Ceteris paribus laws need machines to generate them

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Pemberton, John M.; Cartwright, Nancy
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preprint description
Most of the regularities that get represented as ‘laws’ in our sciences arise from, and are to be found regularly associated with, the successful operation of a nomological machine. Reference to the nomological machine must be included in the cp-clause of a cp-law if the entire cp-claim is to be true. We agree, for example, ‘Ceteris paribus aspirins cure headaches’, but insist that they can only do so when swallowed by someone with the right physiological makeup and a headache. Besides providing a necessary condition on the truth of the cp-law claim, recognising the nomological machine has great practical importance. Referring to the nomological machine makes explicit where the regularities are to be found, which is of central importance to the use of cp-laws for prediction and manipulation. Equally important, bringing the nomological machine to the fore brings into focus the make-up of the machine – its parts, their powers and their arrangements - and its context case-by-case.