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Nancy Cartwright’s Rejection of the Laws of Nature and the Divine Lawgiver

Lydia Jaeger
S & CB 22 (1)
April 2010

Abstract

Well-known for her thesis that the laws of nature ‘lie’, Cartwright argues for a return to the capacities, conceptually close to Aristotelian natures. The religious references so dispersed in Cartwright’s writings could, at first, lead one to think that her religious influences played a negligible role in the elaboration of her conception of natural order. However, when these few indications are considered alongside biographical information, it becomes clear that the absence of faith in God is of crucial importance, not only to her rejection of laws, but even more so to her adoption of the capacities, and to her preference for the ‘dappled’ world, that is, a world-view that sees unified scientific description as impossible. Thus, Cartwright gives us a significant example of what might well be the paradoxical situation of a certain number of philosophers of science writing in the analytic tradition: the (relative) rareness of references to their religious convictions hides their truly fundamental influence.

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