Formal Causes for Powers Theorists

In Ludger Jansen & Petter Sandstad (eds.), Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Formal Causation. Routledge. pp. 87-106 (2021)
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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.

Author Profiles

Giacomo Giannini
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
Stephen Mumford
Durham University


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