pp 1–26 | Cite as

The question of realism for powers



In recent years, a new dispute has risen to prominence: the dispute between realists and anti-realists about causal powers. Albeit sometimes overlooked, the meta-ontological features of this “question of realism for powers” are quite peculiar. For friends and foes of causal powers have characterized their contrasting views in a variety of different ways; as existence claims, as semantic or truth-making claims, as fundamentality claims, as claims about the nature of certain properties. Not only does this multiplicity of interpretations make it unclear what the genuine bone of contention is, if there is one; some of them appear to be mutually exclusive. Some light can be shed on this apparent yet widespread confusion by distinguishing three degrees of ontological involvement in dispositional truths; viz., three ways, of increasing robustness, to read ontological commitments from dispositional truths. Relatedly, by exploring the literature, and focusing on some selected examples of power realism and anti-realism, we can observe that power realists vastly disagree over the intrinsic nature ad make-up of dispositional properties. Such examples furthermore invite the thought that the question of realism for powers is best understood not as the debate around the existence of properties with a distinctive identity, but rather as a debate about metaphysical hierarchy. Finally, some anti-realists positions are indistinguishable from realist ones, using merely intensional resources: power realism is best appreciated by going hyperintensional.


Meta-ontology Realism about causal powers Dispositions Mark of the dispositional Grounding 


  1. Alston, W. P. (1958). Ontological commitments. Philosophical Studies, 9(1–2), 8–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, D. M. (1968). The nature of mind and other essays. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  3. Armstrong, D. M. (1969). Dispositions are causes. Analysis, 30(1), 23–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armstrong, D. M. (1997). A world of states of affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Armstrong, D. M. (2004). Truth and truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Armstrong, D. M. (2005). Four disputes about properties. Synthese, 144(3), 309–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Azzouni, J. (2012). Simple metaphysics and “ontological dependence”. In F. Correia & B. Schnieder (Eds.), Metaphysical grounding: Understanding the structure of reality (pp. 234–253). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barker, S. (2013). The emperor’s new metaphysics of powers. Mind, 112(487), 605–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bird, A. (2007a). Nature’s metaphysics: Laws and properties. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bird, A. (2007b). The regress of pure powers? Philosophical Quarterly, 57(229), 13–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Black, R. (2000). Against quidditism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 78(1), 87–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cameron, R. P. (2008). Truthmakers and ontological commitment: Or how to deal with complex objects and mathematical ontology without getting into trouble. Philosophical Studies, 140(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carnap, R. (1936). Testability and meaning. Philosophy of Science, 3(4), 419–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cartwright, N. (1983). How the laws of physics lie. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cartwright, N. (1989). Nature’s capacities and their measurement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cartwright, N. (2009). Causal laws, policy predictions, and the need for genuine powers. In T. Handfield (Ed.), Dispositions and causes (pp. 127–157). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Contessa, G. (2014). Only powers can confer dispositions. Philosophical Quarterly, 65(259), 160–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Esfeld, M. (2010). Humean metaphysics versus a metaphysics of powers. In G. Ernst & A. Hüttemann (Eds.), Time, chance and reduction: Philosophical aspects of statistical mechanics (p. 119). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ellis, B., & Lierse, C. (1994). Dispositional essentialism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 72(1), 27–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ellis, B. (2001). Scientific essentialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Ellis, B. (2002). The philosophy of nature: A guide to the new essentialism. Montreal: Mcgill-Queen’s University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Fales, E. (1993). Are causal laws contingent? In J. Bacon, K. Campbell, & L. Reinhardt (Eds.), Ontology, causality and mind: Essays in honour of D.M. Armstrong. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Fara, M. (2005). Dispositions and habituals. Noûs, 39(1), 43–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goodman, N. (1954). Facts, fiction and forecast. London: University of London.Google Scholar
  25. Harré, R., & Madden, E. (1975). Causal powers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  26. Hawthorne, J. (2002). Causal structuralism. In J. Tomberlin (Ed.), Metaphysics (pp. 361–378). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. Heil, J. (2003). From an ontological point of view. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heil, J. (2005). Dispositions. Synthese, 144(3), 343–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Heil, J. (2012). The universe as we find it. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Heil, J. (2016). Truthmaking and fundamentality. Synthese, 1–12. doi: 10.1007/s11229-016-1292-9.
  31. Ingthorsson, R. D. (2013). Properties: Qualities, powers, or both? Dialectica, 67(1), 55–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ingthorsson, R. D. (2015). The regress of pure powers revisited. European Journal of Philosophy, 22(3), 529–541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jacobs, J. (2010). A powers theory of modality: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and reject possible worlds. Philosophical Studies, 151(2), 227–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jacobs, J. (2011). Powerful qualities, not pure powers. The Monist, 94(1), 81–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lewis, D. (1986). Philosophical papers (Vol. II). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lewis, D. (1994). Humean supervenience debugged. Mind, 103(412), 473–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewis, D. (1997). Finkish dispositions. Philosophical Quarterly, 47(187), 143–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lipton, P. (1999). All else being equal. Philosophy, 74(288), 155–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Loewer, B. (1996). Humean supervenience. Philosophical Topics, 24(1), 101–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Manley, D., & Wasserman, R. (2012). Dispositions, conditionals, and counterexamples. Mind, 120(480), 1191–1227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martin, C. B., & Heil, J. (1999). The ontological turn. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 23(1), 34–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Martin, C. B. (1993). The need for ontology: Some choices. Philosophy, 68(266), 505–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Martin, C. B. (1997). On the need for properties: The road to pythagoreanism and back. Synthese, 112(2), 193–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Martin, C. B. (2008). The mind in nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Mellor, D. H. (1974). In defense of dispositions. Philosophical Review, 83(2), 157–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Molnar, G. (2003). Powers: A study in metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Mumford, S. (2004). Laws in nature. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mumford, S. (2006). The ungrounded argument. Synthese, 149, 471–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mumford, S. (2007). David Armstrong. Chesham: Acumen.Google Scholar
  50. Mumford, S., & Anjum, R. L. (2011). Getting causes from powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Quine, W. V. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  52. Quine, W. V. (1973). The roots of reference. La Salle, IL: Open Court.Google Scholar
  53. Ryle, Gilbert. (1949). The concept of mind. London: Hutchinson & Co.Google Scholar
  54. Schaffer, J. (2005). Quidditistic knowledge. Philosophical Studies, 123, 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Schaffer, J. (2008). Truthmaker commitments. Philosophical Studies, 141(1), 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schaffer, J. (2009). On what grounds what. In D. Manley, D. Chalmers, & R. Wasserman (Eds.), Metametaphysics: New essays on the foundations of ontology (pp. 347–383). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Schroer, R. (2013). Can a single property be both dispositional and categorical? Metaphysica, 14(1), 63–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shoemaker, S. (1980). Causality and properties. In P. van Inwagen (Ed.), Time and cause (pp. 109–135). Dordrecht: D. Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shoemaker, S. (1998). Causal and metaphysical necessity. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 79(1), 59–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Strawson, G. (2008). The identity of the categorical and the dispositional. Analysis, 68(300), 271–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Swoyer, C. (1982). The nature of natural laws. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 60(3), 203–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Taylor, J. (2013). In defence of powerful qualities. Metaphysica, 14(1), 93–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tugby, M. (2013a). Platonic dispositionalism. Mind, 122(486), 451–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Tugby, M. (2013b). Categoricalism, dispositionalism, and the epistemology of properties. Synthese, 191(6), 1–16.Google Scholar
  65. Williams, N. E. (2011). Dispositions and the argument from science. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 89(1), 71–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Whittle, A. (2009). Causal nominalism. In T. Handfield (Ed.), Dispositions and causes (pp. 242–285). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Yablo, S. (2001). Go figure: A path through fictionalism. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 25(1), 72–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa)PisaItaly

Personalised recommendations