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Next: 2.3 Are Dispositions Real? Up: 2. Dispositions Previous: 2.1 Everyday Dispositions

2.2 Derivative Dispositions

  Before examining in more detail the general features of dispositions, I want time to explain the general idea of a `derivative disposition'. I first show by examples what is meant by the term, and then examine how such dispositions differ from `component dispositions'. This means that they are not part of the prior disposition, but that they are generated by action of the prior disposition in suitable circumstances.

    Derivative dispositions are not very common in physical theories, the best example being perhaps that of potential energy. Energy itself is kind of disposition to interact in a certain way, so potential energy -- defined usually as `the ability to do work' -- is thus the disposition to produce dispositions with specific values of kinetic energy. The potential energy in a coiled spring, for example, is thus the disposition to move the spring with certain velocities (kinetic energies), and these movements of the spring are dispositions to interact in certain ways with whatever is in its path.

  Many more interesting examples of derivative dispositions can be found in everyday life. They arise whenever the accomplishment of a given disposition requires the operation of successive steps of kinds different from the overall step. The original disposition on its operation therefore generates from itself the `derived dispositions' for the intermediate steps, which are means to the original end. An original `disposition to learn', for example, can generate the derived `disposition to read books', which can generate further `dispositions to search for books'. These dispositions would then generate dispositions to move one's body, which in turn lead ultimately to one's limbs having (physical) dispositions to move. These successively generated dispositions are all derived from the original disposition to learn, according to the specific situations.

One example of original and derivative dispositions is the ability to learn. To say that someone is easy to teach, or that they are musical, for example, does not mean that there is any specific action that they are capable of doing. Rather, it means that they well disposed to learn new skills (whether of a musical or of a general kind), and that it is these new skills that lead to specific actions.

  Another example is of three `degrees' of derivative dispositions. Swedenborg [1763] proposes that `conatus', force and motion form a series of `discrete degrees' in living things, with force being derivative from conatus, and motion from force.

It is known that conatus does nothing of itself, but acts through forces corresponding to it, thereby producing motion; consequently that conatus is the all in forces, and through forces is the all in motion; and since motion is the outmost degree of conatus, through motion conatus exerts its power. Conatus, force and motion are no otherwise conjoined than according to degrees of height, conjunction of which is not by continuity, for they are discrete, but by correspondences. For conatus is not force, nor is force motion, but force is produced by conatus, because force is conatus made active, and through force motion is produced; consequently there is no power in conatus alone, nor in force alone, but in motion, which is their product. That this is so may still seem doubtful, because not illustrated by applications to sensible and perceptible things in nature: nevertheless, such is the progression of conatus, force and motion into power2.3.
  Talk of derivative dispositions is taking the view, following Swedenborg and more recently Broad [1925], that there are `levels' of causal influence here. It allows that particular dispositions or intentions are best regarded not as the most fundamental causes, but as `intermediate stages' in the operation of more persistent `desires' and `motivations'. The intention to find a book, for example, could be the product or derivative of some more persistent `desire for reading', and need only be produced in the appropriate circumstances. Broad would say that the derived dispositions were the realisation of the underlying dispositions.  

In each particular case, there is clearly scope for many specific and detailed investigations. The point is that whatever the details may be, the `process logic' to be developed in this book can be applied at each level or stage. This is because the process logic can be applied both to the production of actual events, and also to the production of further `derivative dispositions' at a `second stage'.

That such derivative dispositions can be formed means the original disposition was not a simple disposition, but had some complexity in its first appearance. However, the `disposition to search for a book' is not strictly a component of a `disposition to learn', in the sense of being always an actual part of that disposition, as it is only derived in appropriate circumstances. For this reason we talk of `derived' rather than `component' dispositions, as the `disposition to learn' is not simply the mere aggregate of all the dispositions that can be derived from it, just as any disposition or cause is not merely an aggregate of all its possible effects. Rather, the original disposition is more like a `higher order' disposition to generate its derived dispositions according to circumstances. Just as the effects of a disposition are not contained within it, but are generated from it according to circumstances, so derived dispositions are not contained within a higher-order disposition, but are generated from it according to circumstances. The notion of `derivative dispositions' will be used again in chapter 11.  

next up previous contents index
Next: 2.3 Are Dispositions Real? Up: 2. Dispositions Previous: 2.1 Everyday Dispositions
Prof Ian Thompson


Author: I.J. Thompson (except as stated)