# Laws, Theories, and Research Programs

Keyword(s): Law-distinction

## Introduction

• Empirical theories can be described as traditionally (a)sets of statements, or sets of models, which are the specification of classes of set-theoretic structures satisfying certain conditions.
• The history of law-distinction:
1. Classical logical empiricists. The point of departure is theory-free vocabulary.
2. Meaning holism. All terms occurring in a theory are laden with theory.
3. Nagel, Hempel, and Sneed. Some may be laden, while some may not, moving from two-level, short-term dynamics to a multi-level, long-term dynamics of the development, where proper theories become observational law with a new higher proper theory.

## Examples and prima facie characteristics

Examples of proper theories:

• Newton’s theory of graviation
• Dalton’s theory of the atom
• Mendel’s theory of genetics
• Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance
• Rational-choice theory
• ….

Examples of observational laws:

• Falling objects near the earth have constant acceleration, or Galilei’s law of free falling.
• Chemical compounds always decompose into component substances with constant weight ratios.
• When people have made a decision there is active seeking out of information which is consistent with the action taken.
• ….

Characteristics of observational laws and theories, or their differences:

• Wheras an observational law is usually represented as one, possibly complex, statement, a theory is usually presented as a system, a coherent set, of statements.
• An observational law may specify what will happen under certain experimental conditions, while a theory may be stronger.

Differences above do not well distinct laws and theories, howerver.

• Theories introduce new concepts, called “the theoretical terms”, that do not occur in laws.
• Although laws can be explained by theories, they are relatively indepedent. That is, a law can be tested independently, and one law can be explained by multiple theories.

As suggested, opposed to the classical logical empiricist point of view, the last two differences may serve as conditions of adequacy.