Wednesday, December 10, 2014

FALL 2014 Lectures Series (No.8):Aristotle’s view of causation

Date & Time: Friday, 12 Dec., 2-4 p.m.
Venue: Rm 202, Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences Education, NYMU

About the theme

Aristotle provides a compelling account of the metaphysics of powers but focuses little on how they act in combination[1]. Contemporary science, by contrast, is centrally concerned with nomological machines (often termed mechanisms): arrangements of features and powers whose repeat operation can rise to laws of nature. Nomological machines typically involve the simultaneous exercising of multiple powers, which we may take to be Aristotelian[2], so that the question of how such powers combine is central to modern science – but is unfortunately far from adequately answered.

The exercisings of some powers seem to be contributions to immediate changing, e.g. powers which result in forces, and perhaps (but perhaps not) the powers to heat / cool, to dissolve, or to chemically react. The exercisings of other powers are processes which take time, e.g. the power of a pendulum to swing, a cistern to produce a flush, a neuron to fire, or a glass to smash. I explore a range of examples featuring combinations of powers with each of these two sorts of timing: this suggests a diversity of case types of how powers combine (which should perhaps not surprise an adherent of the Stanford School). However, it seems that (often at least) the exercise of a power that occurs over time relies on structures within the machine to coordinate the relevant powers of the parts. For such time extended powers, it seems that we might reframe the question of how the exercising of powers combine, as a question concerning how the structures which license those powers combine in forming the machine arrangement. I explain how this approach might lead to a more unified account of how Aristotelian powers combine.

[1] In combinations other than correlate agent-patient powers, that is. For a good account of Aristotle’s metaphysics of powers see Anna Marmodoro’s The union of cause and effect in Aristotle (2007).
[2] Cartwright & Pemberton (2012), Aristotelian powers: without them, what would modern science do?

About the speaker

John Pemberton, Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences at LSE

Change, powers, causation, arrangement, structure, laws

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