Source: p 120, Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (2012) by Prof Sharon Kaye (MA PhD (Philosophy), U. Toronto). The following question appears in Chapter 8 entitled Hume and causality.

  1. Which of the following is entitled to believe in laws of nature?

a) Empiricists    b) Rationalists    c) Materialists    d) Idealists

[p 7, see also p 12 :] The view that the material world around us is not real is called idealism.

[p 64, cp. p 73:] The fundamental theme in Descartes's philosophy is reason: we discover innate truths through the power of clear thinking. In his hands, the inward-looking approach we have seen running through Plato and Anselm becomes the epistemology known as rationalism.

p 219 states (b) as the only answer with no explanation. I understand why (b) is an answer (as Laws of Nature supply reasons for truths), but why is (d) incorrect? I can imagine an Idealist who tries to understand the world by relying on Laws of Nature using maths and physics, because she has already adjudged the material world unreal and unreliable.

This website asserts the following which would vindicate (d):

Actually, the idealistic concept of the material world is logically compatible with the scientific view of matter. Idealism does not say that the natural world is unreal; it does not say that the laws of nature are mere inventions of the human mind; it does not say we can change the world magically by thinking differently.

  • 1
    "The view that the material world around us is not real is called idealism" is charming in its plain question begging since idealists reject that the world around us is material (most also accept that it is real). The author's apparent belief that philosophical questions can be supplied with multiple choice answer keys makes me doubt even more that this is an adequate book for studying philosophy. And contra the book, the correct answer is any of the above. – Conifold Mar 8 '16 at 2:27
  • I think Kaye must just mean that the debate between (c) and (d) is completely orthogonal to the debate about the status of laws of nature. I can't see any reason to think idealists couldn't believe in laws of nature. – shane Mar 8 '16 at 19:43
  • ... unless maybe she thinks that idealists all have to be empiricists and empiricists all have to reject laws of nature. but at any rate, it's clear that there are empiricists who believe in laws of nature (Hume isn't one, but David Lewis is.) And there are materialists who believe in laws of nature (david armstrong is one). – shane Mar 8 '16 at 19:45

The only way I can think of, in which Idealists are not entitled to believe in Laws of Nature, is through the assumption that Laws of Nature apply in and to a world existing independently of the mind, while Idealists are limited to believing that only minds or mind-dependent ideas exist. If the Laws of Nature presuppose a world independent of the mind, to which they apply, and Idealists deny the existence of a mind-independent world, they cannot consistently believe in Laws of Nature.

I am not expressing any view here about Idealism or Realism or about the existence or character of Laws of Nature. I am simply trying to reconstruct the thinking - or the possible thinking - behind the view that Idealists are not entitled to believe in Laws of Nature.

  • If idealism is true then the laws of Nature are a product of Mind or, if you like, they simply are the laws of Mind. No problem. Of course, 'Mind' here would not mean human mind. . – PeterJ Mar 28 '18 at 11:23

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