Aporia: Dispositions

by Jason Stotts

Aporia (ἀπορɛία): an impasse, puzzlement, doubt, or confusion; a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it.

In this Aporia, I want to inquire into the nature of dispositions. While this outline is undoubtedly not of general interest, it will be of interest to some and from it (hopefully) a clear statement about dispositions will emerge for Eros and Ethos Volume 2.

Are all dispositions psychological in nature?

  • It seems like they might be
  • Even Aristotle’s Act1/Act2 is only dispositional when applied to people
    • A rock doesn’t have Act1 – it is either rolling or it is not.
      • At the same time, a rock could be position such that it could potentially roll, would that be Act1?
      • But rocks cannot act – it must be acted upon.
      • But is this action causation instead of entity causation?
      • No, rocks are the kinds of entities such that they are not self-moved
      • None living things cannot have dispositions
    • It seems that only living things can have dispositions.
    • Can non-human animals have dispositions? Need to have a better idea of what they are before we can answer this

If dispositions are psychological in nature, how exactly do they operate?

  • As automatic preferences?
    • In Vol 1, claimed orientation was a disposition and it has a biological component
    • This could still be an automatic preference shaped partly by forces beyond our control (biology)
  • Does this make dispositions no more than something like a “preferential habit”?
    • If I purposefully develop a habit around eating healthy and this changes my preferences to healthy eating, is this then a new disposition?
    • I’d say yes. But only at the point the person’s actual preferences change
  • If dispositions are about preferences, they seem to be another form of “automatic thought” and a way to offload things out of consciousness to keep the conscious mind more focused and available to respond to bigger issues
  • If this is true, then they are much like the sentiments which attempt to automate evaluation and orient us to the world
  • They are also a little like intuition, but whereas intuition is a true automatic thought (has conceptual content), dispositions activate our desires
    • Is it right to say they activate our desires? If I have a disposition to do A, is that the same as saying that I have an established desire to do A? It doesn’t seem so
    • Perhaps the difference is that if we have consciously established the A-preference and desire, then this is not a disposition, but an internalized preference.
    • If that’s the case, though, how would we ever come to have disposition? If we can’t come to have them consciously.
    • Maybe dispositions aren’t things we choose directly, but as in the case of health, we choose to be healthy and our preferences (hopefully!) change to healthy options, without us having to decide on a case-by-case basis
  • If this is the case, then dispositions cannot be things we consciously have chosen, but they are things that “fall out” of other choices
  • This seems too chaotic and messy. Unless it’s the case that the only way we can form dispositions is through an associated purposeful internalization of a preference scheme (e.g., wanting to be “healthy” also entails lots of associated things)
  • When we say that we are “disposed to help someone” we usually mean that the person in question reminds us of someone that we liked in our past or that we believe that this person is a good person based on our own belief system and, so, we have a desire to help them.
    • It can’t be the case that we internalize this kind of thing antecedently, since we will not have met the particular person in question before.
    • The desire in question is not necessarily strong, but enough that we can say that we “want to” help them or feel “pulled” to help them and these should both be understood as kinds of desire
    • This seems like a good example of an automatic preference
    • Conversely, it can be that the person in question is disposed to harm the other person (or at least disposed to not help) because they remind them of someone they do not like
      • This still is a desire, just that this time it is a desire to “not aid” or even harm the other person
    • When we say that a parent is disposed to help their children, we do not mean that the parent has consciously worked to set up an internalized conscious choice. Rather, we mean that our biological makeup is such that parents will have an automatic preference to help their own children. This seems right.

What have we discovered about dispositions then?

  • They are a form of automatic desire
    • Much like the sentiments (evaluation) or intuition (cognition)
    • These desires are usually held as preferences (a “liking” of one thing over another), which is a form of desire
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