Jennifer McKitrick offers an opinionated guide to the philosophy of dispositions. In her view, when an object has a disposition, it is such that, if a certain type of circumstance were to occur, a certain kind of event would occur. Since this is very common for this to be the case, dispositions are an abundant and diverse feature of our world.
Many philosophers hold that all dispositions must have independent causal bases. I challenge this view, hence defending the possibility of bare dispositions. In part 1, I explain more fully what I mean by "disposition," "causal basis," and "bare disposition." In part 2, I consider the claim that the concept of a disposition entails that dispositions are not bare. In part 3, I consider arguments, due to Prior, Pargetter, and Jackson, that dispositions necessarily have distinct causal bases. In part 4, I (...) consider arguments by Smith and Stoljar that there can't be bare dispositions because they would make for unwelcome "barely true" counterfactuals. In the end, I find no reason to deny the possibility of bare dispositions. (shrink)
According to some philosophers, gender is a social role or pattern of behavior in a social context. I argue that these accounts have problematic implications for transgender. I suggest that gender is a complex behavioral disposition, or cluster of dispositions. Furthermore, since gender norms are culturally relative, one’s gender is partially constituted by extrinsic factors. I argue that this has advantages over thinking of gender as behavior, and has the added advantage of accommodating the possibility of an appearance/reality dissonance with (...) respect to one’s gender. (shrink)
To determine whether dispositions are causally relevant, we have to get clear about what causal relevance is. Several characteristics of causal relevance have been suggested, including Explanatory Power, Counterfactual Dependence, Lawfullness, Exclusion, Independence, and Minimal Sufficiency. Different accounts will yield different answers about the causal relevance of dispositions. However, accounts of causal relevance that are the most plausible, for independent reasons, render the verdict that dispositions are causally relevant.
According to a standard characterization of dispositions, when a disposition is activated by a stimulus, a manifestation of that disposition typically occurs. For example, when flammable gasoline encounters a spark in an oxygen-rich environment, the manifestation of flammability—combustion—occurs. In the dispositions/powers literature, it is common to assume that a manifestation is an effect of a disposition being activated. (I use “disposition” and “power” interchangeably). I address two questions in this chapter: Could all manifestations be effects that involve things acquiring only (...) dispositional properties? And, is thinking of manifestations as contributions to effects preferable to thinking of them as effects? I defend negative responses to both questions. If all properties are dispositional, as the pandispositionalists claim, then any time the activation of a disposition results is something acquiring a new property, it results in something acquiring another disposition. Some worry that a vicious regress ensues (Swinburne, 1980; Bird, 2007a, 2007b: 132-46). While I believe that regress arguments can be addressed, my worry is that, on the pandispositionalist view, manifestations become unobservable. Thinking of manifestations as effects is problematic in cases where what actually occurs is not the kind of effect that the power is a power for, but rather a complex interaction of various powers. Because of this, some prefer to think of manifestations as contributions to effects (Molnar, 2003: 194-8; Mumford, 2009). I argue against this proposal on the ground that it introduces mysterious new entities into our ontology. In the end, the most plausible view is that a single kind of power can have different kinds of effects, some of which involve the instantiation of non-dispositional properties. I proceed as follows. In the first section of this chapter, I show that the philosophical concept of a manifestation is the concept of an effect. In the second section, I argue against the claim that all manifestations involve instantiations of only dispositional properties. In the third section, I argue against the view that manifestations are contributions rather than effects. (shrink)
This paper is an explication and critique of a new theory of causation found in part II of Gregg Rosenberg's _A Place for Consciousness._ According to Rosenberg's Theory of Causal significance, causation constrains indeterminate possibilities, and according to his Carrier Theory, physical properties are dispositions which have phenomenal properties as their causal bases. This author finds Rosenberg's metaphysics excessively speculative, with disappointing implications for the place of consciousness in the natural world.
Dispositions and potentialities seem importantly similar. To talk about what something has the potential or disposition to do is to make a claim about a future possibilitythe "threats and promises" that fill the world (Goodman 1983, 41). In recent years, dispositions have been the subject of much conceptual analysis and metaphysical speculation. The inspiration for this essay is the hope that that work can shed some light on discussions of potentiality. I compare the concepts of disposition and potentiality, consider whether (...) accounts of these concepts are subject to similar difficulties, and whether having a disposition or a potentiality can depend on extrinsic factors. The concept of a disposition I am working with is drawn from the recent literature in metaphysics and philosophy of science that focuses on the analysis of dispositional concepts and their role in a broader ontology. The concept of a potentiality is drawn from the bioethics literature that focuses on the moral relevance of potentialities that subjects of medical decisions mayor may not possess. Some preliminary conclusions I draw are the following: I. Potentialities are dispositions; 2. Due to problematic cases, potentiality ascriptions, like disposition ascriptions, are not reducible to counterfactual statements; and 3. Like dispositions, some potentialities can be extrinsic. Here I do not aim to draw any conclusions about the moral relevance of potentialities but rather to outline conceptual and metaphysical options available to those who seek to employ this concept. However, to the extent that these options are relevant to answering moral questions, I am skeptical about the prospects of finding a value-neutral way to choose between them. I have tried to outline a number of options regarding the nature of potentialities for those who would like that notion to play some role in their theorizing in bioethics, or elsewhere. There still are a number of decisions to make about how to explicate the concept of potentiality that is most relevant for one's purposes. How should one flesh out the associated counterfactuals, regardless of whether they hope to reduce potentiality claims to counterfactual conditionals? How should one circumscribe the relevant possible circumstances of manifestation for a given potentiality? Are the circumstances necessary for the actualization of a given potentiality to be counted circumstances of possession or circumstances of manifestation? Is the kind of which something is potentially a member a natural kind or a class whose membership is determined by convention? My anticipation, and perhaps my worry, is that these questions do not have answers that can be determined independently from the conclusions about the moral relevance of potentiality that a given theorist aims to establish. (shrink)
Disposition terms, such as 'cowardice,' 'fragility' and 'reactivity,' often appear in explanations. Sometimes we explain why a man ran away by saying that he was cowardly, or we explain why something broke by saying it was fragile. Scientific explanations of certain phenomena feature dispositional properties like instability, reactivity, and conductivity. And these look like causal explanations - they seem to provide information about the causal history of various events. Philosophers such as Ned Block, Jaegwon Kim, Elizabeth Prior, Robert Pargetter, and (...) Frank Jacksonl have suggested reasons for thinking that dispositions are causally inert. I call this the "Inert Dispositions View." According to this view, the glass's fragility was not responsible for its breaking; the man's cowardice was causally impotent as he fled. The Inert Dispositions View would call many of the explanations we give into question. By employing a disposition in an explanation, we might have thought we were giving a causal explanation of the event. Perhaps we took ourselves to be explaining an effect with some feature of its cause that was responsible for the effect. However, if dispositions are causally inert, we are explaining the event in some other way, or not really explaining it at all. The Inert Dispositions View suggests that something is amiss with many scientific explanations. If properties like conductivity and volatility are causally inert, it is not clear how appealing to them provides us with information about why certain phenomena occur. This is especially problematic if one thinks, as some do, that the fundamental properties that scientists attribute to the ultimate constituents of matter -- things like force, mass, charge, impenetrability -- are dispositional. If, as Simon Blackburn says, "science finds only dispositional properties all the way down,"2 and if dispositions are causally inert, it would seem that science does not provide us with real causal explanations. The Inert Dispositions View implies that there is something amiss with psychological explanations as well. At least some psychological states are dispositional -- being courageous or shy, being such that you would accept a drink if you were offered one. On some views, all mental states are like dispositions, since having a mental state is a matter of having some brain state or other that performs a certain causal role. If mental properties are relevantly similar to dispositions, and dispositions are inert, then mental properties make no difference to what a body does. However, it is natural to think that my believing and desiring certain things has much to do with my body moving in certain ways. It would take powerful arguments to cast these beliefs into serious doubt. In this paper, I defend the causal efficacy of dispositions against two types of arguments that l call "Analyticity Arguments" and "No Work Arguments." According to Analyticity Arguments, there is an analytic or necessary connection between a disposition and its manifestation, and this goes to show that there is no causal connection. I argue, on the contrary, that it shows no such thing. According to No Work arguments, manifestations of dispositions already have sufficient causes, and so there is "no work" for dispositions to do. I claim that these arguments rest on some questionable assumptions. (shrink)
Reid offers an under-appreciated account of the primary/secondary quality distinction. He gives sound reasons for rejecting the views of Locke, Boyle, Galileo and others, and presents a better alternative, according to which the distinction is epistemic rather than metaphysical. Primary qualities, for Reid, are qualities whose intrinsic natures can be known through sensation. Secondary qualities, on the other hand, are unknown causes of sensations. Some may object that Reid's view is internally inconsistent, or unacceptably relativistic. However, a deeper understanding shows (...) that it is consistent, and relative only to normal humans. To acquire this deeper understanding, one must also explore the nature of dispositions, Reid's rejection of the theory of ideas, his distinction between sensation and perception, and his distinction between natural and acquired perceptions. (shrink)
In this paper, I make the case for the view that there are many different kinds of dispositions, a view I call dispositional pluralism. The reason I think that this case needs to be made is to temper the tendency to make sweeping generalization about the nature of dispositions that go beyond conceptual truths. Examples of such generalizations include claims that all dispositions are intrinsic, essential, fundamental, or natural.! In order to counter this tendency, I will start by noting the (...) extent to which it is at odds with the semantics of dispositions, according to which there are many kinds of disposition ascriptions. From there, I will try to support a metaphysical claim that there are different kinds of dispositions. To bridge the gap between semantics and metaphysics, I appeal to epistemology. I'll consider the question "when do we have good reason to believe that a disposition ascription is true?" If our disposition ascriptions are true, then we are right about what kinds of dispositions things have, and what kinds of dispositions there are. I claim that our evidence for different kinds of dispositions is on a par; we have reason to believe that various kinds of dispositions are instantiated. (shrink)
DISCUSSIONS OF JUSTICE within the classical liberal, libertarian tradition have been universalist. They have aspired to apply to any human community, whatever the makeup of its membership. Certainly some feminists have taken issue with this, arguing that the classical liberal, libertarian understanding of justice fails to address the concerns of women, indeed, does women an injustice. Among these we find Susan Moller Okin, and it will be my task in this essay to explore whether Okin's criticism is well founded. Susan (...) Moller Okin's justice, Gender, and the Family is a landmark feminist discussion of distributive justice that raises issues no political philosophy should ignore. However, libertarians have tended to ignore it. That is perhaps not surprising as Okin would have us believe that libertarian feminism is incoherent. Some libertarians seem to agree, leading one to believe that liberty is incompatible with justice for women. Perhaps libertarians and feminists agree on the "facts," but disagree on the values. Whereas the feminist is willing to sacrifice liberty for justice, the libertarian is willing to sacrifice justice for liberty. Although the libertarian might object to this characterization on the grounds that the demands of justice would be met by a libertarian scheme, the feminist can equally object that the "liberty" she is willing to sacrifice means liberty for men and domestic servitude for women. Okin finds libertarianism problematic for two reasons: its philosophical foundations and its unjust consequences for women. (She focuses, as will I, on women in quasi-democratic industrial societies.) I will argue, contra Okin, that neither the philosophical foundations nor the possible implications of libertarianism are as problematic for feminism as she claims. (shrink)
As author Christopher Prendergast acknowledges, Counterfactuals: Paths of the Might have Been does not attempt to offer a theory of counterfactuals, nor does it develop a contribution to an existing theory. Instead, it is as the author puts it an “anthropology of the counterfactual”. However, it is nothing as systematic as that. It is not a survey, but a series of “listening exercises” which roam over literature, history, art, philosophy, music, and popular culture. He admits that this exercise of collecting (...) counterfactuals is “quirky business” akin “wool gathering” and “purposeless daydreaming”. However, Prendergast does have some aims in Counterfactuals. He claims that he wants to show the variety of counterfactuals, how they are used, and how they resonate in human experience. If the book aims to support an overarching conclusion, it is probably this: “What we do with counterfactuals and what they do to us are integral to making sense of humanity”. (shrink)
