Counterfactuals, Dispositions, and the Causal Modalities

In Herbert Feigl Michael Scriven & Grover Maxwell (eds.), Minnesota Studies in The Philosophy of Science, Vol. II. University of Minnesota Press (1957)
[p.225] Introduction (i) Although the following essay attempts to deal in a connected way with a number of connected conceptual tangles, it is by no means monolithic in design. It divides roughly in two, with the first half (Parts I and II) devoted to certain puzzles which have their source in a misunderstanding of the more specific structure of the language in which we describe and explain natural phenomena; while the second half (Parts III and IV) attempts to resolve the more sweeping controversy over the nature of the connection between 'cause' and 'effect,' or, in modem dress, the logical status of 'lawlike statements.' (ii) The essay begins with a case analysis of a puzzle, taken from recent philosophical literature, relating to the analysis of counterfactual conditionals, statements of the form "If that lump of salt had been put in water, it would have dissolved." The diagnosis of this puzzle, which occupies the whole of Part I, shows it to rest on a misunderstanding of the conceptual framework in terms of which we speak of what things do when acted upon in certain ways in certain kinds of circumstance. Although the puzzle is initially posed in terms of examples taken from everyday life, the logical features of these examples which, misunderstood, generate the puzzle, are to be found in even the more theoretical levels of the language of science, and the puzzle is as much at home in the one place as in the other. For the framework in which things of various kinds (e.g. matches, white rats) behave ('respond') in various ways (catch fire, leap at a door) when acted upon ('submitted to such and such stimuli') under given conditions (presence of oxygen, 24 hours of food deprivation) is far more basic than the distinctions between metrical and non-metrical concepts, molar and micro-things, [p.226] observable and unobservable..
Keywords Causation  Dispositions  Modalities  Counterfactuals
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W. Malzkorn (2001). Defining Disposition Concepts: A Brief History of the Problem. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 32 (2):335-353.

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