Laws, Mind, and Free Will

From Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology

Laws, Mind, and Free Will

By Steven Horst

An account of scientific laws that vindicates the status of psychological laws and shows natural laws to be compatible with free will.

Bradford Books





An account of scientific laws that vindicates the status of psychological laws and shows natural laws to be compatible with free will.

In Laws, Mind, and Free Will, Steven Horst addresses the apparent dissonance between the picture of the natural world that arises from the sciences and our understanding of ourselves as agents who think and act. If the mind and the world are entirely governed by natural laws, there seems to be no room left for free will to operate. Moreover, although the laws of physical science are clear and verifiable, the sciences of the mind seem to yield only rough generalizations rather than universal laws of nature. Horst argues that these two familiar problems in philosophy—the apparent tension between free will and natural law and the absence of "strict" laws in the sciences of the mind—are artifacts of a particular philosophical thesis about the nature of laws: that laws make claims about how objects actually behave.

Horst argues against this Empiricist orthodoxy and proposes an alternative account of laws—an account rooted in a cognitivist approach to philosophy of science. Horst argues that once we abandon the Empiricist misunderstandings of the nature of laws there is no contrast between "strict" laws and generalizations about the mind ("ceteris paribus" laws, laws hedged by the caveat "other things being equal"), and that a commitment to laws is compatible with a commitment to the existence of free will. Horst's alternative account, which he calls "cognitive Pluralism," vindicates the truth of psychological laws and resolves the tension between human freedom and the sciences.

Bradford Books imprint


$38.00 X ISBN: 9780262015257 296 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 60 figures, 3 tables


  • Steven Horst has written a first-rate book that is philosophically informative and engaging.


  • Horst's book provides some philosophers or scientists of mind with a probably long-overdue update on philosophy of science. Its discussion of free will may interest the general audience the most, but hopefully it may also bring them to broader philosophical issues of mind and science. Horst shows us a sincere, fine effort to dissolve foundational concerns about mind and its place in the world while reminding us of our epistemic limitations. We can see the difficulty of resolving the conflict between the two images that we have of ourselves. For this schizophrenic tension, maybe, the best available therapy is not trying to remove it but being reminded of it.



  • Start with a mix of powers, like mine or Mumford's, and Giere's perspectivism. Mix in a great deal of Horst. The result is a lovely pluralist view of scientific models and laws, a view that meshes neatly with the matching doctrine of Cognitive Pluralism that Horst develops from his detailed case studies and that leaves ample room for—but does not force—free will.

    Nancy Cartwright

    Professor of Philosophy, London School of Economics and University of California, San Diego

  • Steven Horst's Laws, Mind, and Free Will has both the clarity, scope, and scholarship needed for an excellent text and the original analysis appropriate to a significant contribution to the literature, especially on the topic of laws of nature. It will reward readers in philosophy of mind and cognitive science and provide advanced students with an excellent treatment of important literature.

    Robert Audi

    John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame