Neil E. Williams develops a systematic metaphysics centred on the idea of powers, as a rival to neo-Humeanism, the dominant systematic metaphysics in philosophy today. Williams takes powers to be inherently causal properties and uses them as the foundation of his explanations of causation, persistence, laws, and modality.
– The paper defends a naturalistic version of modal actualism according to which what is metaphysically possible is determined by dispositions found in the actual world. We argue that there is just one world—this one—and that all genuine possibilities are anchored by the dispositions exemplified in this world. This is the case regardless of whether or not those dispositions are manifested. As long as the possibility is one that would obtain were the relevant disposition manifested, it is a genuine possibility. (...) Furthermore, by starting from actual dispositional properties and branching out, we are able to include possibilities that are quite far removed from any state of affairs that happens to obtain, while still providing a natural and actual grounding of possibility. Stressing the importance of ontological considerations in any theory of possibility, it is argued that the account of possibility in terms of dispositional properties provides a more palatable ontology than those of its competitors. Coming at it from the other direction, the dispositional account of possibility also provides motivation for taking an ontology of dispositions more seriously. As well as the relevant dispositional notions required to lay out the view, the paper discusses the dispositional realism needed as the basis for the account of possibility. (shrink)
– The conjunction of three plausible theses about the nature of causal powers—that they are intrinsic, that their effects are produced mutually, and that the manifestations they are for are essential to them—leads to a problem concerning the ability of causal powers to work together to produce manifestations. I call this problem the problem of fit. Fortunately for proponents of a power-based metaphysic, the problem of fit is not insurmountable. Fit can be engineered if powers are properties whose natures are (...) determined holistically. However, this power holism does not come without a cost, as a power-based metaphysic must be supplemented by a certain amount of additional machinery in order to avoid the problem. (shrink)
This chapter focuses on the view that diseases comprise natural kinds and how this view is in conflict with the essentialist picture of natural kinds as championed by Kripke and Putnam. This essentialist depiction of natural kinds contends that in order for a class of entities to be a natural kind, it is required that all and only members of the class instantiate very specific properties that explain the presence of any other properties typically associated with being a member of (...) the kind; these privileged properties constitute the “essence” of the kind. The problem is that the essentialist picture provides only two options, none of which is desirable: satisfy the essentialist desiderata by locating some etiological feature both necessary and sufficient for kind membership, or reject the thought that similarity between disease instances can be understood in terms of natural kinds. (shrink)
Central to the debate between Humean and anti-Humean metaphysics is the question of whether dispositions can exist in the absence of categorical properties that ground them (that is, where the causal burden is shifted on to categorical properties on which the dispositions would therefore supervene). Dispositional essentialists claim that they can; categoricalists reject the possibility of such ?baseless? dispositions, requiring that all dispositions must ultimately have categorical bases. One popular argument, recently dubbed the ?Argument from Science?, has appeared in one (...) or another form over much of the last century and purports to win the day for the dispositional essentialist. Taking its cue from physical theory, the Argument from Science treats the exclusively dispositional characterizations of the fundamental particles one finds in physical theory as providing a key premise in what has been called a ?decisive? argument for baseless dispositions. Despite sharing the intuition that dispositions can be baseless, I argue that the force and significance of the Argument from Science have been greatly overestimated: no version of the argument is close to decisive, and only one version succeeds in scoring points against the categoricalist. Not only is physical theory more ontologically innocent than defenders of baseless dispositions seem to appreciate, most versions of the Argument from Science neglect important ways that dispositions could be grounded by categorical properties. (shrink)
Recently, several philosophers have defended what might be called `neo-essentialism' about natural kinds. Their views purport to improve upon the traditional essentialism of Kripke and Putnam by rejecting the claim that essences must be comprised of intrinsic properties. I argue that this so-called break from traditional essentialism is not a break at all, because the widespread interpretation of Putnam according to which he takes essences to be intrinsic is mistaken. Putnam makes no claim to the effect that essences of natural (...) kinds must be intrinsic, and offers at least one example of a natural kind whose essence is non-intrinsic. I conclude that his traditional essentialism has been misinterpreted, and consequently that neo-essentialism is not so `neo' after all. (shrink)
Power theorists are divided on the question of whether individual powers are single-track (for a single manifestation type) or are multi-track (capable of producing distinct manifestation types for distinct stimuli). EJ Lowe has recently defended single-tracking, arguing that the multi-tracker can provide no adequate reason for treating powers as capable of having multiple manifestation types, and claiming that putative instances of multi-track powers are either single-track powers in need of unifying descriptions or are merely several single-track powers. I respond to (...) Lowe on behalf of the multi-tracker, first by arguing that he overlooks the extra-empirical features of the debate, then by posing a dilemma for any single-track account of powers concerning the single-tracker’s ability to appropriately deal with fine-grained manifestation types. Finally I provide the aforementioned reason for thinking that there are multi-track powers. (shrink)
The aim of the paper is to give an ontologically informed account of disease that can aid in the construction of disease ontologies. The paper begins by distinguishing cases of diseases from what are purely structural abnormalities, referred to as ‘disorders’. The paper then presents a causal model apt for the understanding of disease that distinguishes diseases from both their causes and their potential effects. The analysis of disease defended treats disease in terms of distortions of standard cellular network processes, (...) where those distortions are incapable of self remedy and produce biologically disadvantageous symptoms. (shrink)
John Heil’s From an Ontological Point of View (Heil 2003) is a tremendous philosophical work. The neo-Lockean ontology the reader finds within its 267 pages is a sensible and refreshing alternative to the neo-Humean ontologies which presently occupy the vast majority of the metaphysical literature. What Heil offers is a much needed change in perspective. Nor are the strengths of the book limited to Heil’s willingness to approach central metaphysical problems in largely untried and unpopular way; the book is very (...) clear in its presentation, accessible to wide readership, and tightly argued throughout. Heil’s efforts in this book are to be applauded, and the result is one that warrants serious consideration by all those interested in serious metaphysics. But the interest should not end there: the lessons of Heil’s book are ones that almost all philosophers ought to take seriously. Despite the criticism that follows, my overall position should not be taken as anything short of a whole-hearted endorsement of Heil’s book. Nonetheless, when philosophy is one’s trade, there is always going to be something to disagree about, however much one is amenable to a view. (shrink)
The essays are arranged in two sections of ethical topics and a section on philosophy, evolution, and the human sciences that includes the title essay, “Making Sense of Humanity.” In World, Mind and Ethics, excellent pieces by Elster, Sen, Jardine, Hookway, McDowell, Nussbaum, Charles Taylor, Altham, and Hollis range even more widely: over ethics, political philosophy, and epistemology, reflecting some of the breadth of Williams’s interests.
This paper reports the results of a workshop held in January 2013 to begin the process of establishing standards for e-learning programmes in the ethics of research involving human participants that could serve as the basis of their evaluation by individuals and groups who want to use, recommend or accredit such programmes. The standards that were drafted at the workshop cover the following topics: designer/provider qualifications, learning goals, learning objectives, content, methods, assessment of participants and assessment of the course. The (...) authors invite comments on the draft standards and eventual endorsement of a final version by all stakeholders. (shrink)
A venerable story in the history of medieval philosophy has it that the eleventh century saw a debate between certain 'dialecticians', who exalted the role of reason and disdained theological authority, and 'anti-dialecticians', who carefully limited—or even rejected—the application of dialectical reasoning to Christian doctrine. A number of authors have called into question certain details of this story, but in..