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Dispositions and Potentiality

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  • Dispositions and Potentiality

    When analytic philosophers speak of dispositions are they merely speaking of Aristotle's potentiality, or are they different concepts? Is there some particular reason for the change in vocabulary?

  • #2
    From what I understand it seems the terminology refers to the same thing or at least it is supposed to. Though this does not mean that one philosopher is speaking about the exact same thing the other is as there are different accounts of just what dispositions are and what is their ontological status. As for the change in terminology I don't think there is much significant reason but I suspect it is due to contemporary philosopher's interests in analyzing mysterious Disposition/Categorical distinction which one might say roughly corresponds to potential/actual distinction but might not quite be the same.

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    • #3
      Do you know what the classic or standard texts are on this topic?

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Brian View Post
        Do you know what the classic or standard texts are on this topic?
        A standard introductory text would be Sungho Choi and Michael Fara's article on disposition on SEP. Look for citations within it for further reading. Important points in this topic as I understand are that Disposition talk quickly becomes mysterious on further analysis because it appears prone to a more understandable reduction, like a simple reduction to counter-factual conditionals due to some apparent counter-examples . And that Categorical properties are equally mysterious because its somewhat difficult to find a essential feature of them to define them properly beyond giving some examples. There are many more issues too, its an interesting topic for philosophical exploration.

        https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dispositions/

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        • #5
          One classic analytic text, though perhaps not representative of all later usage, is Chapter 5 of Ryle's The Concept of Mind, in which he distinguishes dispositional and categorical properties. Ryle aimed in some part to re-present Aristotle's conception of things.

          Ryle compares and contrasts dispositions with capacities (or abilities) and tendencies. A disposition is a disposition to do something in a certain kind of circumstance, the brittleness of glass being the stock example. A capacity is a capacity to do something, I would say, less passively. For instance I have a capacity to talk. I can do that straight off, no external stimulus required. A tendency is something I tend to do (for instance, worry)--it differs from a disposition or capacity in that it yields frequent worrying, whereas a disposition would require some sort of stimulus and a capacity can exist unexercised. This roughly corresponds to the distinction between passive potentiality, active potentiality, and habit. So Ryle's notion of a disposition is narrower than the Aristotelian notion of potentiality, but roughly capturable in a scholastic idiom. (Not to say that Aristotle would accept what Ryle says about the truth conditions and epistemology of dispositions.) I suspect Ryle wants terms closer to ordinary language and with less metaphysical history.

          Though others can correct me if I'm wrong, I think most later philosophers are less interested in capacities and tendencies, which seem to be proper to the animate world.

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