## Tuesday, May 21, 2024

### A problem for probabilistic best systems accounts of laws

Suppose that we live in a Humean universe and the universe contains an extremely large collection of coins scattered on a flat surface. Statistical analysis of all the copper coins fits extremely well with the hypothesis that each coin was independently randomly placed with the chance of heads being 1/16 and that of tails being 15/16.

Additionally, there is a gold coin where you haven’t observed which side it’s on.

And there are no other coins.

On a Lewisian best systems account of laws of nature, if the number of coins is sufficeintly large, it will be a law of nature that all coins are independently randomly placed with the chance of heads being 1/16 and that of tails being 15/16. This is true regardless of whether the gold coin is heads or tails. If you know the information I just gave, and have done the requisite statistical analysis of the copper coins, you can be fully confident that this is indeed a law of nature.

If you are fully confident that it is a law of nature that the chance of tails is 15/16, then your credence for tails for the unobserved gold coin should also be 15/16 (I guess this is a case of the Principal Principle).

But that’s wrong. The fact that the coin is of a different material from the observed coins should affect your credence in its being tails. Inductive inferences are weakened by differences between the unobserved and the observed cases.

One might object that perhaps the Lewisian will say that instead of a law saying that the chance of tails on a coin is 15/16, there would be a law that the chance of tails on a copper coin is 15/16. But that’s mistaken. The latter law is not significantly more informative than the former (given that all but one coin is copper), but is significantly less brief. And laws are generated by balancing informativeness with brevity.