Date of this Version
Published in Analysis, Vol 73, Number 2 (April 2013), pp 402–404.
Some philosophers have suggested that having powers in one’s ontology has the advantage of providing resources for an account of causation (see Cartwright 1999; Harré 1970; Mill 1843; Whitehead 1929). But what would a theory of causation look like if we assume that powers are real? In Getting Causes from Powers, Mumford and Anjum make what is perhaps the first sustained attempt to answer that question. The basic idea is that, if there are powers, understood as property-like entities that have manifestations which can be merely possible, then causation is a matter of powers manifesting. According to the authors, their dispositional account of causation is a radical departure from Humean orthodoxy and has a number of surprising implications, including: causes do not necessitate their effects; a cause and its effect are simultaneous; and causation is non-transitive and non-symmetrical. Although it is not always clear whether all of the claims that they defend stand or fall together, each represents a fresh perspective on some very well-trodden ground. Such bold and innovative ideas are bound to provoke discussion and disagreement, a sampling of which is indicated below.