Workshop #3: Persistence in Stability (July 2022)

Date: 4 & 5 July 2022
Place: International Center for Philosophy NRW (Poppelsdorfer Allee 28, 53115 Bonn, Germany) & online (Zoom)

This workshop aims to reassess metaphysical explanations of persistence by looking at cases of stability rather than change. So far, debates in metaphysics on persistence have revolved around the question of how to reconcile persistence with change, given that change supposedly involves one and the same entity exemplifying incompatible properties. However, while qualitative change poses a challenge to persistence as it may lead to a contradiction, it is at least theoretically possible that an entity persists while maintaining a particular property. Even if other properties of said entity changed, this would constitute a case of partial qualitative stability. This kind of qualitative stability has been mostly ignored despite its important role for persistence. The human body needs to maintain a constant temperature in order to persist. Similarly, social systems often exist through a delicate balance of internal and external forces, and so do solar systems through a delicate balance of rotational energy and gravitational force. The workshop seeks to include such cases of (partial, qualitative) stability in the debate about persistence and to explore the prospects of harnessing the concept of stability for understanding persistence. Rethinking persistence in terms of stability will enrich contemporary metaphysics of persistence.

Sophie Allen (Keele)
Rani Lill Anjum (Ås)
Florian Fischer (Siegen)
Dirk Franken (Heidelberg)
Niels Martens (Bonn)
Anne Sophie Meincke (Vienna)
John Pemberton (London/Oxford/Durham)
Emanuel Viebahn (Berlin)
Neil E. Williams (Buffalo)

Florian Fischer
Anne Sophie Meincke

Everybody is welcome to attend, but registration is required. To register, please send an email to Please let us know whether you would like to participate live or virtually (via Zoom).

[all times are CET]

Monday, 4th July 2022
13.00 – 13.10 Welcome & introduction 
13.10 – 14.00 Talk I: Florian Fischer: Stability and Change
14.10 – 15.00 Talk II: Niels Martens: Persistence & Stability: the case of dark matter
15.10 – 16.00 Talk III: Sophie Allen: Powerful Change and the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics
16.00 – 16.40 Iced tea break
16.40 – 17.30 Talk IV: John Pemberton: Changing and lasting
17.40 – 18.30 Talk V: Neil E. Williams: Dynamic Do-Over
19.30 Conference Dinner


Tuesday, 5th July 2022
13.00 – 13.10 Welcome & review
13.10 – 14.00 Talk VI: Rani Lill Anjum: Causing change and stability
14.10 – 15.00 Talk VII: Dirk Franken: The Problem of Pluck from an Essentialist Perspective
15.00 – 15.40 Iced tea break
15.40 – 16.30 Talk VIII: Emanuel Viebahn: On the semantics of persistence
16.40 – 17.30 Final discussion


Talks (in alphabetical order)

Sophie Allen: Powerful Change and the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics

David Lewis uses the problem of temporary intrinsics to motivate a perdurantist account of persistence in which four-dimensional individuals consist of temporal parts. Other philosophers use his argument to conclude that apparently persisting individuals are collections of temporal stages. In this paper, I investigate whether this argument is as effective in an ontology in which properties are causal powers and thus how seriously the problem should be taken. I go back to first principles to examine the ways in which individuals can change within an ontology of powers and then consider whether any of these ways are compatible with Lewis’s problem. I conclude that if powers are intrinsic, they are not temporary; and if they are temporary, they are not fully intrinsic. If the powers theorist has problems with the persistence of individuals, Lewis’s problem is not among them.

Rani Lill Anjum: Causing change and stability

[from work with Stephen Mumford.] Causation is commonly treated as a relation between two separate events, as proposed by Hume. Relations typically involve no change, so any dynamism would have to come from the causal relata: the events. However, most accounts of events end up analysing away the dynamic elements of events, for instance by reducing it into countless smaller micro-‘events’ that are supposed to be static or change-less. In this talk, I briefly explain how philosophical accounts of causation have contributed to this type of changeless metaphysics and prevented dynamic alternatives, including powers-based theories of causation. I then explain how the Anjum-Mumford version of causal dispositionalism offers a radically different account of causation that takes dynamism and change as default, and stability as something that is caused by causal processes. To rethink the notion of causation, I argue, is therefore crucial for replacing a static, entity-based metaphysics with a genuinely dynamic, process-based framework where change plays a major role.

