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Lectures by Prof. Stephen Mumford (Durham University)

event-date: 20.11.2017 - 21.11.2017
Place: Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University

Lectures by Professor Stephen Mumford

Invitation to two lectures by Stephen Mumford, professor of metaphysics at Durham University: 

(1) "Introducing the Dispositional Modality", Monday, 20 November, 6:00 p.m.

Abstract: Powers are connected to their effects with a modal strength that is less than necessity but more than pure contingency. This view, developed in recent years, has faced a number of criticisms and there are rival interpretations of the same phenomena that aim to preserve necessity, in a conditional form. The thesis of dispositional modality is outlined in terms of a commitment to powers and tendencies. For a deeply tendential view, we need both an external and an internal principle of tendency. The external principle says that powers are directed towards their effects but can nevertheless be prevented from realising them by an additional interferer. Various alternative interpretations of additive interference will be discussed and dismissed. The internal principle says that even when there is no interferer, a power may fail to manifest, just because of its own modal nature. The deeply tendential view rejects the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The prospects are considered for the dispositional modality being the only modality of nature. Three senses of tendency are then distinguished, signifying the power (the producer), its effect (the produced) and the connection between them (the mode of production), each of which could reasonably be called tendency.  


(2) "Are There Negative Kinds?", Tuesday, 21 November, 12.00 a.m.


Abstract: There are reasons why we might think there are negative kinds, e.g. non-horses, non-electrons. They could be indispensable in some causal explanations, accounting for false negative statements, and they might be needed to delineate the boundaries of the ‘positive’ kinds. Against this is the ‘unity problem’: an objection that negative kinds would not have the homogeneity we expect of natural kinds. However, it is hard to see how the unity problem can be posed in a non-question-begging way. More to the point, then, might be our general metaphysical concerns about the existence of negative entities. They do not seem a genuine part of reality, which would be divided into two – a positive side and a negative side – if we admitted negative entities. Some progress would be made if we understood how the problem of negatives arises. It is suggested that there is an historic affirmation bias that leads us to assert the existence of something negative in preference to the denial of something positive. Denial that something is of a (positive) kind would lead to none of the problems we have with negatives. This shows the way to a solution but might not solve all the problems. Can a positive existent include its own boundaries, for instance? But the solution at least has the backing of work in philosophical logic that takes denial to be prior to negation.


Professor Mumford has written on dispositions, laws of nature, and causality. In his works, he defends a non-Humean account of modality and the metaphysical positions that this account implies. Together with Rani Lill Anjum he authored a recently debated book Getting Causes from Powers, Oxford UP (2011). 


Published Date: 13.11.2017
Published by: Anna Tomaszewska