Conversatio Divina

Dispositions

Dallas Willard

As announced early on, this lecture will deal with individuals (whose existence he feels he’s already established) of a certain kind – those which change through time. Dallas begins with Aristotle and how he handles the issue of how the qualities of an individual change from one set to another set. A bean has certain properties to begin with but then, as a bean plant, it has other properties. But this process also suggests a law-like order. It is no surprise that a rock does not take on the properties of a bean plant, though a bean may. This goes beyond making an empirical generalization, for law, it would seen, involves necessity. Hume disagrees but, as Dallas says, Hume also has difficulty making sense of the unity of substance. Dallas’s main point is that there is a certain kind of individual (substances), whose existence can be seen by the fact of constancy through change.

Note well (23:45) Dallas’s profound metaphysical wisdom for the day: there must be more to an individual than its qualities. Dallas then names three facts metaphysics must make sense of and which necessitate such a statement:

1. Same qualities, different things
2. One thing, different qualities
3. A change of qualities over time

He says that normally the first two points need to be worked on before going on to the next. And yet some philosophers (e.g. Hume) try to resist this metaphysical wisdom and to reduce change to succession. But as Willard argues, you can’t even have succession without some kind of identity.

Around 35:30 Dallas begins with a new idea: raw, irreducible potential properties, aka dispositions. Students were given the paper by D. H. Mellor “In Defense of Dispositions.” Basically, this means that things may have properties which are not actual, which are potential properties. A bean has a tendency to be turned into a bean plant but those qualities are never actualized if the bean is cooked. Dallas will also refer to these as capacities and powers.

For those interested in Dallas’s theology and psychology of redemption we should note well (45:30) Dallas’s words on this subject: “These powers, more than any other thing, are what constitute the nature of a ‘this’. . . . Every this has a nature. That is to say, it has features which, if lost, would mean the loss of its identity.”

For the rest of the lecture Dallas will talk about three different accounts of dispositions: 1) the phenomenalist account, 2) the realist account, 3) the Aristotelian account. Dallas thinks the last is the best and wants to add quasi-predication to his list of ultimate categories (which already includes difference, predication and bare particulars).

At the end of the lecture (1:24:00), Dallas stumbles over the name of someone who emphasizes stories to explain the unity of things. He has in mind the yet little known author, theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas.

 


Footnotes