Causation is everywhere in the world: it features in every science and technology. But how much do we understand it? Mumford and Anjum develop a new theory of causation based on an ontology of real powers or dispositions. They provide the first detailed outline of a thoroughly dispositional approach, and explore its surprising features.
This book outlines a major new theory of natural laws. The book begins with the question of whether there are any genuinely law-like phenomena in nature. The discussion addresses questions currently being debated by metaphysicians such as whether the laws of nature are necessary or contingent and whether a property can be identified independently of its causal role.
Stephen Mumford puts forward a new theory of dispositions, showing how central their role is in metaphysics and philosophy of science. Much of our understanding of the physical and psychological world is expressed in terms of dispositional properties--from the solubility of sugar to the belief that zebras have stripes. Mumford discusses what it means to say that something has a property of this kind, and how dispositions can possibly be real things in the world. His clear, straightforward, realist account reveals (...) them to be less mysterious than they seem, and shows that an understanding of dispositions is essential to an understanding of properties, causation, and scientific laws. (shrink)
Mumford puts forward a new theory of dispositions, showing how central their role in metaphysics and philosophy of science is. Much of our understanding of the physical and psychological world is expressed in terms of dispositional properties--from the spin of a sub-atomic particle to the solubility of sugar. Mumford discusses what it means to say that something has a property of this kind and how dispositions can possibly be real things in the world.
Hume thought that if you believed in powers, you believed in necessary connections in nature. He was then able to argue that there were none such because anything could follow anything else. But Hume wrong-footed his opponents. A power does not necessitate its manifestations: rather, it disposes towards them in a way that is less than necessary but more than purely contingent. -/- In this paper a dispositional theory of causation is offered. Causes dispose towards their effects and often produce (...) them. But a set of causes, even though they may succeed in producing an effect, cannot necessitate it since the effect could have been counteracted by some additional power. This would require a separation of our concepts of causal production and causal necessitation. The most conspicuous cases of causation are those where powers accumulate and pass a requisite threshold for an effect to occur. -/- We develop a model for representing powers as constituent vectors within an n-dimensional quality space, where composition of causes appears as vector addition. Even our resultant vector, however, has to be understood as having dispositional force only. This model throws new light on causal modality and cases of prevention, causation by absence and probabilistic causation. (shrink)
We claim that if a complete philosophy of evidence-based practice is intended, then attention to the nature of causation in health science is necessary. We identify how health science currently conceptualises causation by the way it prioritises some research methods over others. We then show how the current understanding of what causation is serves to constrain scientific progress. An alternative account of causation is offered. This is one of dispositionalism. We claim that by understanding causation from a dispositionalist stance, many (...) of the processes within an evidence-based practice framework are better accounted for. Further, some of the problems associated with the health research, e.g. external validity of causal findings, dissolve. (shrink)
There has been much discussion of powers or real dispositions in the past decade, but there remains an issue that has been inadequately treated. This concerns the precise modal value that comes with dispositionality. We contend in this paper that dispositionality involves a non-alethic, sui generis, irreducible modality. Dispositions only tend towards their manifestations; they do not necessitate them. Tendency is, of course, a dispositional term itself, so this last statement offers little by way of illumination. But given our thesis (...) on the irreducible nature of dispositionality, we maintain that it cannot be explicated correctly in non-dispositional terms. Nevertheless, we all have experience of dispositionality at work, through the exercise or our own powers and the action of other powers upon us. The notion of dispositionality that we acquire is one that involves a modality stronger than pure contingency but weaker than necessity. The recognition of this distinct modal value for dispositionality is one of the biggest oversights in the growing literature in the area. Yet it is there for all to see in even the most mundane example. (shrink)
What makes it true when we say that something is not the case? Truthmaker maximalists think that every truth has a truthmaker—some fact in the world—that makes it true. No such facts can be found for the socalled negative truths. If a proposition is true when it has a truthmaker, then it would be false when it has no truthmaker. I therefore argue that negative truths, such as t<p>, are best understood as falsehoods, f<p>.
