Research Areas - Contemporary Metaphysics

Ancient and Contemporary Power Structuralism

The Team will be guided in their research by two apparently simple questions about each ancient ontological system they will examine:

Is there any aspect of reality as described by the system that is not accounted for by powers?

Is there any aspect of the powers in the system that is not accounted for by their powerfulness?

If the answer to both questions is negative, the system is a power structuralist ontology – powers are the basic building blocks that account for all there is. Other answers will indicate either that the system is a variety of ‘weak’ power structuralism, or that it is not a powers-only ontology.

The questions above are about the formal aspects of the ancient theories, and about their satisfying the minimal structuralist features. In investigating them, the team are assisted by a Post-doctoral Fellow specialising in contemporary metaphysics

The role of the Post-doctoral fellow specialising in contemporary metaphysics is primarily to help the team understand:

What, if anything, is distinctive of ancient Power Structuralism?

The question will be investigated in light of state of the art research on contemporary structuralism.

On the one hand, there are fundamental questions that are raised in structuralism – questions which explore the roots of human rationality: Are there individual entities over and above the relations that relate them? If there are individuals, do they have priority over the relations? Further, if there are individuals, do they have natures over and above their intrinsic/extrinsic relations? If individuals do have relational natures, what grounds the distinctness and identity of these individuals in ancient ontologies?

On the other hand, there are basic tenets of structuralism which define the theory. All there is to a structuralist ontology are interrelated powers (e.g. Eagle 2009). The identity or difference of the powers in the structure and their causal profile is accounted for by the structure itself (e.g. Hawthorne 2006, Ladyman 2007, Bird 2007). Structures of powers may constitute further properties, or objects, or events in the ontology. But all entities, fundamental and composed, are grounded on a structure of causal relations.

The Project will aim at comparing and contrasting the position of the ancient thinkers under consideration in light of the defining basic tenets of structuralism in contemporary metaphysics and physics.

The aim is not to offer a contemporary structuralist rendering of the ancient ontologies under consideration; rather, it is to illuminate the past through its differences as well as similarities with the present, and where possible, bring out insights that might be unique to ancient varieties of structuralism. Crucially, the ancient conceptions of cause and power are much wider than the contemporary ones. The diversity in the types of entity that are causes or powers in ancient ontologies requires relations between them to range over physical, abstract, and transcendent domains. It is a strength of causal structuralism that it can accommodate relations between causes or powers that lie beyond the range of efficient (physical) causation. The expectation is that ancient ontologies will emerge not only different from our previous conceptions of them, but also, at least in some aspects, different from our current conception of structuralist systems.

(Anna Marmodoro, 2009)

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