Philosophy Department's annual E.J. Lowe lecture 'Action, Passion, Power' with Professor David Oderberg (Reading University).
Teaching and Learning Centre
Action, Passion, Power.
The active/passive distinction, once a hallmark of classical metaphysics, has largely been discarded in contemporary thought. Even the revival of powers theory has not seen an equally vigorous rehabilitation of the real distinction between active and passive powers. E.J. Lowe is one metaphysician who explicitly upholds the distinction; his work is a good place to begin its analysis and defence. I start by sifting the more from the less plausible claims in Lowe’s account. I then move on to argue that the active/passive problem is a metaphysical one, not a logical one, and that logic is thereby impotent to solve it. Following this will be a discussion of the rights and wrongs of Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s (identical) defence of the distinction. We will see that one main part of their analysis is a bright red herring while the other main part contains the solution to the problem. I will then state and clarify the key Scholastic principles concerning action and passion – some of which will appear scandalous to contemporary ears, yet all of which give us the tools needed to understand action and passion in the right way. I will end with a definition of what I call the Minimal Metaphysical Agent, where the formulation is to be understood as an epistemic criterion for identifying the agent and the patient in a given interaction.
About the speaker:
David S. Oderberg is Professor of Philosophy and Head of Department at the University of Reading. He has published many books and articles in a wide variety of areas, in particular metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of biology. His most recent book is The Metaphysics of Good and Evil (2020). In 2013 he delivered the George F. Hourani Lectures at SUNY Buffalo and has recently been invited to give the Annual Aquinas Lecture at the University of St Thomas, Houston. Prof. Oderberg is currently Principal Investigator on a major Templeton Foundation grant for the project ‘Mistakes in Living Systems’, which is part of a global research programme on biological purpose funded by Templeton. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and also Editor of the journal Ratio, a leading journal of analytic philosophy.
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