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Science powers: how Aristotelean are they?. Nancy Cartwright & John Pemberton Venice Aristotle Group, April 2014 . +. Simple science case. -. The earth has the power of gravitational attraction. When this power exercises... It PULLS the electron down.

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science powers how aristotelean are they
Science powers: how Aristotelean are they?

Nancy Cartwright & John Pemberton

Venice Aristotle Group, April 2014

simple science case


Simple science case
  • -

The earth has the power of gravitational attraction. When this power exercises...

It PULLS the electron down.

The positive charge has the power of Coulomb attraction. When this power exercises...

It PULLS the electron up.

WHAT HAPPENS when both powers exercise at once?

The electron stays in place.


The ARRANGEMENT matters.

Nature fixes what happens when these powers so arranged exercise together... And we can learn how she will do that.

economics too uses the analytic method
Economics too uses the analytic method
  • We find out about the activity associated with a given power by isolating the operation of the power from that of other powers in
    • Experiments
    • Models
  • Ex: skill loss during unemployment presses up future unemployment levels.

Stable arrangements of powers that, exercising together in that arrangement, produce repeatable processes and new powers.

Need not be mechanical. Can be economic, biological...

what s in our ontology
What's in our ontology?
  • Systems and their features
  • Powers-related
    • Powers
    • Exercisings of powers
    • Interferences with the exercising of powers
  • Arrangements (nomological machines )
  • What happens
  • In the sense of authority, 'exousia'. (ἐξουσία)
  • These are causal powers: having power = being able to influence the behaviour of others. (Wiki Answers, 'What is power?)
    • Able: can do so and will do so some of the time at least, if circumstances are right.
    • Influence
      • Causes ( partial)
      • Not determine.
    • The exercising of the power is directed from the power towards some other power/ feature.
how powers are identified
How powers are identified
  • The exercise of a power is a specific kind of activity (pulling, deflating, 'grocing')
  • 1 power, 1 kind of exercise.
  • The power is defined by its associated activity. This connection is analytic.
  • Why both?

Because the power can obtain without being exercised.

  • When a power is appropriately triggered and suffers no interference it will act in the associated way.
    • This avoids troubles with masks and finks because
      • This states a FACT generally true. It is not offered as a rubric for providing truth conditions for power ascription.
      • It happily uses other power-related concepts.
  • These are what we refer to with ordinary property and relation words. There are generally a number of different ways for telling if a feature is present.
  • In science, engineering and daily life we learn that certain features tend to be associated with certain powers.
    • This is an EMPIRICAL connection. (Even if features = sets of powers.)
  • We need both powers and features because
    • Most features are associated with many powers
    • The same power may be associated with many features/structures. (E.g. Pumping)
    • Powers need not have a 'causal base'
  • We learn empirically
    • What powers there are in nature
    • What features there are
    • What kinds of associations there are between them
    • How to create structures with new powers.
exercisings vs what happens
Exercisings vs what happens

Hume denied that there's a distinction between the obtaining of a power and it's exercise.

  • He allowed just the feature and the subsequent effect... what happens.
  • We insist we need the exercising in between the power and what happens.
  • This is why our powers are reasonably called 'powers'.
  • Oddly, most contemporary metaphysical work on powers and dispositions supposes just the power and its manifestation, which in our language is 'what happens'.
why exercisings
Why exercisings?

We need them for the ANALYTIC METHOD so common in science.

  • We learn how a power exercises often by letting the power exercise with no other powers acting so that its activity obtains on its own. In this case the activity = what happens.
  • Then the same activity will
    • obtain whenever that same power is exercised without interference
    • affect what actually happens.
  • In nice cases there are rules we can learn and articulate about how contributions combine to fix what happens. (E.g.vector addition of forces.)
  • Recall our '1 power, 1 exercise'. Some metaphysicians define a power by saying what happens in every situation where it obtains. They don't provide for the analytic method.
causal profile account of powers

Resultant set of properties

  • Property a
  • Property b
  • .
  • .
  • .
Causal profile account of powers
  • Compresence
  • Change event
  • Mutual manifestation partner 1
  • Property 1
  • Property 2
  • .
  • .
  • Set of mutual manifestation partners
advantages to powers ontology for some science
Advantages to powers ontology for (some?) science
  • It supports the analytic method common in many areas of science.
  • It puts the production of what happens into nature itself rather than into the hands of extra-worldly laws.

Sadly NOT.

The analytic method is only useful if there are rules are for what happens when powers exercise together in given arrangements.

So then, we still have extra-worldly laws fixing what happens.

The causal profile account avoids this but we think at the cost of nonsense: There is no set of mutual manifestation partners. The possible arrangements are not fixed.

how are our powers aristotelean
How are our powers Aristotelean?
  • For a power, what it does is in its nature.

Yet we are not prey to the Scholastic jeers: What makes heavy bodies fall? Gravity. What is gravity? That which makes heavy bodies fall.

There is genuine discovery -- of what powers tend to be associated (and in what ways) with what features.

Cf. Segal 2009 in Mind & Language for defense of the analytic connection between a power (disposition) and the activity that counts as it's exercising.

how are our powers aristotelean1
How are our powers Aristotelean?
  • Because ours are causal powers (pulling, deflating, ...) we have agents acting on patients who have the power to receive the change
  • The outcome of the exercisings of powers is a coherent process of change through time (not a step change to another power).
how are our powers aristotelean2
How are our powers Aristotelean?
  • Art allows us to arrange powers to build artefacts with new powers.
  • We do not include causal relations in basic ontology.
  • Often best to treat powers in real systems as Aristotle treats maths re physics since many powers we attribute to systems and use for prediction and explanation cannot inhere in real systems.
    • Compare lever with triangle.
aristotle s differing focus
Aristotle’s differing focus
  • Examples of agent / patient ontology:
    • Typically focus on powers of people, e.g. builder building bricks into house, doctor curing patient, teacher teaching pupil.
    • Cases of just 2 powers: agent + patient (although occasionally involve tools: e.g. person moves hand, moves stick, moves stone).
  • Aristotle’s complex ontology also includes (inter alia): elementary powers (e.g. tendency of earth to fall, fire to rise) and natures (inner principle of change, e.g. of seed to grow into plant).
  • Science typically focused on cases where there are many interacting powers which are inanimate, e.g. nomological machines / mechanisms
  • Differing focus makes comparison challenging – but perhaps you can help?
aristotelian powers compatibilities
Aristotelian powers – compatibilities

Agent / patient powers in suitable contact ↔ “arrangement matters” (for physical powers)

Activation of power ↔ exercising of power

Change occurs within patient ↔ some overall effect occurs wrt features of recipient system

Change grounds activation of agent & patient power ↔ exercisings of powers combine in the given arrangement to give rise to overall effect

Powers endure through period of changing (rather than disappearing to be replaced by new powers)