A standard way of representing causation is with neuron diagrams. This has become popular since the influential work of David Lewis. But it should not be assumed that such representations are metaphysically neutral and amenable to any theory of causation. On the contrary, this way of representing causation already makes several Humean assumptions about what causation is, and which suit Lewis’s programme of Humean Supervenience. An alternative of a vector diagram is better suited for a powers ontology. Causation should be (...) understood as connecting property types and tokens where there are dispositions towards some properties rather than others. Such a model illustrates how an effect is typically polygenous: caused by many powers acting with each other, and sometimes against each other. It models causation as a tendency towards an effect which can be counteracted. The model can represent cases of causal complexity, interference, over-determination and causation of absence (equilibrium). (shrink)
Metaphysics and Science brings together important new work within an emerging philosophical discipline: the metaphysics of science. In the opening chapter, a definition of the metaphysics of science is offered, one which explains why the topics of laws, causation, natural kinds, and emergence are at the discipline's heart. The book is then divided into four sections, which group together papers from leading academics on each of those four topics. Among the questions discussed are: How are laws and measurement methods related? (...) Can a satisfactory reductive account of laws be given? How can Lorentz transformation laws be explained? How are dispositions triggered? What role should dispositional properties play in our understanding of causation? Are natural kinds and natural properties distinct? How is the Kripke-Putnam semantics for natural kind terms related to the natural kind essentialist thesis? What would have to be the case for natural kind terms to have determinate reference? What bearing, if any, does nonlinearity in science have on the issue of metaphysical emergence? (shrink)
I develop a metaphysical position that is both lawless and anti-Humean. The position is called realist lawlessness and contrasts with both Humean lawlessness and nomological realism – the claim that there are laws in nature. While the Humean view also allows no laws, realist lawlessness is not Humean because it accepts some necessary connections in nature between distinct properties. Realism about laws, on the other hand, faces a central dilemma. Either laws govern the behaviour of properties from the outside or (...) from the inside. If the former, an unacceptable quidditist view of properties follows. But no plausible account of laws within properties can be developed that permits a governing role specifically for laws. I conclude in favour of eliminativism about laws. At the conceptual core, the notion of a law in nature is misleading. It is suggestive of an otherwise static world in need of animation. (shrink)
Does A cause B simply if A prevents what would have prevented B? Such a case is known as double prevention: where we have the prevention of a prevention. One theory of causation is that A causes B when B counterfactually depends on A and, as there is such a dependence, proponents of the view must rule that double prevention is causation.<br><br>However, if double prevention is causation, it means that causation can be an extrinsic matter, that the cause and effect (...) need not be connected by a continuous chain of events, that there can be causation by absence, and that there can be causation at a distance. All of these implications jar with strong intuitions we have about the nature of causation. There is, on the other hand, a theory of causation based on an ontology of real dispositions, where causation involves the passing around of powers. This theory in contrast entails that double prevention is not causation and, on this issue, it can claim a victory over the counterfactual dependence account. (shrink)
Medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) remain recalcitrant to the medical profession, proving less suitable for homogenic treatment with respect to their aetiology, taxonomy and diagnosis. While the majority of existing medical research methods are designed for large scale population data and sufficiently homogenous groups, MUS are characterised by their heterogenic and complex nature. As a result, MUS seem to resist medical scrutiny in a way that other conditions do not. This paper approaches the problem of MUS from a philosophical point of (...) view. The aim is to first consider the epistemological problem of MUS in a wider ontological and phenomenological context, particularly in relation to causation. Second, the paper links current medical practice to certain ontological assumptions. Finally, the outlines of an alternative ontology of causation are offered which place characteristic features of MUS, such as genuine complexity, context-sensitivity, holism and medical uniqueness at the centre of any causal set-up, and not only for MUS. This alternative ontology provides a framework in which to better understand complex medical conditions in relation to both their nature and their associated research activity. (shrink)
