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Dispositions first appear in physics as the macroscopic features of observable objects that we wish to explain. The solubility of salt or the hardness of steel (expressed numerically if possible) summarise the results of the experiments that we are considering. Some experimental observations can be explained in terms of the location and configuration of the samples. Almost all phenomena, however, make some reference to dispositional properties, and these cannot be explained purely by the location and shape of these objects, but require causal kinds of ascriptions and analyses, as explained in chapter 2, in terms of causal powers.
Another way in which the reality of causes could perhaps be denied is to
say that physics is only the discovery of laws that relate events, not
the explanation of the properties of things that lead to these events:
that is, that physics is (or should be) only concerned with effects, not
with causes. It is agreed that all observations are effects of
interactions, but it does seem an unnecessarily severe restriction not to
permit physicists to speculate on the causal properties of what they are
examining, nor to permit them to postulate, for example, potential energy
apart from kinetic energy.
Without potential energy, as in a coiled spring, we could not even have
the conservation of energy.
Next: 3.1 Newtonian Physics Up: Philosophy of Nature and Previous: 2.6 Objections to Dispositional Prof Ian Thompson