The Ontology of Things, Properties and Powers

Journal of Critical Realism 8 (3):343-366 (2009)
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Whilst the concept of causal powers is central to much post-positivist social science in general, and to critical realism in particular, it has not been significantly developed by critical realists since the initial work of Harré and Madden and Bhaskar in the mid-1970s. To deepen our understanding of powers we need to start with a ‘package’ of related terms. In §1 of the paper I introduce this package, clear up some terminological ambiguity and inconsistency, and focus the discussion upon things, properties and powers. The real problems begin when we try to figure out how things, properties and powers relate to one another. In §2 I introduce and evaluate three possible ontologies: an ontology where powers are primary; an ontology where properties are primary; and an ontology where neither properties, powers are primary, but all emerge to form a unity. The last ontology is defended. §3 deals with ambiguities surrounding three other terms that often crop up when discussing powers, namely, dispositional properties, transfactuals and processes. The net result is a far less ambiguous concept of powers, firmly anchored in an ontology of things, properties and powers as a unity.



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Steve Fleetwood
University of the West of England

Citations of this work

The Ontic Account of Scientific Explanation.Carl F. Craver - 2014 - In Marie I. Kaiser, Oliver R. Scholz, Daniel Plenge & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Explanation in the Special Sciences: The Case of Biology and History. Springer Verlag. pp. 27-52.
The critical realist conception of open and closed systems.Steve Fleetwood - 2017 - Journal of Economic Methodology 24 (1):41-68.
Powers and Tendencies Revisited.Steve Fleetwood - 2011 - Journal of Critical Realism 10 (1):80-99.

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References found in this work

A realist theory of science.Roy Bhaskar - 1975 - New York: Routledge.
Laws in nature.Stephen Mumford - 2004 - New York: Routledge.
Causal powers: a theory of natural necessity.Rom Harré & Edward H. Madden - 1975 - Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield. Edited by Edward H. Madden.
Causality and properties.Sydney Shoemaker - 1980 - In Peter van Inwagen (ed.), Time and Cause. D. Reidel. pp. 109-35.

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