If one’s solution to the free will problem is in terms of real causal powers of agents then one ought to be an incompatibilist. Some premises are contentious but the following new argument for incompatibilism is advanced: 1. If causal determinism is true, all events are necessitated2. If all events are necessitated, then there are no powers3. Free will consists in the exercise of an agent’s powersTherefore, if causal determinism is true, there is no free will; which is to say (...) that free will is incompatible with determinism, so compatibilism is false. (shrink)
In Watching Sport, Stephen Mumford distinguishes two ways in which sport can be seen. A purist sees it aesthetically while a partisan sees it competitively. But this overlooks the obvious point that most sports fans are neither entirely purist nor entirely partisan. The norm will be some moderate position in between with the purist and partisan as ideal limits. What is then the point of considering these pure aesthetic and pure competitive ways of seeing? In this discussion note, I consider (...) possible accounts of the way in which the moderate spectator watches. After rejecting what I call a pure perception theory and a mixed view, I defend an oscillation theory. This means that the moderate sports fan is one who switches, sometimes rapidly, between the aesthetic and competitive perceptions of sport. A pay-off of this account is that we do not need a further, third way of perceiving sport in order to account for the moderate. It has been explained in terms of our original two forms of perception. This fills a lacuna in Mumford's account. (shrink)
This paper has three aims. First, I aim to stress the importance of the issue of the dispositional/categorical distinction in the light of the evident failure of the traditional formulation, which is in terms of conditional entailment. Second, I consider one radical new alternative on offer from Ullin Place: intentionality as the mark of the dispositional. I explain the appeal of physical intentionality, but show it ultimately to be unacceptable. Finally, I suggest what would be a better theory. If we (...) take disposition ascriptions to be functional characterizations of properties, then we can explain all that was appealing about the new alternative without the unacceptable consequences. (shrink)
What is the connection between dispositions and ethics? Some might think very little and those who are interested in dispositions tend to be metaphysicians whose interests are far from value. However, we argue in this paper that dispositions and dispositionality are central to ethics, indeed a precondition. Ethics rests on a number of notions that are either dispositional in nature or involve real dispositions or powers at work. We argue for a dispositional account of value that offers an alternative to (...) the traditional fact-value dichotomy. We explain the place of value within a structure that explains the possibility of ethics. Elsewhere in this structure, we argue that moral responsibility is a precondition for ethics and that it is a dispositional notion depending critically on what Mumford and Anjum have called the dispositional modality. Moral responsibility in turn depends on there being both agency and normativity. We argue that intentionality and agency are preconditions for agency and that value is a precondition of normativity. All these notions are dispositional and make best sense if there are real dispositions or causal powers of agents. (shrink)
This paper contains a consideration of the notion of genius and its significance to the discussion of the aesthetics of sport. We argue that genius can make a positive aes- thetic contribution in both art and sport, just as some have argued that the moral content of a work of art can affect its aesthetic value. A genius is an exceptional inno- vator of successful strategies, where such originality adds aesthetic value. We argue that an original painting can have greater (...) aesthetic value than an exact replica, merely because it is the original. By parity of reasoning, a successful innovation in sport has additional aesthetic value just because it is a new creation. The genius is one who can provide this extra aesthetic pleasure and on that basis is rightly valued. The genius need not be conscious of how they achieve such innovations and thus find their own genius to be something they cannot explain but only demonstrate. In sport, innova- tions that offer new ways of playing or solving problems can produce competitive success which demands instant recognition and rewards. (shrink)
Free will is a problem of modality, hampered by a commitment to modal dualism: the view that there is only necessity and pure contingency. If we have necessity, then things couldn't have been otherwise, against the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (AP). If there is complete contingency, then the agent seems to have no control over her actions, against the principle of Ultimate Authorship (UA). There is a third modality in natural causal processes, however. AP and UA can be reconciled if (...) we allow both causation and agency to involve the dispositional modality. (shrink)
