laws while doing justice to the syntactical and semantical aspects of scientific laws. One important insight this analysis will bring out is that the concept of reduction (in the sense of theory reduction) has an essential role in what is reasonably classified as a scientific law.

My strategy will be to put forward and discuss an analysis which attempts to formulate, in some sense, the syntactical and semantical aspects of scientific laws, and then to use this analysis (with a slight modification) to put forward an analysis of the phrase "X is reasonably classified as a scientific law at time t". But before considering this first analysis, a few preliminary remarks must be made.

First of all, I do not want to concern myself with the question whether scientific laws are sentences or whether they are propositions (i.e., what can be expressed by a declarative sentence). But for the sake of this paper, I am going to construe scientific laws as sentences. Now if one is convinced that scientific laws are propositions, he must at least admit that if we could determine what conditions must be satisfied for a sentence to express a scientific law, then we have come a long way in determining the nature of scientific laws; hence we can justify an investigation of sentences as relevant to the nature of scientific laws, even if scientific laws are propositions. Also, treating scientific laws as sentences will require the relativizing of our discussion to particular languages. For example, if we claim that sentence X is confirmed with respect to sentence Y, then the truth value of this claim will depend upon the language which X and Y are members. Now this relativizing to particular languages will not be explicitly stated in the following account, hence one must keep this implicitly in mind.