2022 Critical Social Ontology Workshop Program

Conference will be free, but you’ll need to register. E-mail ruth <dot> groff <at>slu.edu to express your interest in attending!

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2022 Critical Social Ontology Workshop (via Zoom) – call for papers!

Please spread the word — and consider participating! Click on the link to see the call.

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New Paper: Conceptualizing Powers

Paper just out in Synthese! Here is a link that you can use to get to it. I hope that you & your loved ones are okay.


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2020 Critical Social Ontology Workshop — COVID-19

COVID-19 Update. Sadly, we have decided to cancel this year’s Critical Social Ontology Workshop. If only for the safety of more-vulnerable members of our communities, we do not want to invite travel in the midst of this global health crisis. We look forward to seeing you next year!

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2020 Critical Social Ontology Workshop – April 25 & 26, CfP!

Attached is the CfP!

CSOW – cfp Jan 31, 2020

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Comments on ‘Counterpossible’ Counterfactual Dependence

Comment on a paper at the Central States Philosophical Association annual meeting, Oct. 18-19, 2019.

Comments on counterpossible causation

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“Conceptualizing Causal Powers: Activity, Capacity, Essence, Necessitation”

Link to recent talk!  Comments, thoughts welcome!

Paris talk, 2019

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Note on neutral monism vs. pandispositionalism

Short excerpt from ch. 5 of the book that I am currently writing, A Critical Introduction to Causal Powers & Dispositions

“By 2004, Mumford had revised his view of properties. In place of the idea that properties are such that they can be conceptualized both in terms of dispositional predicates, which are analytically connected to given causal roles, and in terms of categorical predicates, which are related to those same causal roles, but only a posteriori (tokens of which predicates are functionally identical across types) — in place of this, Mumford came to the position, advanced in Laws of Nature (and further refined in an article published that same year), that properties just are “clusters of powers,” as he put it. Xzq RG

I will say a bit more about the revised view in a moment, but a preliminary observation is in order. Already in Dispositions, Mumford was explicit that all properties are causally potent, as he put it. D zqw 164. Crucially, however, in 1998 he distinguished between neutral monism and any version of the claim that there are no real categorical properties. After 2004, by contrast, he took his continued commitment to the idea that no properties are causally impotent to preclude the existence of categorical properties.

The shift from neutral monism to pandispositionalism, as it has come to be called, is curious in that not only did Mumford contend in Dispositions that categorically characterized properties are just as efficicious as dispositionally characterized properties, he also made the point there that dispositionally characterized properties are themselves occurrent, in the sense that while powers can be had without being expressed, even when they are unexpressed they are had without qualification, in the present.

Given that he did not subsequently modify or retract either of these claims, it is tempting to suggest that what the ostensible repudiation of categorical properties signals is simply a definitional change: by 2004, any property that plays a causal role had come to be counted as dispositional (only), and only those that do not play such a role (if there are any) would be considered to be categorical. Since all properties are causally potent, from the perspective of neutral monism, it follows that, under the updated meanings of the terms, there can be so such thing as a categorical property, according to a neutral monist.

Confirming my diagnosis is Mumford’s comment, in 2004, that “if categorical properties are meant to be properties that are not powerful, then there is some doubt as to whether they exist.” In RG, 149-150 qx. Manifestly, that is not how he conceptualized them in Dispositions; indeed, at the end of the passage in which this sentence figures, Mumford refers back to his earlier work “for an attempt to make some sense of them.” Xzq RG 150.

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The Causal Criterion of Existence in the Context of Passivism

Finally a real post!  Albeit actually just a question to the hive-mind.  It’s this.  It seems to me that anyone who wants to say, of either (putative) dispositional properties or (putative) categorical properties (“putative” so as not to assume anything about how many kinds of properties there are) — anyone who wants to say, of either, that putative properties of that kind don’t or couldn’t exist because they don’t meet a causal criterion for existence has to already be implicitly thinking of causation in productive, substance causal terms.


I mean, you certainly could run the test on a putative property type assuming some other account of causation, but it’s going to be a lot harder to say that a kind of property doesn’t exist in virtue of (its instances) flunking the test if you can’t say that flunking shows that (putative) properties of that kind don’t do anything.  Nothing actually does anything, according to the passivist.  And never coming first in a regular sequence, for instance, is significantly less telling against the existence of something than is never doing anything.

Plus, think of Alexander Bird’s current position: he doesn’t even think that there are causal relations at the fundamental level at which his so-called “potencies” exist!  Not only are they not potent (activity being only a metaphor, he says), they exist only in an a-causal realm.  Maybe you could get him out of it given that while they are not potent, and they exist only at a level at which causation does not obtain, they nevertheless (as he had it the last time I knew, at least) ground laws of nature.

But nothing hangs on the case of Alexander’s account in particular.  Just pick your favorite Humean passivist (or Kantian, for that matter).  I don’t think that you can use the causal criterion of existence to rule out the existence one or another of their purported property kinds; not without rejecting their own definition of “to cause,” I mean.

Interestingly, Roy Bhaskar, who appealed in A Realist Theory of Science (1975) to a causal criterion for the existence of powers took it as a given that this criterion would not be sanctioned by the Humean empiricists against whom he was arguing (though for him what was important about it was what it permitted, not what it ruled out, i.e., that it allows one to countenance the existence of non-observables).

Anyway, what am I missing?  Show me how a passivist can point to a property playing no causal role to deny its existence!  How they could do so and have it be compelling, that is.




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“What Can We Learn From Marx That Aristotle Didn’t Already Say?”

Recent talk for the Centre for Aristotelian Studies and Critical Theory (Vilnius, Lithuania) [Their website: http://aristotelianstudies.mruni.eu/] Link below.

It isn’t about powers, but it presupposes them!  I will categorize it under “Publicize your work.”

Vilnius talk – May 2019, revised

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