Dispositions and Conditionals
Martin (C.B.)
Source: The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-), Vol. 44, No. 174 (Jan., 1994), pp. 1-8
Paper - Abstract

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Author's Introduction

  1. The dispositions of a thing can change. Dispositions have duration. A piece of glass can be fragile for an hour and cease to be fragile for an hour. This change of disposition can be arranged by means of a change in temperature. A disposition and a change of disposition need not manifest themselves. The glass need not actually break during the hour that it is fragile.
  2. We must see that dispositions are actual, though their manifestations may not be. It is an elementary confusion to think of unmanifesting dispositions as unactualized possibilia, though that may characterize unmanifested manifestations.
  3. If a piece of glass breaks, something has happened to it. If a piece of glass ceases to be fragile, something has happened to it. Saying that the glass broke is saying what actually happened to the glass in terms of how it is actually different from what it was. This actual change to the piece of glass could have come about in ways that are familiar to us or in ways that are only conceivable to us - by the impact of a stone or by the order of some divine agent. The divine agent orders 'Let it break'; break it does and no mistake. Is it quite the same when we say that the piece of glass ceases to be fragile? The glass ceases to be fragile at a particular time. Does this tell us what actually happened to the glass in terms of how it is actually different from what it was? Is this an actual change to the piece of glass that could have come about in ways that are familiar to us or in ways that are only conceivable to us? By the heating of the glass or by the order of some divine agent? The divine agent orders 'Let it cease to be fragile'; cease to be fragile it does and no mistake. Why is this odd?
  4. The divine agent says, 'I shall make the glass cease to be fragile, but whenever anything happens to it that would make it break if it were fragile, I shall, with my foreknowledge of the future, make it fragile again. So it will break whenever anything happens that breaks fragile glass - because it will become fragile on those occasions. At all other times I shall make it cease to be fragile.' If I take the divine agent seriously, then when I crate up the piece of glass and attach the label reading 'Fragile, handle with care', I may cross out the word 'fragile' but retain the phrase 'handle with care'. This is absurd of me, but is the divine agent necessarily being absurd? Right after the words from on high are spoken, the glass melts. I throw a stone at it, and just before the impact the glass cools and solidifies and the stone breaks the glass. Then the glass melts again. How is this absurd? If it is not, then how is the dispositional state rendered by any conditional account?


Note
  1. This paper invents a term “fink”, as below in the next section. Consider now the following case. The wire referred to in (A) is connected to a machine, an electro-fink, which can provide itself with reliable information as to exactly when a wire connected to it is touched by a conductor. When such contact occurs the electro-fink reacts (instantaneously, we are supposing) by making the wire live for the duration of the contact. In the absence of contact the wire is dead.
  2. This term is picked up by other authors, eg. in:-
    "Choi (Sungho) & Fara (Michael) - Dispositions", and
    "Lewis (David) - Finkish Dispositions"

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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