The Mereology of Potentiality (Thursday - Week 5, TT19)

mereology of potentiality

Talk 1: 'Modal Angst'

12.00 - 13.30, Rainolds Room, Corpus Christi College

Could you have had different coloured hair or been a different height? Are the laws of nature contingent? Are talking donkeys possible? Such questions are extremely difficult to answer. It is hard even to know where to turn for answers. Could you have been a different height? For that to have been so, a lot of other things would have had to have been different. Could they have been? Again, for each of those things many other things would have had to be different. Modal questions of this sort apparently pose epistemological challenges of the first order. The paper endeavours to make progress on these and related matters, first addressing competing ‘Aristotelian’ and ‘Humean’ accounts of modality: actuality, possibility, necessity, contingency. Although an ‘Aristotelian’ approach to modality is firmly entrenched in the manifest image that guides our thoughts and actions in everyday and scientific pursuits, the deeper story could turn out to look more like a convergence of Hume and Spinoza. Many roads lead to Spinoza.


Talk 2: 'Powers – the no-successor problem'

14.00 - 15.30, Seminar Room, Corpus Christ College

Many contemporary accounts of powers suppose that when a power is in some suitable state (a state in which the power is in circumstances sufficient for its manifestation), a manifestation occurs. Such a state may comprise the power being in stimulus conditions appropriate to that power (e.g. Bird), or perhaps the power being in some compresence of mutual manifestation partners (e.g. Martin). Typically, it seems, the manifestation is some new state, perhaps the co-instantiation of new properties or powers. But, as Russell famously notes in relation to causal relations, the absence of successors within the set of Real numbers creates a problem (if time is continuous): either these states have a temporal gap between them, or they occur at the same time. A temporal gap suggests a jump across time, which seems problematic. But the simultaneity of these distinct states also seems problematic – how could this underwrite change through time? I identify problems, too, with an alternative suggestion (e.g. Ellis) that the manifestation is a process. I consider various leading contemporary accounts of powers to suggest that the no- successor problem threatens the very foundations of these accounts. Powers such as Aristotle’s, in which the power obtains through the period of its manifesting, may provide a solution to the no-successor problem – but conditions must be met for this solution to succeed.


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The Mereology of Potentiality Seminar Convenors: Anna Marmodoro and Andrea Roselli