Steven Shaviro has a thorough post up on George Molnar’s book, Powers. This is great to see, as I think Molnar’s concept of powers, or Mumford’s account of dispositions, has something to offer the SR debates. I’ve drawn on Mumford in my own work, as I’ve found it a nice way to talk about plastic identities. Some brief remarks are here.
Molnars ontology, as Shaviro notes, relies on the notion that things/objects possess properties (‘powers), such as solubility or fragility, that are not reducible to their physical makeup. They harbor, then, ‘dormative powers’ that are perhaps most recognizable by folks working in medieval philosophy. While a fan of Molnar’s book, it seems that Harman remains suspicious of the idea that objects bear any kind of vis dormativa, as he says in some recent comments in response to I.H. Grant. Shaviro points out the Harman/Molnar parallel:
The parallels with speculative realism go further; Molnar insists, as much as Graham Harman does, that a thing, or an object, is not just a bundle of properties or characteristics, but exists in its own right apart from and in addition to these. (Although Molnar, unlike Harman, endorses the basic scientistic move of reducing objects to their ultimate subatomic constituents, he doesn’t make the claim that this somehow renders objects of the sort that we can see and touch illusory).
But Shaviro goes on to point out that whereas Harman endorses what he calls a ‘vicarious’ causation, Molnar asserts the directness of causality. He also clears up a question I had in an earlier post about whether or not powers are virtual or actual, in the Deleuzean sense. Shaviro claims that powers for Molnar are actual in all instances, even when they are not being exercised:
The insistence on actual causality, and on actual relations (causality being one form of relation), makes for a significant difference between Molnar and Harman. Contra Harman, Molnar rejects any sort of “occasionalism”; he insists that causality is direct — and not merely “vicarious.” Like Harman and against Deleuze, Molnar claims that powers, even when they are not being exercised, are entirely actual qualities of things — they cannot be regarded as “virtual” or “potential.” They fully exist even when they are not manifested in particular events, as a result of particular relational encounters. But against Harman, Molnar insists that relations are as primary an ontological category as things or objects are.
I wonder if this does not mean that powers are virtual when dormant, rather than actual? If I have understood him, Deleuze wants to say that the virtual is real although not actual; it is more than mere potential, but less than actuality. In which case an unbroken vase is virtually fragile (possesses the real power of fragility) but its fragility is not actualized.
Shaviro goes on to draw some helpful connections with Spinoza and others. Check them out.