John Pemberton

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 process ontology that I dub actor-process ontology. An actor-process (unless it is elementary) is the acting together of its parts (also actor-processes) to bring about the next stage of that process at each stage. Actor-processes are physical (i.e. spatially located) and can be understood as having powers to act (through time) to bring about changing in certain configurations of actor-processes of which they are a part. Examples of such powers are the ability to give rise / respond to basic forces of physics (e.g. gravitational attraction), as well as  to push / be pushed, heat / be heated, cut / be cut, etc. Examples of actor-processes are entities we take to be things, e.g. beating hearts, pendulums, hydrogen atoms and electrons (which may be elementary). 


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, mechanism, laws.


Current and recent writings

I am currently drafting a book: Actor-process ontology - some early chapters are available on request.


The following paper sets out the first steps in addressing the questions: What is a process? How should we individuate processes? It provides a preliminary to the book.


Another recent paper, which will provide the basis for a chapter of the book is Powers license possibilities used in contemporary sciences (originally presented at the Real possibilities, determinism and free will conference in Konstanz, 18-21 March 2015.)


   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.


Another less recent paper which is relevant to my current work is: Integrating mechanist and nomological machine ontologies to make sense of what-how-that evidence

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.

(Recent papers are available on my Academia webpage.