The Aristotelian Society

The Aristotelian Society

est. 1880

Symposium VI

Fundamental Powers

Chaired by Stephen Mumford

Alexander Bird | Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Oxford

Fundamental Powers, Evolved Powers, and Mental Powers

Alexander Bird (KCL)


Powers have in recent years become a central component of many philoso- phers’ ontology of properties. While I have argued that powers exist at the fundamental level of properties, many other theorists of powers hold that there are also non-fundamental powers. In this paper I articulate my reasons for being sceptical about the existing reasons for holding that there are non-fundamental powers. However, I also want to promote a different argument for the existence of a certain class of non-fundamental powers: properties which have natural selection to thank for their existence and nature. Such properties will include functional properties of organisms, and so may also include their mental properties.


Alexander Bird is Peter Sowerby Professor of Philosophy and Medicine at King’s College London, having previously been professor of philosophy at the University of Bristol.  His published books are Philosophy of Science (1998), Thomas Kuhn (2000), and Nature’s Metaphysics (2007).  His current project Knowing Science, Knowing Medicine aims to bring insights from general epistemology to bear on the philosophy of science and medicine.   

Barbara Vetter | Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | University of Oxford

Evolved Powers, Artefact Powers, and Dispositional Explanations

Barbara Vetter (Freie Universität Berlin)


Alexander Bird (2018) puts forward a modest version of anti-Humeanism about the non-fundamental, by providing an argument for the existence of a certain select class of non-fundamental but sparse dispositions: those that have an evolutionary function. I argue that his argument over-generates, so much so that the sparse–abundant distinction, and with it the tenet of his anti-Humean view, becomes obsolete. I suggest an alternative way of understanding anti-Humeanism in the non-fundamental realm, one which is not concerned with the existence of sparse properties but with explanatory relations.


Barbara Vetter is Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at Freie Universität Berlin. She has previously taught at Humboldt-Universität Berlin and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen, and holds a BPhil and a DPhil from Oxford University. Barbara Vetter is the author of Potentiality: From Dispositions to Modality (OUP 2015), co-editor of Dispositionen: Texte aus der zeitgenössischen Debatte (with Stephan Schmid, Suhrkamp 2014) and has published various articles on dispositions, modality, abilities, and related issues in metaphysics, semantics, and philosophy of science. Most of her work focusses on developing and defending a disposition-based approach to modality.

further info

future joint sessions

2019 joint session:

july 2019

2020 joint session:

july 2020

2021 joint session:

july 2021

supplementary volume

The inaugural address and symposia for the Joint Session are published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, which is published digitally and in hardcover every June. The Supplementary Volume is sent to subscribing members of the Society in categories 4 and 5.

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The 2018 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association | Cardiff University

past conferences

2017 joint session:

14 - 16 july 2017

2016 joint session:

8 - 10 july 2016

2015 joint session:

10 - 12 july 2015

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