MUSTS Colloquium with Frans van Lunteren on Historicising the ‘laws of nature’

Frans van Lunteren

Wednesday, November 11, 2020, 15:30-17:00

This colloquium takes place online. Zoom link can be requested from j{dot}bruyninckx{at}maastrichtuniversity{dot}nl


There is a remarkable discrepancy between the vast amount of philosophical literature on the so-called laws of nature, and the scarcity of historical books and papers discussing this topic. We now have histories of many epistemological categories, such as ‘fact’, ‘probability’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘truth’, but no general history of the laws of nature. Most papers on this subject merely discuss the early history of the concept as well as the birth of the modern concept, generally seen to have originated in Descartes’ work. Its further development is largely left in the dark and many pertinent questions remain unanswered (for a brief overview of such questions, see my blog post). In this talk I will address some of these questions, but above all I want to focus on the ambivalent relationship between the laws of nature and the traditional quest in natural philosophy for causal explanations in the period from Descartes to the late nineteenth century.



Frans van Lunteren is a historian of science, working at both the Free University of Amsterdam and Leiden University. His work focuses on the 19th- and early 20th century origination of modern science, i.e. the emergence of disciplines, the changing self-image of the scientist (e.g., the new laboratory ethos), specialization and standardization, and some of the resulting ‘dilemmas of modernity’.