Spinoza wrote in his Ethics that:

the laws and rules of Nature…are always and everywhere the same

This so as to deny a categorical difference between man and nature; Spinoza affirms that man is continguous with nature - not set apart: man is not an exception (and thus in Schmitts language cannot be sovereign).

But there is a different meaning of this exempified by Newtons Gravitas which is Universal (transcending Aristotles division of celestial and terrestial realms); is Spinoza affirming too this discovery of Newton, or does he supply a reason that this must be true; if not - can one be supplied?

(In modern physics this universality is 'broken', now we have the classical and quantum realm and one might suppose that a rationale behind healing this division is to return us to Newtons utopian universality).

  • Why should what is accidental to something (time, position, etc.) change its nature? – Geremia Oct 27 '14 at 3:34
  • I think of it as a sort of metaphysical principle of inertia. It just seems more natural to assume things will remain the same unless something changes them than to assume things will continue to change unless something works to stop the change. After all, there are an infinite number of ways in which something may change, but exactly one way in which it can remain the same. – David H Oct 27 '14 at 5:40
  • @DavidH: I'd go along with that; and it is what Hobbes wrote in defending the principle of inertia; but to take a different tack - Parmenides One could be taken as the exemplary version of this idea: nothing changes, there is no change which is opposed to the Heraclitian idea that all is change, and this oppositional duality is also emblematic of another duality of the Ideal versus the Empirical. Still very good points - would you say the same for the homogeneity of space (translational & rotational), of time and of atoms (this electron here is exactly the same as that electron a galaxy away)? – Mozibur Ullah Oct 27 '14 at 5:53
  • @Geremia: are you saying that time and position are accidents of a thing? Didn't Lebneiz argue that these are in fact not properties of objects, and thus cannot be either essential or accidental to them? Under this argument one might suppose that atoms cannot change their nature (essence) or properties by being translated in time and space. It would be interesting to see whether he did indeed make this argument. In what I've generally read of Lebneizs thought atoms, rather suspiciously, do not make any appearances. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 27 '14 at 5:55
  • @MoziburUllah They become 'monads' quickly and take on the role of reflecting all of the aspects of all other entities. So there is no essence and accident, only interaction. A more comprehensible version of this is in Whitehead, but it is still bizarrely self-referentially embedded. – user9166 Oct 27 '14 at 21:09

I cannot answer for the historical aspect of the question (I don't know enough Spinoza) but I would say that today it is generally assumed that the universality of laws is analytic: laws are always and everywhere the same by definition, otherwise they're not laws but local facts (whether there are indeed true laws of nature in this sense is another question).

Regarding modern physics: it's important to distinguish between universality and unification. Physics is not unified because we have more than one theory to reflect different aspects of the universe, but each theory purports to be universal in its application. In particular, both QM and GR apply always and everywhere.

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  • "it is generally assumed"—By whom? There's a lot of debate on the "laws of nature" AFAIK; I'm taking this largely from Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles, but also SEP's Ceteris Paribus Laws. An old history of the philosophy of science professor is also doing a bunch of research on causality. So, perhaps you've given a viewpoint instead of the viewpoint? – labreuer Oct 27 '14 at 15:54
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    I take from Caroll's book "Laws of Nature" that the defining characteristics of laws are that they are true, universal, non-local generalisations. This is what we mean by "law of nature". There are debates on the putative existence or metaphysical status of laws, not on what we generally mean by "law of nature". – Quentin Ruyant Oct 27 '14 at 17:04

The laws of nature refer to what we might now generally refer to as the laws of the physical world, in modern times we would call these the various laws of the physical sciences. Although science assumes that these laws are uniform, we have actually no direct proof of this.

There is an incongruity between man and nature.

The astrophysicist Arthur Eddington wrote on this contiguousness of man with nature the following:

'I am convinced that you have minds which think. Here then is a world fact to be investigated. The physicist brings his tools and commences systematic exploration. All that he discovers is a collection of atoms and electrons and fields of force arranged in space and time, apparently similar to those found in inorganic objects. He may trace other physical characteristics, energy, temperature, entropy. None of these is identical with thought. He might set down thought as an illusion-some perverse interpretation of the interplay of the physical entities that he has found. Or, if he sees the folly of calling the most undoubted element of our experience an illusion, he will have to face the tremendous question: How can this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine? But what knowledge have we of the nature of atoms which renders it at all incongruous that they should constitute a thinking object?

....But now we realise that science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the atom. The physical atom is, like everything else in physics, a schedule of pointer readings.

....matter is something that Mr. X knows. Let us see how it goes: This is the potential that was derived from the interval that was measured by the scale that was made from the matter that Mr. X knows. What is Mr. X?...physics is not at all anxious to pursue the question: What is Mr. X? It is not disposed to admit that its elaborate structure of a physical universe is "The House that Mr. X Built."

....From its own point of view, physics is entirely justified. That matter, in some indirect way, comes within the purview of Mr. X's mind is not a fact of any utility for a theoretical scheme of physics. We cannot embody it in a differential equation. It is ignored, and the physical properties of matter and other entities are expressed by their linkages in the cycle. And you can see how by the ingenious device of the cycle physics secures for itself a self-contained domain for study with no loose ends projecting into the unknown. All other physical definitions have the same kind of interlocking. Electric force is defined as something which causes motion of an electric charge; an electric charge is something that exerts something that produces motion of something that exerts something that produces...ad infinitum.'

So yes, man is an exception.

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@ Mozibur Ullah- One simple way to approach this question may not resolve whether what has been observed as what appear to be 'laws' of nature are such, is to point up that no matter what the physical activity under observation, whether in a fishbowl, an ocean, a person's body, the moon, distant stars, black holes, or even the Big Bang, at each and every point on this spectrum of observation some admixture of the elements from the 'atomic table' are both present and 'operable' in each activity; predominantly hydrogen and helium. This does not 'prove' that uniform 'laws of nature' are present and applicable everywhere in the universe, but it more than a coincidence. Regards, CS

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