In Defence of Activities

  • Phyllis Illari
  • Jon Williamson


In this paper, we examine what is to be said in defence of Machamer, Darden and Craver’s (MDC) controversial dualism about activities and entities (Machamer, Darden and Craver’s in Philos Sci 67:1–25, 2000). We explain why we believe the notion of an activity to be a novel, valuable one, and set about clearing away some initial objections that can lead to its being brushed aside unexamined. We argue that substantive debate about ontology can only be effective when desiderata for an ontology are explicitly articulated. We distinguish three such desiderata. The first is a more permissive descriptive ontology of science, the second a more reductive ontology prioritising understanding, and the third a more reductive ontology prioritising minimalism. We compare MDC’s entities-activities ontology to its closest rival, the entities-capacities ontology, and argue that the entities-activities ontology does better on all three desiderata.


Activities MDC Machamer, Darden and Craver Capacities Ontology Metaphysics of science Understanding Minimalism 



We are grateful to two anonymous referees for very helpful comments. This research was supported by The Leverhulme Trust and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University CollegeLondonUK
  2. 2.University of KentCanterburyUK

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