The Great Divide in metaphysical debates about laws of nature is between Humeans who think that laws merely describe the distribution of matter and non-Humeans (primitivists) who think that laws govern it. What is the difference? In any case, the laws of nature describe how the universe works, that is, its fundamental properties. The laws of nature are, after all, not some "adjustment" performed from the outside, but only a property of the very structure of the physical world.

  • 1
    Do you have a reference for this belief of Humeans? I would have thought Humeans don't deny the existence of something beyond "constant conjunction", but that they merely deny we can know anything beyond that. There is a position that is neither of those you describe, which is that nature is purely phenomenal, and that the laws of nature are merely regularities that we are capable of perceiving, rather than expressions of the real causal structure of the universe, but that there is a real causal structure beyond what we can perceive. Mar 10, 2022 at 19:18
  • @DavidGudeman philpapers.org/rec/…. Mar 10, 2022 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


Primitivists believe that the law is the cause of the matter distribution, but if the law only describe the matter distribution, Humeans believe, it's the effect of matter distribution. Believing in each has its own consequences. In general, theories that are based on primitivism result into incident models, which the law predicts the future distribution, for example classical mechanics or Einstein relativity, while the Humeans theories result into consecutive models, where the law only explain the experiment which has already been taken, for example quantum mechanics or statistical physics. People who want the law to predict the future become primitivists and the ones who want to explain things and learn from the past become Humeanist.

By the way I'm not a native English speaker, feel free to edit my answer to make it more accurate.

  • However, law is not something that exists apart from the physical world. This property of the physical world, one might say, the law is how the world behaves, how it works. Mar 14, 2022 at 12:04
  • 1
    There is acutely a difference between the physical world and the observable world. Observable world has an age, about 14 billion years, but the physical world is yet something unknown. The physical world is greater or equal to the observable world.
    – user58159
    Mar 14, 2022 at 16:10
  • Let there be an observable world. It doesn't change what I was talking about. Mar 14, 2022 at 16:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .