The Categorical-Dispositional Distinction

In Alexander Bird, Brian Ellis & Howard Sankey (eds.), Properties, Powers, and Structures: Issues in the Metaphysics of Realism. Routledge (2012)


This paper largely engages with Brian Ellis’s description of categorical dimensions as put forward in his paper in this volume. The New Essentialism advocated by Ellis posits the ontologically-robust existence of both dispositional and categorical properties. I have argued that the distinction that Ellis draws between the two is unpersuasive, and that the causal role of categorical dimensions—what they do—is inseparable from what they are. This observation is reinforced by the fact that absolute physical quantities permit re-interpretations of measurement that remove a clear differentiation between categoricity and dispositionality. Distinguishing between ‘pure power’ and ‘dispositionality’, I further argue that: i) there are no ontologically-robust categorical properties, although their apparent existence is explicable as higher-order and supervenient; ii) that the fundamental ingredients of the world may be accounted for in terms of pure-power that is neither categorical nor dispositional; and iii) that the categorical-dispositional distinction arises only at the higher-order level of objects, and does not in any case constitute ontologically-robust partitioning of reality.

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Sharon Ford
University of Queensland

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