Causal powers have been posited to ground and explain activity in nature. And yet, powers are subject to scrutiny and criticism today as they were in the seventeenth century and for more or less the same reasons. The detailed and substantive Introduction sketches the key conceptions of, and arguments for and against, powers from Aristotle up to the present. In the first part (Sections 1.1–1.5), there is an account of the history of the powers debate, starting with the Aristotelian conception and moving through medieval accounts to the revolt against powers by the novatores of the seventeenth century. Various criticisms of powers, notably by Descartes, the occasionalists, Boyle and Newton, as well as endorsements, notably by Leibniz, are presented. Then there is an account of Hume’s systematic critique of the epistemology and ontology of powers, of the transition from a power-based to a law-based conception of nature (notably in the work of Mill) and finally a recounting of the various attempts to eliminate or reduce powers and dispositions in the twentieth century. Sections 1.6–1.9 describe the key reasons for the comeback of powers in the last quarter of the twentieth century, notably the issues concerning the nature of properties and the ontic status and necessity of the laws of nature. Sections 2.1–2.12 offer a detailed summary of the twelve contributions to the volume. Finally, the chapter concludes with questions for moving forward.
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