Sunday, October 10, 2010

Abilities vs. Dispositions

John Maier (of ANU) does research on the philosophy of abilities. I read his SEP article on abilities, and a draft paper entitled “An Agential Theory of Dispositions.” In the latter, he argues that dispositional properties (also known as dispositions, and sometimes powers) can be analyzed in terms of agents' abilities. The idea is that claims about dispositions in the world are a “projection of agent-centric facts about manipulability onto a world whose nature, considered in itself, is exhausted by the categorical.” Since I have been interested in ontological accounts which place dispositions in a central, fundamental role (see list of posts below), I was interested to see Maier’s argument for this alternative proposal.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Philosophers Gently Debating

Philosophy TV is a welcome addition to the web, and I look forward to watching more installments.

I watched Craig Callender and Jonathan Schaffer debate whether metaphysical debates have substance/merit, given recent criticism from other quarters, particularly from philosphers of science. Callender took the skeptical position while Schaffer took the defense. (I posted on a Callender paper on this topic here; a post which touches on some of Schaffer's metaphysical interests is here).

It was a thoughtful discussion, but both gentlemen were so exceedingly polite and deferential, that the points of disagreement took a long time to bring out. Schaffer had a bit easier time being the defender of metaphysics (merelogical examples were the focus): partly this was because Callender doesn't himself consider all metaphysics to be irrelevent, and also because it is very hard to have a detailed account of what's good and what's bad. For instance, asserting that a debate is too unconnected to science isn't sufficient, since we don't know that the debates couldn't have relevance in the future.

Despite an hour and a half, they didn't get to discuss the key issue of whether our modal intuitions should be considered reliable. Anyway, I'll be checking in on other episodes.