Skip to main content

In Defence of Powerful Qualities

Abstract

The ontology of ‘powerful qualities’ is gaining an increasing amount of attention in the literature on properties. This is the view that the so-called categorical or qualitative properties are identical with ‘dispositional’ properties. The position is associated with C.B. Martin, John Heil, Galen Strawson and Jonathan Jacobs. Robert Schroer (2012) has recently mounted a number of criticisms against the powerful qualities view as conceived by these main adherents, and has also advanced his own (radically different) version of the view. In this paper I have three main aims: firstly, I shall defend the ontology from his critique, arguing that his criticisms do not damage the position. Secondly, I shall argue that Schroer’s own version of the view is untenable. Thirdly, the paper shall serve to clear up some conceptual confusions that often bedevil the powerful qualities view.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Though Schroer does not mention Jacobs specifically in his critique.

  2. Martin calls the view ‘the limit view’, whereas Schroer refers to it as ‘the M/H/S position’. I prefer the more popular name of ‘the powerful qualities’ view. This is only a terminological matter.

  3. E.g. Armstrong (1997) uses the term ‘categorical’, Martin and Heil use ‘quality’.

  4. Schroer himself commits this very error when he defines his terms (2012, p. 2).

  5. Those who hold the former view include Lewis (1986) and Armstrong (1997). Those who hold the latter include Mellor (1974), Shoemaker (1980) and Bird (2007). There is of course room for another view where there exists a mixture of these two types of property (Ellis and Lierse 1994).

  6. Martin does state the position in different ways over the course of his career (see, e.g. in Armstrong et al. 1996). However, it is this contemporary version held by Heil and Strawson as well as Martin which I shall be examining, and which is the focus of Schroer’s critique (see Schroer 2012, p. 3).

  7. The example is used several times in the literature (e.g. Heil 2003, p. 112).

  8. Though Gibb is not herself discussing the powerful qualities view.

  9. Heil (2003, p. 120 and 2004, p. 200) uses different examples to make the same point.

  10. Both myself and Schroer define ‘phenomenal consciousness’ in the traditional way as the ‘what it is like-ness’ of certain mental events.

  11. Though Schroer claims that he is the first person to discuss this ‘hypothetical’ position (2012, p. 10), a very similar position is advanced in Heil (2003, chapters 18–20; 2004, chapters 14–15 and 2010).

  12. In §3.4, we will examine some points where Schroer seems to hold this explicitly, though he explicitly claims not to (2012, p. 2).

  13. Proponents of this strategy include Loar (1990/1997), Papineau (2002) and Balog (2008) though they differ in their precise account of how ‘phenomenal concepts’ work. The strategy does, of course, have its critics (e.g. Goff 2011 and Hill 2009, chapter 2) but it is probably the most popular view of phenomenal consciousness at the moment. The phenomenal concept strategy as I have presented it here is a version of what Chalmers (1996) calls ‘type-B physicalism’ though similar ideas have been employed by Chalmers (who is of course a dualist) in his account of the epistemology of consciousness (2010, chapters 8–9). This subtlety will not matter for present purposes.

  14. Perhaps this is what Schroer could mean by saying that the hypothetical position claims that phenomenal properties are not ‘stand-alone’.

  15. See e.g. Levine (2001). Though Levine himself rejects the conclusion that brain properties cannot be identical with phenomenal ones.

  16. Schroer is employing the famous ‘zombie’ arguments of Chalmers (1996 and 2010).

  17. This canonical argument in favour of physicalism can be found in many places (e.g. Papineau 2002, chapter 1 and Levine 2001, chapter 1).

  18. Arguments along these lines are present in Shoemaker (1998) and Heil (2010, esp. p. 69).

  19. Schroer in part motivates this by a discussion of the Lockean concept of substratum (see Martin 1980 and Lowe 2000).

  20. How one interprets ‘alike’ will depend upon one’s theory of properties. A universalist (Armstrong 1997) would interpret it as meaning ‘identical’. A trope theorist (Ehring 2011) would interpret it as ‘exactly similar’. This subtlety will not affect my argument.

  21. Of course, Schroer could reject (2*) but this would be a large departure from the powerful qualities view as we have been examining it. It is questionable whether the resultant position would really be a version of the view at all. Certainly it would be nothing like what Heil and Strawson have in mind.