The Conference on Dispositions and Laws of Nature was held at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in February 2003, and by all accounts was a great success. Upon seeing the program for the conference, John Symons of Synthese thought the papers would make an excellent special issue, and so here we are. Roughly speaking, dispositions are tendencies or powers—a fragile glass’s disposition to break when struck. Laws of nature, like Newton’s laws of motion, are commonly thought to be true (...) generalizations that supports counterfactuals, play an important role in scientific explanation, and can be inductively confirmed by their instances. Dispositions and laws are components of different, perhaps competing, metaphysical views regarding the source of power and activity in the universe. Supposing that dispositions and laws of nature exist, in some sense, I see two basic options as to how they are related: 1. Laws give otherwise inert particulars their dispositions. 2. Particulars have certain dispositions, and general truths about these dispositions constitute the laws of nature. (shrink)
Feminist metaphysics is simultaneously feminist theorizing and metaphysics. Part of feminist metaphysics concerns social ontology and considers such questions as, What is the nature of social kinds, such as genders? Feminist metaphysicians also consider whether gendered perspectives influence metaphysical theorizing; for example, have approaches to the nature of the self or free will been conducted from a masculinist perspective, and would a feminist perspective yield different theories? Some feminist metaphysicians develop metaphysical theories with the aim of furthering certain social goals, (...) such as gender equality. Despite these and other intriguing research projects, feminist metaphysics faces challenges from two flanks: one might argue that "feminist metaphysics" is not metaphysics, or one might argue that it is not feminist. Recently, Elizabeth Barnes has made the case that, since contemporary accounts of the nature of metaphysics focus primarily on the fundamental, they have the problematic implication that feminist metaphysics is not, properly speaking, metaphysics. However, less emphasis has been paid, of late, to the idea that major strands of feminist thought also problematize feminist metaphysics. I will briefly assess the metaphysician's case against feminist metaphysics in Section 2 of this chapter. Then, in Section 3, I will examine in more detail possible feminist concerns over metaphysics. In Section 4, I sketch a different conception of metaphysics that avoids both mainstream and feminist challenges to feminist metaphysics. (shrink)
Dispositionality and causation are both modal concepts which have implications not just for how things are, but for how they will be or, in some sense, must be. Some philosophers are suspicious of modal concepts and would like to make do with fewer of them.1 But what are our reductive options, and how viable are they? In this paper, I try to shut down one option: I argue that dispositions are not reducible to causes. In doing so, I try not (...) to prejudice the issue by assuming a particular analysis of causation or dispositions. I make the following minimal assumptions about dispositions: they are properties of objects which have characteristic manifestations that occur in certain circumstances, and an object can have a disposition outside of the circumstances of manifestation and hence without the manifestation occurring. I think of causation primarily as a relation between events, though there can be true causal generalizations, and objects might be causes. In Section 1, I will try to clarify what it means for one kind of thing to reduce to another. I will then argue in Section 2 that dispositions do not conceptually reduce to causes, and in Section 3 that dispositions do not metaphysically reduce to causes. In Section 4, I explore other reductive possibilities, in particular that causes reduce to dispositions. (shrink)
According to the DSM IV, a person with GID is a male or female that feels a strong identification with the opposite sex and experiences considerable stress because of their actual sex (Task Force on DSM-IV and American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The way GID is characterized by health professionals, patients, and lay people belies certain assumptions about gender that are strongly held, yet nevertheless questionable. The phenomena of transsexuality and sex-reassignment surgery puts into stark relief the following question: “What does (...) it mean to be male or female?” But while the answer to that question may be informed by contemplation of GID, we should also be aware that the answer to the question “what does it mean to have GID?” is shaped by our concepts of male and female. First, I consider the concept of transsexuality, and explain how it forces us to clarify our concepts of sex and gender, and leads to the development of what I will call the “standard view.” I then explain GID from a mental-health standpoint, question the concept of gender identity, and try to uncover some fundamental assumptions of the standard view. I argue that these assumptions are at odds with the plausible view that gender supervenes on physical, psychological, and/or social properties. I go on to argue, contra the standard view, that gender has no essence. I suggest an anti-essentialist account of gender according to which “man” and “woman” are cluster concepts. This undermines the dualistic conception of gender that grounds the standard view. An anti-essentialist view of gender cannot make sense of the concept of “gender identity” and hence sees so-called “GID” as primarily conflict between the individual and her society, and only derivatively a conflict between the individual and her body. (shrink)
