The Case Against Powers

In Stathis Psillos, Benjamin Hill & Henrik Lagerlund (eds.), Causal Powers in Science: Blending Historical and Conceptual Perspectives. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract
Powers ontologies are currently enjoying a resurgence. This would be dispiriting news for the moderns; in their eyes, to imbue bodies with powers is to slide back into the scholastic slime from which they helped philosophy crawl. I focus on Descartes’s ‘little souls’ argument, which points to a genuine and, I think persisting, defect in powers theories. The problem is that an Aristotelian power is intrinsic to whatever has it. Once this move is accepted, it becomes very hard to see how humble matter could have such a thing. It is as if each empowered object were possessed of a little soul that directs it and governs its behavior. Instead of attempting to resurrect the Aristotelian power theory, contemporary philosophers would be best served by taking their inspiration from its early modern replacement, devised by John Locke and Robert Boyle. On this view, powers are internal relations, not monadic properties intrinsic to their bearers. This move at once drains away the mysterious directedness of Aristotelian powers and solves the contemporary version of the little souls argument, Neil Williams’s ‘problem of fit.’
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Finkish Dispositions.Lewis, David K.

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