John Pemberton`s homepage

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John Pemberton is an Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences at the LSE (since 1994), a Research Associate on the Powers Structuralism project at Corpus Christi in Oxford, and an Associate of the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) at Durham University.

Current research:    

My current research focuses on developing a power-process ontology: the world exhibits surviving processes (power-processes) which are physical (i.e. spatially located) and can act together with certain other processes to being about changing in that other process and/or itself. Examples of power-processes are entities we take to be things, e.g. beating hearts, pendulums, and hydrogen atoms. A power-process is then (unless it is basic) the acting together of its parts (sub-processes) to bring about the next stage of the process at each stage. Acting together may be explicated as having mutually activated Aristotelian (agent-patient) powers.


This recent research has developed out of long-standing work with Nancy Cartwright focused on nomological machines (causation, powers, and laws of nature) which continues as a major strand of my research. Nomological machines are configurations of features with powers which give rise to change processes and hence regularities which we record as laws (here we remain agnostic on the nature of the features which ground powers). My development towards a process view is strongly influenced by Aristotle's ontology of change and his account of the form-matter hylomorphism (as explicated by Anna Marmodoro).         


Main topics:

Process, powers, changing, change, causation, configuration, arrangement, laws.

Recent writings

The first of a series of papers relating to power-processes is available on my Academia webpage here: Individuating things that are processes. (The paper focuses on the individuation aspects of material originally presented at the Taiwan conference on Scientific Individuation as 'Things are material processes', and subsequently at Egenis, Exeter University as 'Things are power-processes'. The metaphysical aspects of these talks will be the topic of another paper).

     Other papers on topics associated with power-processes which I am busy drafting develop from the following recent presentations:

Joint papers with Nancy Cartwright:

Ceteris paribus laws need machines to generate them (2014). Pemberton & Cartwright. Erkenntnis special issue: Semantics and pragmatics of ceteris paribus conditions.

Aristotelian powers: without them, what would modern science do? (2013). Cartwright & Pemberton. In Powers and capacities in philosophy: the new Aristotelianism. Edited by J. Greco and R. Groff. Routledge.

Slides from a recent presentation jointly authored with Nancy Cartwright: Science powers: how Aristotelian are they?

Here is a podcast of a recent presentation to the Powers Structuralism project:

Manifestation of powers - timing and continuity - and here are the accompanying slides

Other recent papers:

Integrating mechanist and nomological machine ontologies to make sense of what-how-that evidence

Causal explanation is mechanist

Previous papers linking to work in finance and economics:

Why ideals in economics have limited use in Idealization XII: Correcting the model, idealization and abstraction in the sciences. Edited by Martin Jones and Nancy Cartwright. Poznan Studies in the philosophy of the sciences and the humanities.

The methodology of actuarial science. British Actuarial Journal, volume 5, part I, no. 21. April 1999.