According to Ladyman, the world consists of nothing more than relations that relate to no particulars. Could the world be nothing but structure? In this chapter it is argued that even though there are a number of problems with the standard view of relations accompanied by a particularist ontology, substituting for it a world of pure structure is not progress. A world of pure structure would be no more than a Platonic entity, lacking any resources for concretization. Consequently, there would (...) be no possibility of distinguishing between a world-kind and its concrete instance or instances. It is also argued that the view has insufficient empirical motivation. The history of science does not support the claim that structure is preserved through theory change nor that the structural components of a theory are extricable from its ontological commitments. (shrink)
A theory of laws is developed that takes from E. J. Lowe the claim of natural laws being consistent with certain classes of exceptions. Neither abnormal cases, such as albino ravens, nor miracles falsify covering laws. This suggests that law statements cannot have the form of a universally quantified conditional. Lowe takes it that this is best explained by natural laws having normative force in the same way as moral laws and laws of the land. I argue that there is (...) a non-normative, descriptivist account that also explains the exception cases and which is preferable, given our reservations about normative laws of nature. I also suggest an improved account of miracles within the descriptivist account. (shrink)
David Armstrong is one of Australia's greatest philosophers. His chief philosophical achievement has been the development of a core metaphysical programme, embracing the topics of universals, laws, modality and facts: a naturalistic metaphysics, consistent with a scientific view of the natural world. It is primarily through his work that Australian philosophy, and Australian metaphysics in particular, enjoys such a high reputation in the rest of the world. In this book Stephen Mumford offers an introduction to the full range of Armstrong's (...) thought. Mumford begins with a discussion of Armstong's naturalism, his most general commitment, and his realism about universals. He then examines his theories of laws, modality and dispositions, which make up the basics of Armstrong's core theory. With this in place, Mumford explores his ideas on perception, mind and belief before returning to metaphysics in the last two chapters, looking at truth and the new view of instantiation. The book is a dispassionate, fair and unbiased account of Armstrong's thought. Although Armstong's is a body of work that Mumford regards highly and of real significance, he nevertheless highlights areas of weakness and issues about which there is room for further debate. (shrink)
It is argued that miracles are best understood as natural events with supernatural causes and that such causal interaction is logically possible. Such miracles may, or may not, involve violations of natural laws. If violations of laws are possible, Humean supervenience views of laws are best avoided. Where miracles violate laws, it shows that what is naturally impossible may be actual and what is naturally necessary may not be actual. Whether or not miracles actually occur, this demonstrates that the nomic (...) modalities differ from the logical. The theory contrasts favourably with competitors and allows, contrary to an interpretation of Aquinas, that Creation would have been a miracle. (shrink)
The results of sport would not interest us if either they were necessitated or they were a matter of pure chance. And if either case were true, the playing of sport would seem to make no sense either. This poses a dilemma. But there is something between these two options, namely the dispositional modality. Sporting prowess can be understood as a disposition towards victory and sporting liabilities a disposition towards defeat. The sporting contest then pits these net prowesses against each (...) other. The stronger will tend to beat the weaker but no more than tend. This makes sense of the sporting contest in which the weaker knows they still can win. The stronger team can lose though they do not tend to do so. The dilemma is thus escaped. (shrink)
Sport is a producer of both emotional and aesthetic experiences. But how do these relate? Does a spectator?s emotional engagement in sport enhance or hinder it as an aesthetic experience? And does the aesthetic perception of sport enhance or hinder the emotional experiences? These questions will be addressed with particular reference to the distinction that can be drawn between partisan and purist watchers of sport, and making use of thinking in contemporary aesthetics and philosophy of emotion. There are some reasons (...) to think that emotion and aesthetics pull in opposite directions, in both sport and wider life. Does a purist miss out on the essence of sport if they adopt a detached aesthetic attitude? If that were the case, it would suggest that the sports spectator might have to choose between the two: experiencing one or the other but not both at the same time. Emotions and aesthetics would be a trade-off but I argue for some significant exceptions to this conclusion. (shrink)
Dispositions may be identical to their categorical bases but should we say, with Quine, that all properties are categorical or, with Popper, that all properties are dispositional? Both positions make implicit claims of ontological reduction but if this consists in nothing more than identity then, identity being a symmetrical relation, neither categorical nor dispositional monism is provided. A supervenience relation may be thought decisive, but if the identities are token- token, reduction is ruled out; if the identities are type- type (...) there is no direction of supervenience hence no determination of reduction. It is concluded that both ontologies have been argued inadequately. (shrink)
