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 Mereology of Potentiality project at Corpus Christi in Oxford, an Associate of the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS) at Durham University where he is a member of the Knowledge for Use (K4U) programme, and a member of the Society for the Philosophy of Time (SPoT).

Current research:    

My current work argues that the world is changing. For example, when you are cycling down the road on your bicycle, you are moving forward. This view challenges the contemporary orthodoxy championed by Russell, for example, that ‘[W]e must entirely reject the notion of a state of motion.’ In making the case for changing, I argue that the world is not (as many of those philosophers who reject motion suppose) a mosaic, but rather (metaphorically) a spaghetti. The pieces of spaghetti are entities which exist for some period of time – I dub them lasting: they are ontologically prior to their temporal parts. Lasting, I argue, underwrites changing. I show how my argument for changing based on lasting follows Aristotle’s arguments for just this position. I develop changing and lasting ontologies based on contemporary foundations, and argue that the best of these ontologies is much stronger than mosaic ontologies (across criteria such as parsimony, fit with science, resolution of aporia), and should thus be preferred as an account of the ontology of our world.

This ontological research has developed out of long-standing work in philosophy of science with Nancy Cartwright, focused on mechanisms, causation, powers, and laws of nature which continues as a major strand of my work. Mechanisms (nomological machines), we hold, are configurations of features with powers which give rise to characteristic change processes and hence regularities that we record as laws.

Main topics:

Ontology, changing, change, process, powers, causation, configuration, arrangement, mechanism, laws.


Current and recent writings

I am currently drafting a book: Changing and lasting - the ontology of our world - the following papers set out arguments and ideas which are central to the development of the book:


        Aristotle's solution to Zeno's arrow paradox and its implications. (April 2022). Ancient Philosophy Today: Dialogoi.

Powers - the no successor problem. (2021). Journal of the American Philosophical Association.


Aristotle's alternative to enduring and perduring: lasting. (October 2022). Ancient Philosophy Today: Dialogoi.


Individuating processes. (2018). In Individuation across theoretical and experimental sciences, editors:  Otávio Bueno, Ruey-Lin Chen and Melinda Fagan, Oxford University Press.


Changing: a neo-Aristotelian path towards a process ontology. (Forthcoming). In The analytic-continental divide and the potential bridge-building role of process philosophy, editors: Oliver Downing and Robert Booth. The De Gruyter Process Thought series (Series eds. Seibt, Rescher and Weber).


A joint paper with William Simpson using ideas from my JAPA paper:

        Cosmic Hylomorphism vs Bohmian Dispositionalism - Implications of the no-successor problem (2022). Simpson & Pemberton. In Quantum mechanics and fundementality: naturalizing theory between scientific realism and ontological indeterminacy. Edited by Valia Allori. Synthese.

   Joint papers with Nancy Cartwright:

Mechanisms, laws and explanation (2020). Cartwright, Pemberton & Wieten. European Journal for Philosophy of Science.

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 recent paper, which provides 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.)

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.)