What are you reading?

Sorry about the hiatus, all.

Now that it’s summer, let’s try again to generate some conversation that isn’t just me.

How’s this for a dinner-party type question: what are you reading RIGHT NOW, powers-related?  Let’s see what we’re all thinking about.

I’ll start.

I’m reading three things.

First is Naturalizing Critical Realist Social Ontology, by Tuukka Kaidesoja.  Along with Dave Elder-Vass (The Causal Power of Social Structures, Cambridge, 2010); the wonderful Dan Little (too many things to list; his fantastic blog is Understanding Society); and maybe some others (I’m not on top of the logistics), I’ll be taking part in a to-be-published review symposium of the book.

Second is Aryeh Kosman’s The Activity of Being: An Essay on Aristotle’s Ontology, which I started but then had to set aside.  I think that this is going to be really good — and crucial for those of us who want to insist that powers are about not-necessarily-actualized activities – kinds of doing – and not (ultimately) about anything other than that.

Third, my friend Lawrence and I are reading Watkins on Kant, painstakingly, and talking about it via Skype.  We took a detour to read some Leibniz, so we could see better what Watkins thinks Kant was doing, prior to the CPR.  We’re finally up to the good stuff, as Lawrence put it.

Your turn!

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3 Responses to What are you reading?

  1. tomkivatinos says:

    I have a request about relevant readings that I hope would not be rude to insert here in this discussion. I am trying to put together a collection of readings that would span the general scope of literature concerning dispositional essentialism. The main readings would appear to be Ellis’s book Nature’s Metaphysics, and Ellis two books (Scientific Essentialism and The Philosophy of Nature). What else would you suggest should not be overlooked by anyone trying to make the rounds of the core readings about this topic?

    Also, a more specific question: what would comprise the list of articles from which dispositional essentialism first originated? The obvious ones seem to be Shoemaker’s Causality and Properties and the articles that he mentions in there – Achinstein’s The Identity of Properties and Mellnor’s In Defense of Dispositions. What else should be included in the list of originating literature? (Maybe, even, Locke’s discussion of secondary properties?) Thanks very much!

    • rgroff2013 says:

      Hi Tom!

      Sorry for the delay in posting — notice of your note went to my spam filter for some reason!

      Soon there will be a (hopefully good) book on the topic, a secondary source on powers & dispositions. I’m about to start writing it! It will be published by Bloomsbury, in the Critical Introductions to Contemporary Metaphysics series.

      I will give you my own thoughts, but I hope others will weigh in too. I think that there are two crucial distinctions to make, in thinking about the literature since the 70s, say. First, there are people who come at it more from the causation/philosophy of science angle and others who come at it via properties. Presently, I know the former lineage better than the latter. Second, and this is really crucial, essentialism and a rejection of passivism are not the same thing. One might for some reason opt to use the word “power” (or, in Alexander Bird’s case, “potency”) to mean “property the identity of which does not change,” but it is, I think we can agree, a counter-intuitive use of the word. We already have words that mean “when the identity of x does not change,” or “is what it is necessarily.” I can’t see that there is any good reason to use the word “power” or “potent” to mean that. (Of course, Hume used the word to mean “contingent but regular conjunction,” so there is a history of the word “power” being reassigned to mean things other than one might think.)

      I don’t mean to pre-judge the metaphysics, here: perhaps there are no powers-powers to serve as referents for the word “power.” But one has to start somewhere, linguistically. If we stipulate that “power” refers in some way to activity (and that “activity” cannot itself be reduced to any term or phrase that does not already mean activity), then there are those who defend the existence of powers and those who do not, but who nevertheless refer to their belief in essentialism and/or the idea that causes necessitate their effects as a belief in powers.

      This gives us a 4 part typology: (1) causation/phil of science; (2) properties; (3) powers; (4) passivist essentialism &/or necessitarianism. [Note: there are those who affirm (3) who also belief in essences; Brian Ellis paradigmatically.]

      As a first stab at an answer (I can write more tomorrow or later in the week), I’d say that foundational readings about (3) powers, from the (1) causation/phil of science side, are (in recent historical order): Harre and Madden, CAUSAL POWERS; Roy Bhaskar A REALIST THEORY OF SCIENCE; and Brian Ellis, SCIENTIFIC ESSENTIALISM. I would read them in this order. Then I’d read some Nancy Cartwright, and Stephen Mumford’s LAWS IN NATURE. Next I’d read Anjan Chakravartty’s A METAPHYSICS FOR SCIENTIFIC REALISM, and then Mumford & Anjum’s GETTING CAUSES FROM POWERS.

      I’d look to Aristotle before Locke. Reid is also an important figure. Sections from Essays on the Powers of Man. I’ll post details not tonight.

      This list is designed to give someone a solid sense of what people who believe in the kind of powers that, until recently, everyone rejected, believe about the world. Some of these thinkers are essentialists, others aren’t. As I say, it’s not the same issue. All of these thinkers reject passivism. Bird is not on this list because he is a passivist. Same with Armstrong. If I were making a different list, readings about essentialism and natural kinds, I’d for sure put Alexander on that list.

      These are just what I regard as foundational texts. There are plenty of fine-grained article-length contributions these days. Some portion of these are confused, in my view, about (3). Which is why I’d start with these. Also, only some of these works would be in a list of foundational work coming from the (2) properties side of things. Ellis’ would.

      I hope that this is helpful for now!

  2. tomkivatinos says:

    Thank you very much! This is all tremendously helpful! I have some questions to clarify some of your comments. Firstly, the “powers” view that you mentioned (what you denote as 3) – with “powers” being used to refer to what you called “activity” – is the view according to which the identity of a property is its causal disposition? Secondly, the “essentialist” view that you mentioned; this is the view that a property’s identity is something that it has essentially? Thirdly, the “passivist essentialist” view is the view that a property’s identity is something that it has essentially and a property’s identity is not a causal disposition? Fourthly, “necesstarianism” is the view that causal laws are metaphysically necessary (in the sense that a given causal law obtains in all worlds where the properties that it governs obtain)?

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