There are many ways that we can watch sport but not all of them are philosophically interesting. One can watch it enthusiastically, casually, fanatically or drunkenly. One might watch only because one has bet on the outcome. Some watch a friend or relative compete and have a narrow focus on one individual's performance. A coach or scout on the lookout for new talent may have completely different interests to a supporter of a team. But what of the ways of watching (...) sport that are of philosophical interest? (shrink)
Strand and Parkkinen criticize our dispositional account of causation in evidence‐based medicine for failing to provide a proper epistemology of causal knowledge. In particular, they claim that we do not explain how causal inferences should be drawn. In response, we point out that dispositionalism does indeed have an account of the epistemology of causation, including counterfactual dependence, intervention, prediction and clinical decision. Furthermore, we argue that this is an epistemology that fits better with the known fallibility of even our best‐informed (...) predictions. Predictions are made on the basis that causes dispose or tend towards their effects, rather than guarantee them. The ontology of causation remains a valuable study for, among other reasons, it tells us that powers do not always combine additively. This counts against the monocausality that is tested by randomized controlled trials. (shrink)
There are a number of dispositionalist solutions to the free will problem based on freedom consisting in the agent's exercise of a power. But if a subject a is free when they exercise their power P, there is an objection to be overcome from the possibility of power implantation. A brainwasher, rather than directly manipulating a subject's movements, can instead implant in them a desire, to be understood as a disposition to act, and allow the subject to exercise such a (...) power. It seems that, according to the dispositionalist theory of freedom, such an agent would still count as acting freely. There is a strong non-consent intuition that a is not free in such a case because they did not consent to having the power P—the desire in question. Filling out this intuition is not straightforward. But it can be done in terms of the exercise of P being regulated by higher-order powers of self-reflection. Such regulation is what allows an agent to either take ownership of a power or to reject it. (shrink)
In this paper we examine whether and how powers ontologies can back formal causation. We attempt to answer three questions: i) what is formal causation; ii) whether we need formal causation, and iii) whether formal causation need powers and whether it can be grounded in powers. We take formal causal explanations to be explanations in which something's essence features prominently in the explanans. Three kinds of essential explanations are distinguished: constitutive, consequential, and those singling out something's propria. This last kind (...) of explanation has been somewhat overlooked in the literature, but we argue that it features in much of the most relevant uses of formal explanations in philosophy and science. These are the explanations for why an object has certain propertis that are not, properly speaking, parts of its essence, but that belong to it more intimately than just being part of its consequential essence: they are the properties that ‘flow’ from something's essence. It is argued that a powers metaphysics is uniquely placed to make sense of this last phenomenon. We then distinguish three grades of involvement in which powers might be salient for formal causal explanations: i) powers might be the subject matter of the essence operator, ii) the essence of something might include (or be exhausted) by powers, or iii) powers can explain how propria can flow from something's constitutive existence. (shrink)
SummaryThere are two rival ways in which events in the world can be explained: the covering law way and the dispositionalist way. The covering law model, which takes the law of nature as its fundamental explanatory unit, faces a number of renown difficulties. Rather than attempt to patch up this approach, the alternative dispositionalist strategy is recommended. On this view, general facts are dependent upon particular facts about what things do, rather than vice versa. This way of viewing the world (...) is not only more intuitive but also handles some of the notorious problems faced by laws; such as those of probabilistic and unrealized facts. The dispositionalist strategy faces its own difficulties of explaining generality and contingency of behaviour. It is shown, however, that at least these difficulties should not dissuade the dispositionalist. The prospects for a convincing dispositionalist ontology to replace one based on laws of nature are thus healthy. (shrink)
George Molnar came to see that the solution to a number of the problems of contemporary philosophy lay in the development of an alternative to Hume's metaphysics, with real causal powers at its centre. Molnar's eagerly anticipated book setting out his theory of powers was almost complete when he died, and has been prepared for publication by Stephen Mumford, who provides a context-setting introduction.