References

  • Armstrong, D. M. (1997) A World of States of Affairs. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Armstrong, D. M. (2005) Four Disputes About Properties. Synthese. 144: 309–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Armstrong, D. M., Martin, C.B. and Place, U.T. (1996) Dispositions: A Debate. Crane, T. (ed.) Cornwall, Routledge.

  • Balog, K. (2008) Phenomenal Concepts. In: Mclaughlin, B., Beckermann, A. and Walter, S. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. New York, Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bird, A. (2007) Natures Metaphysics: Laws and Properties. New York, Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chalmers, D. J. (1996) The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. USA, Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chalmers, D. J. (2010) The Character of Consciousness. New York, Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ehring, D. (2011) Tropes: properties, objects and mental causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellis, B. and Lierse, C. (1994) Dispositional Essentialism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 72: 27–45.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibb, S. C. (2012) Trope Simplicity. In: Garcia, R. (ed.) Substance: New Essays. Philosophia Verlag.

  • Goff, P. (2011) A-posteriori Physicalists get our Phenomenal Concepts Wrong. Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 89: 191–209.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heil, J. (2003) From an Ontological Point of View. 2nd edn. New York, Oxford University Press. Reprinted 2009.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Heil, J. (2004) Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction. 2nd edn. Tyne and Wear, Routledge. Reprinted 2009.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heil, J. (2005) Dispositions. Synthese. 144: 343–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heil, J. (2010) Powerful Qualities. In: Marmodoro, A. (ed.) The Metaphysics of Powers: Their Grounding and Manifestations. New York, Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hill, C. (2009) Consciousness. New York, Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacobs, J. (2011) Powerful Qualities, Not Pure Powers. The Monist. 94: 81–102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kripke, S. (1980) Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levine, J. (2001) Purple Haze: the Puzzle of Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis, D. (1986) On the Plurality of Worlds. Tyne and Wear, Blackwell Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Loar, B. (1990/1997) Phenomenal States. In: Block, N., Flanagan, O. and Güzeldere, G. (eds.) The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. (2002). USA, MIT Press.

  • Locke, J. (1690/1978) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. P.H. Nidditch. Oxford: Claredon Press.

  • Lowe, E.J. (2000) Locke, Martin, and Substance. Philosophical Quarterly. 50: 499–514.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lowe, E. J. (2006) The Four Category Ontology: a Metaphysical Foundation for Natural Science. New York, Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martin, C. B. (1980) Substance Substantiated. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 58: 3–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, C. B. (1993) “Power for Realists.” In: Ontology, Causality and Mind: Essays in Honour of D. M. Armstrong. USA, Cambridge University Press.

  • Martin, C. B. (2007) The Mind in Nature. New York, Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, C. B. and Heil, J. (1998) Rules and Powers. Noûs. 32. Supplement: Philosophical Perspectives, 12: 283–312.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martin, C. B. and Heil, J. (1999) The Ontological Turn. Midwest Studies in Philosophy. 23: 34–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mellor, D. H. (1974) In Defence of Dispositions. The Philosophical Review.83: 157–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Papineau, D. (2002) Thinking About Consciousness. New York, Oxford Reprinted 2008.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Schroer, R. (2012) Can a Single Property Be Both Dispositional and Categorical? The “Partial Consideration Strategy”, Partially Considered. Metaphysica. doi:10.1007/s12133-012-0112-z.

  • Shoemaker, S. (1980) Causality and Properties. In: Identity, Cause and Mind: Philosophical Essays: Expanded Edition. (2007). New York, Oxford University Press.

  • Shoemaker, S. (1998) Causal and Metaphysical Necessity. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly. 79: 59–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Strawson, G. (2008) The Identity of the Categorical and the Dispositional. Analysis. 88: 271–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Thanks to David Westland for comments on an earlier draft of the paper. Thanks to John Heil, Alex Carruth and all attendees to the Oxford Workshop on Powerful Qualities for stimulating discussion.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John H. Taylor.

Additional information

As Schroer’s article has yet to appear in print, I have assigned it page numbers based upon those of the PDF available at the DOI stated in the index. This will be updated when Schroer’s article is printed.

About this article

Cite this article

Taylor, J.H. In Defence of Powerful Qualities. Int Ontology Metaphysics 14, 93–107 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12133-012-0114-x

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12133-012-0114-x

Keywords

  • Powerful qualities
  • Categorical properties
  • Dispositional properties
  • Partial consideration
  • Phenomenal consciousness