Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Metascience, published online ahead of print May 18, 2013; doi: 10.1007/s11016-013-9783-5


Copyright © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Used by permission.


Mumford and Anjum’s Getting Causes from Powers is an ambitious and original contribution to the literature on causation, a welcome departure from Humean approaches which reductively analyze causation in terms of regularities or counterfactual conditionals. The authors develop an account of causation as the exercising of powers, a view they call “causal dispositionalism.” This critique of Getting Causes from Powers is organized around its central heuristic—the vector model of causation. On this model, vectors represent the exercising of powers, those that are operating upon a quality space. A quality space is a background against which events can occur, where two or more general properties are considered as possible for instantiation. A central line represents a starting point of a causal process, and vectors represent the powers in play. A vector is apt for representing a power because it has intensity and a direction, indicated by its length and the property term at which it points (24). A resultant vector R is also depicted, indicating the extent to which all of the powers in play collectively dispose toward one of the properties in the quality space. A threshold may also be depicted, representing a point on the quality space that may be of particular pragmatic interest, the passing of which would count as disposing toward an effect in question. Mumford and Anjum make the bold claim that all things can be represented by vectors (45–46). This claim is supported by the following theses: everything has properties; properties are clusters of powers; powers have intensity and direction; vectors represent intensity and direction. Even granting these theses, there is still much that the vectors do not represent. I discuss three things that are not represented by the vector model, in increasing order of significance for the account generally.