Natural laws as prohibitions

The theories of natural science, and especially what we call natural laws, have the form of strictly universal statements; thus they can be expressed in the form of negations of strictly existential statements, or, as we may say, in the form of non-existence statements (or ‘there-is-not’ statements). For example, the law of conservation of energy can be ex­pressed in the form: ‘There is no perpetual motion machine’, or the hypothesis of the electrical elementary charge in the form: ‘There is no electrical charge other than a multiple of the electrical elementary charge’.

In this formulation we see that natural laws might be compared to ‘proscriptions’ or ‘prohibitions’. They do not assert that something exists or is the case; they deny it. They insist on the non-existence of certain things or states of affairs, proscribing or prohibiting, as it were, these things or states of affairs: they rule them out. And it is precisely because they do this that they are falsifiable. If we accept as true one singular statement which, as it were, infringes the prohibition by asserting the existence of a thing (or the occurrence of an event) ruled out by the law, then the law is refuted. (An instance would be, ‘In such-and-such a place, there is an apparatus which is a perpetual motion machine’.) [48]

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