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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N116-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

‘Disposition’ is a term used in metaphysics usually to indicate a type of property, state or condition. Such a property is one that provides for the possibility of some further specific state or behaviour, usually in circumstances of some specific kind. Terms such as ‘causal power’, ‘capacity’, ‘ability’, ‘propensity’, and others, can be used to convey the same idea.

The general criterion for something to be a disposition is that the appropriate kind of behaviour, the so-called manifestation, need not be actual. Thus, something can be disposed to break though it is not broken now. The disposition is thought to be a persisting state or condition that makes possible the manifestation.

Because dispositions make other events or properties possible, they are often understood in relation to counterfactual conditional sentences. Something being fragile is somehow related to the conditional that if it is dropped, it will break. The antecedent of the conditional identifies the stimulus for the disposition. The consequent identifies the manifestation of the disposition.

Philosophers are increasingly interested in dispositions because many properties seem to be essentially dispositional in nature. Thus, to say that something is soft means that it is disposed to deform when put under pressure. It is difficult to identify a property that does not have some dispositional aspect. Even the fundamental properties of physics, such as spin, charge and mass, appear to be dispositional. This has led some to the conclusion that all properties are dispositions, or at least that they bestow dispositions. In the philosophy of mind, many mental ascriptions carry dispositional implications. For example, to have a belief is to be disposed to behave in an appropriate way in certain circumstances. There are a number of philosophical problems that arise about dispositions, however. Are they real properties in their own right or are they in some way derived from other elements? How are dispositions distinguished from other things? What is the precise relation a disposition bears to its manifestation?

Citing this article:
Mumford, Stephen. Dispositions, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N116-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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