Mind 122 (487):605-653 (2013)

Stephen Barker
Nottingham University
This paper argues that the new metaphysics of powers, also known as dispositional essentialism or causal structuralism, is an illusory metaphysics. I argue for this in the following way. I begin by distinguishing three fundamental ways of seeing how facts of physical modality — facts about physical necessitation and possibility, causation, disposition, and chance — are grounded in the world. The first way, call it the first degree, is that the actual world or all worlds, in their entirety, are the source of physical modality. Humeanism is the best known such approach, but there are other less well-known approaches. The second way, the second degree, is that the source of physical modality lies in certain second-order facts, involving a relation between universals. Armstrong’s necessitarianism and other views are second-degree views. The third way, the third degree, holds that properties themselves are the source of physical modality. This is the powers view. I examine four ways of developing the third degree: relational constitution, graph-theoretic structuralism, dispositional roles, and powerful qualities. All these ways are either incoherent, or just disguised versions of the first-degree. The new metaphysics of powers is illusory. With the collapse of the third degree, the second degree, the necessitarian view of law, collapses as well. I end the paper with some reflections on the first degree, on the problem of explaining necessary connections between distinct existences, and on the dim prospects of holist ontology
Keywords powers  dispositional essentialism  causation  law  Humean analysis  causal structuralism  relational constitution  quiddities  counterfactuals  necessary connections
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/mind/fzt082
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

What is a Law of Nature?D. M. Armstrong - 1983 - Cambridge University Press.
Essence and Modality.Kit Fine - 1994 - Philosophical Perspectives 8 (Logic and Language):1-16.
Scientific Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2001 - Cambridge University Press.

View all 57 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Powerful Qualities and Pure Powers.Henry Taylor - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (6):1423-1440.
Making Sense of Powerful Qualities.Ashley Coates - 2020 - Synthese 198 (9):8347-8363.
Grounding Theories of Powers.Matthew Tugby - 2021 - Synthese 198 (12):11187-11216.

View all 23 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Humean Dispositionalism.Toby Handfield - 2008 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (1):113-126.
Individualism, Causal Powers, and Explanation.Robert A. Wilson - 1992 - Philosophical Studies 68 (2):103-39.
Humean Metaphysics Versus a Metaphysics of Powers.Michael Esfeld - 2010 - In Gerhard Ernst & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Time, Chance and Reduction: Philosophical Aspects of Statistical Mechanics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 119.
Against A Priori Arguments for Individualism.Robert A. Wilson - 1993 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74 (1):60-79.


Added to PP index

Total views
1,173 ( #4,826 of 2,499,677 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
51 ( #16,339 of 2,499,677 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes