UKON 2016: Modelling Dispositions

These are my notes for Alexander Carruth’s talk at the UK Ontology Network Meeting on 14 April, 2016.

Some ULOs, such as BFO, do try to model dispositions. What is a disposition? Fragility, solubility are canonical examples. Dispositions are capacities, tendencies, or causal powers (for example). They are the features in virtue of which things engage in particular causal interactions. Other examples are mass and charge.

Traditionally, the dominant account of dispositions is called the Conditional Analysis (CA). This basically says if S occurs, then O will M. S = stimulus, M = some manifestation. Example: if the vase is struck, it will break. This relationally captures a disposition’s nature as D(s,m). There have been some challenges to the CA method in recent years.

Source 14 April 2016

There are two ongoing debates about the nature of dispositions. The first is the Tracking Debate (single trackers versus multi trackers). This debate concerns the number and variety of manifestations that can be associated with a single disposition. Within multi tracking, there is quantitative and qualitative multi tracking. Multi trackers: Being ball-shaped has a variety of manifestations (e.g. rolling, making a dent in some clay). Therefore dispositions have multiple manifestations produced by multiple stimuli.

The second debate concerns how dispositions operate: CA assumes a stimulus-based account of how dispositions operate. The Mutual Manifestation view states that dispositions ‘work together’, with no distinction possible between the active disposition and the mere stimulus.

Therefore there are four accounts of disposition:

  • single-track stimulus manifestation (CA) D(s,m)
  • Multi-track stimulus manifestation
  • single-track, mutual manifestation D1(D2, m1)
  • Multi-track, mutual manifestation

How should we react? Monism (choose which of the four accounts to go with); pluralism (greater complexity but could pick and choose); or pragmatism (different responses for different purposes)?

Please note that this post is merely my notes on the presentation. I may have made mistakes: these notes are not guaranteed to be correct. Unless explicitly stated, they represent neither my opinions nor the opinions of my employers. Any errors you can assume to be mine and not the speaker’s. I’m happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!


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