Guest Post by Walter Ott — Powers Views in the History of Philosophy

Walter Ott is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia.  He is the author of Causation & Laws of Nature in Early Modern Philosophy (Oxford, 2009) [which I liked a lot], among other things. 

I’m completely on board with powers as opposed to laws (whether Humean or realist). It strikes me, though, that the powers view has been around a long time, to put it mildly, and hence been subjected to successive waves of criticism. So we’d be well served by going back to look at these critiques; that’s my next project.

If we don’t carry out some such project, then we’re in danger of re-inventing the wheel. One example: the exchange between Armstrong and Ellis in Sankey’s volume. Armstrong, if I recall, argues that Ellis’s powers exhibit physical intentionality, since they’re capable of being directed toward all sorts of non- (indeed never-!) actualized states of affairs. That’s a pretty close approximation of Descartes’s and Malebranche’s ‘little souls’ arguments. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other cases of déjà-vu out there that I haven’t come across.

Moreover, there might be some very good arguments against the powers view that haven’t gotten the attention (or the replies) they deserve. Obviously Hume is still a central figure in the debate in all sorts of ways; but what about Al-Ghazali, or Nicolas d’Autrecourt, or the indeed the Cartesians? I might be behind the times in the contemporary literature on powers, so if anybody can think of places in the current literature where these figures crop up, I’d be very glad to hear about it. Conversely, if you can think of neglected but important arguments from historical figures on the question of powers, that would be most appreciated.

This entry was posted in About powers, Contemporary analytic metaphysics, etc., History of philosophy, Questions, thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

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