There's a student in my philosophy class who has "real potential." I might express this thought in any of the following ways: "She is potentially a philosopher"; "She is a potential philosopher"; "She has the potential to be a philosopher." The first way uses a cognate of "potential" as an adverb to modify "is." The second ways uses "potential" as an adjective to modify "philosopher." However, the third way uses "potential" as a noun to refer to something that the student (...) has. What kind of thing is this potential? One worry about even asking this question is that this nominalization of the adjective "potential" suggests a metaphysical picture that is an artifact of language. This is even more strongly suggested by the less ambiguous nominalization "potentiality." Once we have the term "potentiality," we have a new kind of entity to countenance, and questions about its nature arise. One might argue, just because we use the word "potentiality," we should not think that it refers to a "thing" that someone can "have." There is something disingenuous about such an argument. It proceeds as if the adverbial and adjectival uses of "potential" are unproblematic, and questions only arise with the nominalization. But it is not obvious what it means to potentially be something, or what it means to be a potential something. To say that someone "is potentially" a philosopher is to talk about a way of being that falls short of actuality. And a "potential philosopher" is not a kind of philosopher at all. So what is it? Each of the three above formulations is a modal claim. If there is anything philosophical puzzling about a potentiality claim, it is not going to go away by translating it into an equivalent modal claim. In this chapter I defend the existence of potentialities against anti-realist arguments, and make a proposal as to their nature. The proposal, in short, is that potentialities are properties, specifically dispositions, though more needs to be said about properties and dispositions. I will do this in Part I. In Part II, I will address two lines of argument against potentialities: that they are reducible, and that they are causally inert. (shrink)
Medicine has been a very fruitful source of significant issues for philosophy over the last 30 years. The vast majority of the issues discussed have been normative—they have been problems in morality and political philosophy that now make up the field called bioethics. However, biomedical science presents many other philosophical questions that have gotten relatively little attention, particularly topics in metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of science. This volume focuses on problems in these areas as they surface in biomedical science. Important (...) changes in philosophy make biomedical science an especially interesting area of inquiry. Contemporary philosophy is largely naturalistic in approach—it takes philosophy to be constrained by the results of the natural sciences and able to contribute to the natural sciences as well. Exactly what those constraints and contributions should be is a matter of controversy. What is not controversial is that important questions in philosophy of science and metaphysics are raised by the practice of science. Physics, biology, and economics have all drawn extensive philosophical analysis, so much so that philosophical study of these areas have become specialized subdisciplines within philosophy of science. Philosophy of medicine approached from the perspective of philosophy of science—with important exceptions (Schaffner, 1993; Thagard, 2000)—has been relatively undeveloped. Nonetheless, medicine should have a central place in epistemological and metaphysical debates over science. It is unarguably the most practically important of the sciences. It also draws by the far the greatest resources and research efforts of any area in biology. Yet philosophy of biology has focused almost exclusively on evolutionary biology, leaving the vast enterprises of immunology, cancer biology, virology, clinical medicine, and so on unexplored. Naturalized philosophy has emphasized the important interplay of historical and sociological aspects of science with its philosophical interpretation. Biomedical science as a large scale social enterprise is a natural target for such approaches. Relatedly, within philosophy there has been a growing interest and appreciation for the connections between issues of value and issues of fact in science (Kincaid et al., 2007). Biomedical science is a paradigm instance where the two intersect. The upshot is that biomedical science is a potential rich area for philosophical investigation in areas outside biomedical ethics. This volume seeks to show that promise and to encourage its exploration. (shrink)
