What a Structuralist Theory of Properties Could Not Be

In Anna Marmodoro & David Yates (ed.), The Metaphysics of Relations. OUP. Oxford University Press (2016)
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Causal structuralism is the view that, for each natural, non-mathematical, non-Cambridge property, there is a causal profile that exhausts its individual essence. On this view, having a property’s causal profile is both necessary and sufficient for being that property. It is generally contrasted with the Humean or quidditistic view of properties, which states that having a property’s causal profile is neither necessary nor sufficient for being that property, and with the double-aspect view, which states that causal profile is necessary but not sufficient. Shoemaker’s (1998) and Hawthorne’s (2001) arguments in favor of causal structuralism primarily focus on problematic consequences of the other two views. I argue, however, that causation does not provide an appropriate framework within which to characterize all physical properties for two main reasons. First, there are physical properties that do not have causal profiles and properties whose causal profiles do not exhaust their essences. Second, there is no unified notion of causation across the sciences. After distinguishing between the causal and the nomological, I suggest that what is needed is a structuralist view of properties that is not merely causal but that incorporates a physical property’s higher-order mathematical and nomological properties into its identity conditions. Such a view retains the naturalistic motivations for causal structuralism while avoiding the problems it faces.

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Nora Berenstain
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


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