What Laws? Which Past?: Meillassoux’s Hyper-Chaos and the Epistemological Limitations of Retro-Causation

Michael J. Ardoline 1
  • 1 University of Memphis,, Memphis, United States of America


The question of the metaphysical status of the laws of physics has received increased attention in recent years. Perhaps most well-known among this work are David Lewis’s Humean supervenience and Nancy Cartwright’s dispositionalism, both of which reject the classical conception of the laws of physics as necessary and real independent of the objects they govern, arguing instead that what we call laws are shorthand for the regularities of local states of affairs (on Lewis’s account) or the dispositions of objects (on Cartwright’s). The properties of necessity and reality are generally taken to go hand-in-hand when physical laws are concerned; however, this leaves aside the possibility that the laws of physics are independently real (i.e. not just a description of regularities of objects) yet contingent. This paper will explore this third option which is found in the work of Quentin Meillassoux. We will ask: if laws both exist independent of their objects and are contingent, what happens when laws change? Specifically, the possibility of metaphysical retro-causation becomes a live option. This raises both questions of the ontological status of the past as well as our epistemic access to the past after a change in physical laws. Meillassoux’s ontology of hyper-chaos weathers this challenge with its consistency intact; however, it is an open question of whether or not saving the reality of physical laws by sacrificing their necessity is worth the epistemic limits and metaphysical strangeness that it implies.

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