According to most views of dispositions or powers, they have “triggers” or activation conditions. Fragile things break when they are struck; explosive things explode when ignited. The notion of an activation event, or “trigger,” is central to the notion of a disposition. Dispositions are defined not only by their manifestations, but also by their triggers. Not everyone who grumbles and complains counts as irritable—just those who do so with little inducement. Not everything that can be broken counts as fragile—just things (...) that can be broken with relatively little force. The idea that triggers are part of the identity conditions of powers is evident in conditional analyses of powers, and even in the claim that certain conditionals are typically true of things with certain powers. The antecedent of the conditional corresponds to a trigger of that power: “If it’s struck, it will break” is true of a fragile thing, and “being struck” is the trigger. In this chapter, I explore the nature of activation events and their relation to the powers they activate. In particular, I will consider what triggers would look like if all properties were powers, as the dispositional monist or pandispositionalist tells us they are. While many have expressed worries about manifestations involving instantiations of only dispositional properties, it is also worth noting that, on a pandispositionalist scenario, the activation event must be equally dispositional. If all properties are powers, it seems that a triggering event must be an acquisition of a power. But how does something acquiring a power activate another power to produce its manifestation? I suggest and evaluate possible answers. I will argue that, as with the case of manifestations, a vicious regress threatens the pandispositionalist picture of power activation. I go on to consider several possible pandispositionalist responses. (shrink)
In “Teleological Dispositions,” Nick Kroll appeals to teleology to account for the way that dispositions seem to be directed toward their merely possible manifestations. He argues that his teleological account of dispositions does a better job of making sense of this directedness than rival approaches that appeal to conditional statements or physical intentionality. In this short critique, I argue that, without satisfactory clarification of a number of issues, TAD does not adequately account for the directedness of dispositions. I focus on (...) two aspects of TAD: the Activation Principle, and the proposed necessary and sufficient conditions for being a dispositional property. (shrink)
Gideon Yaffee’s Manifest Activity is an important contribution to both the studies of Thomas Reid’s views and action theory. Reid is known as an early advocate of an agent-causal view of free will; more recent advocates include Roderick Chisholm. Manifest Activity is a well-appreciated effort at bringing Reid’s particular version of agent-causalism and his arguments for it into the contemporary discussion. Manifest Activity should be of interest to Reid scholars, action theorists, and anyone who wants to explore a focused, critical (...) analysis of a fascinating thinker. Yaffee’s writing is clear and readable, yet rigorous and detailed. Yaffee’s aim in each chapter is clearly laid out, and the structure of each is clear. Some chapters start out with a reconstruction of one of Reid’s argument, and then Yaffee assesses each of the premises in turn. Other chapters begin with an interpretive puzzle, which Yaffee solves with resources from the Reid corpus. At times, the dialectic gets complex, but concise summaries that tie the arguments together are a welcome end of each chapter. Skipping the footnotes is not recommended, as they often contain significant reflections, extensions, or qualifications of points in the main text, if not important references to historical and contemporary texts. (shrink)
As Nelson Goodman put it, things are full of threats and promises. A fragile glass, for example, is prone to shatter when struck. Fragility is the glass's disposition, shattering is the manifestation of the disposition, and striking is the circumstances of manifestation. The properties of a fragile glass which are causally efficacious for shattering constitute the causal basis of the glass's fragility. The glass can remain fragile even if it never shatters. One can say of the fragile glass, with certain (...) qualifications, that if it were struck, it would shatter. This much is common ground among philosophers who discuss dispositions. In my dissertation, I defend three claims about dispositions that are more controversial. ;Some philosophers have claimed that dispositions are causally impotent. I disagree. In my first chapter, I defend the claim that dispositions can be causally efficacious with respect to their manifestations. Among the arguments I consider is the "no work" argument, according to which a disposition's causal basis causally explains its manifestation, leaving no causal work for the disposition to do. I respond to this argument by challenging the Principle of Explanatory Exclusion, according to which complete explanations exclude competitors. ;Furthermore, many philosophers hold that all dispositions must have independent causal bases. In my second chapter, I challenge this view, and defend the possibility of bare dispositions. I argue that the concept of a bare disposition is coherent, and show why arguments recently offered against bare dispositions, such as those based on the Truth Maker Principle, do not succeed in demonstrating that they are impossible. ;Another common assumption about dispositions is that they must be intrinsic properties of the objects that have them. In my third chapter, I challenge this assumption, and argue that some dispositions are extrinsic properties. Consider the property vulnerability. It seems dispositional in character; something which is vulnerable is susceptible to harm, but is not necessarily being harmed right now. However, it seems as if something could lose the property of being vulnerable without undergoing any intrinsic change. Build a fortress around the vulnerable object and it ceases to be vulnerable. (shrink)