Florian Fischer: Stability and Change 

The contemporary persistence debate is de facto a debate about change. In particular, it revolves around the question of how incompatibility and continuity can be reconciled. This focus, I will argue, stems more from the debate’s historical origins and methodological convictions than from its subject matter. From the standpoint of constructive metaphysics, persistence in stability should not be cast aside, as it has been hitherto. Stability may not directly make a difference regarding the theories of persistence currently on the market, since perdurantism, endurantism and produrantism are all in principle compatible with stability. However, I will argue that stability requires a specific account of change and change-making. In particular, the account needs to be triadic in order to cover the interesting cases of stability resulting from complex interactions of various factors. Introducing a third ontological level in between the mere presence of powers and the resulting behavior allows for the combination of interactions (on the middle level) with stability (on the level of resulting behavior). I will contrast this view with other accounts of change and show that neither interactions on the level of powers nor on the level of behavior can capture stability adequately. If I am right and stability requires a specific account of change, persistence is not independent of change and change-making.

Dirk Franken: The Problem of Pluck from an Essentialist Perspective

Neil E. Williams introduces the problem of pluck as the problem of explaining how objects continue to exist, as such. An object’s continuing to exist seems to describe a process that sets in with the object’s coming to existence and proceeds until its ceasing to exist. According to Williams, however, this characterization does not capture the very nature of persistence. It only applies to the causal process that, as a matter of fact, realizes persistence. I argue that this reluctance is misplaced. Contrary to common wisdom, persistence is more than just existence at different times. It is, by its very nature, what, according to Williams, is only the causal process underlying it: the staying in existence of already existing objects. This assumption turns the problem of pluck into a deeper and more serious problem than it would otherwise be. It is no longer the problem of providing a causal explanation of persistence. It is the problem of providing a metaphysical explanation of persistence. And this explanation must amount to more than the established answers of endurantism and perdurantism. The explanation I propose is motivated by an essentialist point of view. Objects have persistence conditions as part of their essences, and for an object to persist (i.e. to stay in existence) is for its persistence conditions to be fulfilled.

Niels Martens: Persistence & Stability: the case of Dark Matter

This paper elucidates the various ways in which stability and persistence played a role in the realization in the 1970’s and 80’s that the evolution of the universe could not be understood in terms of evolving visible matter under the standard laws of gravity; one needs to either postulate a form of additional, invisible matter, i.e. dark matter, or modify Einstein’s gravitational field, or a bit of both. Jumping forward in time until the last 15 years, we notice a small trend towards hybrid dark matter/ modified gravity theories. A metaphysical and conceptual analysis of such hybrid theories pushes back against the idea that spacetime and (dark) matter can always be strictly separated.

Anne Sophie Meincke: Stability is not Stasis, or: Change is All-Pervasive (cancelled)

In this paper I argue for three theses: (i) Stability must not be confused with stasis; stasis means absence of change, whereas stability is compatible with change; (ii) stability is not only compatible with change but brought about through change; stability is always the result of stabilisation and, that is, of particular kinds of change; (iii) there is no such thing as stasis; change is all-pervasive. Discussing a number of examples of stability, I identify a particularly interesting form of stability, in which stability proceeds to use change to maintain itself, rather than being a mere effect of change. Here change becomes more interesting too, taking on, among other things, the quality of action. I explain how the picture presented supports a full-blown process ontology including a process theory of persistence.

John Pemberton: Changing and lasting

The world is changing. When you are cycling down the road on your bicycle, you are moving forward, for example. In presenting my case for this view, I shall make clear how it challenges contemporary orthodoxy: the at-at account of motion and mosaic ontology. I shall show how Aristotle licensed changing on the basis of lasting. An object is lasting if (roughly) it exists for some period of time and is ontologically prior to its temporal parts. (We may understand lasting as Aristotle’s persisting.) I shall show how lasting licenses changing supposing only some standard assumptions of contemporary mathematics and physics. I will point to some preliminary reasons for preferring an ontology which underwrites changing.

Emanuel Viebahn: On the semantics of persistence

It has been argued that theories of persistence should be compatible with how we talk about persisting objects: how we refer to them and count them. In this presentation, I will take a closer look at persistence-talk involving names and pronouns. My first aim is to show that names and pronouns are temporally context-sensitive, picking out different temporal segments or phases of persisting objects on different uses. My second aim is to consider the implications of such context-sensitivity for theories of persistence.

Neil E. Williams: Dynamic Do-Over

Powers theorists frequently assert that their neo-Aristotelian frameworks are dynamic, and that this gives them a theoretical advantage over their neo-Humean rivals. ‘Dynamism’, as understand in this context, is tied to the idea of activity, such that the extent to which a metaphysic counts as dynamic depends on the place activity is given within the system. Moreover, not only has the role of activity been touted as a point in favour of the powers-theorist, it’s been claimed that powers theories themselves can be ranked according to the role that activity plays: ‘activists’ argue that activity plays a central role in their ontology and thus their metaphysical system, and are angling for the high ground above those ‘passivist’ powers theorists for whom activity plays a diminished or secondary role. In this talk, my aim is to shed light on the concept(s) of dynamism and activity as employed in this debate, with a particular focus on the ontological commitments of activism and passivism (especially as they relate to matters of persistence and time.) If the early impressions are correct, the activity high ground can only be reached at a significant ontological cost.