Re: Brian Ellis’ claim that powers are energy transfers

Here’s a thought for the analytic metaphysics crew.

In Scientific Essentialism, Brian Ellis argued that the basic metaphysical categories include substance kinds, process kinds and property kinds (in later writings he has moved to subsume substance kinds into process kinds; I think he had it right the first time … ).  Property kinds, as readers of the book will know, he then divides into two major species: categorical and dispositional.  Dispositional properties, he says, are the essences of processes: processes are grounded in, or by, given dispositional properties in that they are displays or expressions thereof.  I sometimes think that it’s properly the other way around, i.e., that it’s the processes that ground the dispositional properties.  But for present purposes this is neither here nor there.

Anyway, the thought is this: Brian also thinks that powers are energy transfers (except when they are spontaneous, but we can bracket those, as I have here).  But I don’t see how this is going to work.  Specifically, it seems to me that inasmuch as process kinds as Brian conceives of them are qualitatively distinct, one from another, they are going to need to be grounded in dispositional properties that also are qualitatively distinct, one from another.  And I don’t see how dispositional properties can be that, if they are simply energy transfers.

I’d be curious to hear what others think.  Maybe I can get Brian to join in, too!

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One Response to Re: Brian Ellis’ claim that powers are energy transfers

  1. I remember reading that book and thinking that it was an interesting move, but that it isn’t going to generalise – for a simple reason: in various physical situations – notably those where spacetime curvature is significant – there isn’t really a well-defined notion of energy, and so it’s going to be hard to set up any framework based on energy transfer that applies to, say, things being caused by gravity waves or black holes, which I would think one would want to be able to capture.

    Just a general thought.

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