Objects have dispositions. As Nelson Goodman put it, “a thing is full of threats and promises”. But sometimes those threats go unfulﬁlled, and the promises unkept. Sometimes the dispositions of objects fail to manifest themselves, even when their conditions of manifestation obtain. Pieces of wood, disposed to burn when heated, do not burn when heated in a vacuum chamber. And pastries, disposed to go bad when left lying around too long, won’t do so if coated with lacquer and put on (...) display in a baker ’s window. Any account of what a disposition is, or of what it takes for an object to have a disposition, should be compatible with these commonplace observations. To date, I believe, no adequate account of dispositions has been given, and the aim of this paper is to defend one. (shrink)
This is a perfect overview article that serves as a general introduction to the topic of dispositions. It is composed of six sections that review the main philosophical approaches to the most important questions: Analysis of disposition ascription, the dispositional/categorical distinction, dispositions and categorical bases, the intrinsicness of dispositions and the causal efficacy of dispositions.
Many philosophers, following David Lewis, believe that we should look to counterpart theory, not quantified modal logic, as a means of understanding modal discourse. We argue that this is a mistake. Significant parts of modal discourse involve either implicit or explicit reference to what is actually the case, raising the question of how talk about actuality is to be represented counterpart-theoretically. By considering possible modifications of Lewis's counterpart theory, including actual modifications due to Graeme Forbes and Murali Ramachandran, we argue (...) that no coherent version of counterpart theory can provide a plausible representation of talk about actuality, and so, we conclude, counterpart theory should be rejected. (shrink)
The glass vase on my desk is fragile. It should be handled with care because it it is likely to shatter or crack if it is knocked, dropped, or otherwise treated roughly. The vase has certain dispositions, for example the disposition to shatter when dropped. But what is this disposition? It seems on the one hand to be a perfectly real property, a genuine respect of similarity common to glass vases, china cups, ancient manuscripts, and anything else fragile. Yet on (...) the other hand my vase's disposition seems mysterious, "ethereal" (as Nelson Goodman (1954) put it) in a way that, say, its size and shape properties are not. For my vase's disposition, it seems, has to do only with its possibly shattering in certain conditions, conditions which I hope will never be realized. In general, it seems that nothing about the actual behavior of an object is ever necessary for it to have the dispositions it has. Many objects differ from each other with respect to their dispositions in virtue of their merely possible behavior, and this is a mysterious way for objects to differ. (shrink)
This paper presents a generalized form of Fitch's paradox of knowability, with the aim of showing that the questions it raises are not peculiar to the topics of knowledge, belief, or other epistemic notions. Drawing lessons from the generalization, the paper offers a solution to Fitch's paradox that exploits an understanding of modal talk about what could be known in terms of capacities to know. It is argued that, in rare cases, one might have the capacity to know that p (...) even if it is metaphysically impossible for anyone to know that p, and that recognizing this fact provides the resources to solve Fitch's paradox. (shrink)
The central question addressed in this dissertation is, What, in the most general terms, is required for an object to have a disposition? In the formal mode, this is just the question, What are the truth conditions of disposition ascriptions, sentences of the form "N is disposed to M when C"? The dissertation begins by criticizing existing answers to this question, answers which consist in accounts of disposition ascriptions according to which they entail conditionals of one form or another. By (...) developing examples due to C. B. Martin, Mark Johnston and others, it is argued that no conditional account of disposition ascriptions can be correct. Instead, a "Habitual Account" of disposition ascriptions is defended: an ascription "N is disposed to M when C" is true just in case N has some intrinsic property in virtue of which N Ms when C. This account is shown both to escape the criticisms levelled against conditional accounts, and to have independently persuasive motivation. ;Essential to the Habitual Account of disposition ascriptions is that the sentences that it makes use of, so-called "habitual sentences" of the form "N Ms when C," are not themselves to he understood as conditionals. How they are to be understood has been a matter of some debate in the recent semantics literature, and the dissertation engages with this debate by offering a novel account of the truth conditions of habitual sentences. It is argued that these sentences should be represented as containing an implicit, unpronounced adverbial quantifier, meaning something like "normally," "generally," or "typically," and a specific account of the semantic contribution made to habitual sentences by this quantifier is supplied. ;The dissertation ends by considering an issue in the metaphysics of dispositions, arguing, contrary to widespread philosophical opinion, that some dispositions are extrinsic properties of their bearers. This conclusion is shown not only to be compatible with the Habitual Account of disposition ascriptions, but also to be explained by it. (shrink)
One afternoon in 1939, G. E. Moore held up his hands. He proceeded to make a certain gesture, first with his right hand and next with his left, while uttering the words, “Here is one hand and here is another.” Moore famously claimed to have thereby proved the existence of external things.
Consider a superagent, a being with extraordinary rational capactities. Not only are a superagent’s beliefs closed under entailment, but a superagent also has a wonderful kind of introspective awareness: whenever she believes that she doesn’t believe something, she is right—she doesn’t believe it. A superagent, then, is a being who satisfies the following two principles: (I) If p entails q, and if S believes p, then S believes q. (II) If S believes that she doesn’t believe p, then S doesn’t (...) believe p. I don’t suppose anyone thinks that there is such a thing as a superagent, or that there ever will be. But I do suppose that there could be a superagent, in the sense that it’s not conceptually impossible for a superagent to exist. Our concept of belief, whatever it is, should not be such as to rule out the possibility of a being of this kind. In this paper I expose a paradox: although our concept of belief shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a being of this kind, it apparently does.1 I end the paper by arguing that the key to solving this paradox lies in the recognition that the question of whether an agent could believe so-and-so can sometimes diverge from the question of whether it is possible that she believes so-and-so. (shrink)
We describe two unusual cases of cardiopulmonary death in mechanically ventilated patients in the neurological intensive care unit. After cardiac arrest, both patients were pulseless for a protracted period. Upon extubation, both developed agonal movements (gasping respiration) resembling life. We discuss these cases and the literature on the ethical and medical controversies associated with determining time of cardiopulmonary death. We conclude that there is rarely a single moment when all of a patient’s physiological functions stop working at once. This can (...) pose a challenge for determining the exact moment of death. (shrink)
Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is administered to patients with suspected ischemic stroke to improve blood flow to the brain In rare cases, patients present with complaints of stroke symptoms that appear to be non-organic due to malingering, factitious disorder, or conversion disorder (psychogenic stroke mimics). Deciding whether or not to administer tPA to these patients can be challenging. The risk of hemorrhage after administration of tPA is low, but not zero. The ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence need to be (...) weighed carefully in these situations. We present two cases of patients with suspected psychogenic stroke mimics to illustrate the ethical challenges faced in identifying and managing psychogenic stroke mimics. Further research is needed to demonstrate effective treatment strategies for patients with acute stroke symptoms of psychogenic etiology. (shrink)