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15. Dispositions and Powers


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics power, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00018.x


The great variety of kinds of properties that are comprehended by such terms as “disposition,” “power,” “potential,” “tendency,” “capacity,” “propensity,” and “capability” share a common generic structure. They are ascribed to things and substances. However in all cases the basic structure of that attribution is conditional in form. To attribute a disposition to a thing or substance is to say that if certain conditions obtain, then that thing or substance will behave in a certain way, or bring about a certain effect - that is, that a certain outcome will occur. A fertile soil is one of which it is true that if seeds are planted in it and properly cared for, they will grow into flourishing plants. A negatively charged particle is one of which it is true that, if brought into proximity to another negatively charged particle, it will experience a force of repulsion. All the variety we find in this class of properties can be expressed either by adding a qualifying clause to the basic form, or by variations in the modality of the conditional clauses, from “is” and “will be” to “were to be” and “would.” To say that chili peppers are “hot” is to say that if they are chewed (were to be chewed), one experiences (would experience) a tingling and burning sensation in the mouth. This simple conditional statement ascribes a bare disposition to these vegetables. However, one may raise two kinds ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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