Laws, Natural Properties and Algorithmic Compression

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Wheeler, Billy
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preprint description
The best system account of laws (BSA) suffers from the problem that without commitment to a pre-agreed class of basic predicate terms, it is impossible to compare the strength and simplicity of rival systems. David Lewis wholeheartedly accepted this conclusion and solved the problem by adopting natural properties as one way to fix the vocabulary of theoretical systems. However, contemporary Humeans have tended to distance themselves from Lewis’ approach as it is not in keeping with the usual Humean standpoint of eschewing unobservable metaphysical primitives. In this paper I assess two recent re-formulations of the BSA given by Loewer (2007) and Cohen & Callender (2009) that hope to deliver Humean laws without natural properties. I shall argue that their reformulations are no better than the traditional BSA in that they lead to a radically relative conception of law. I diagnose the problem for all traditional versions of the BSA as arising out of a conflation of laws with law-statements. Instead I will claim it is only by taking laws to be algorithms for compressing empirical data that it is possible to have a Humean theory of laws in the spirit of the BSA that does not require realism about natural properties.