Dispositions and Powers

Course Requirement Areas: 
Metaphysics and Epistemology
Course Description: 

In many areas of philosophy it is common to distinguish ‘categorical’ terms and properties from ‘dispositional’ ones. Often used examples for the latter are physical properties like fragility, solubility, conductivity, but also mental properties like having beliefs or being irascible. Dispositions are metaphysically interesting primarily because their ascription involves modal considerations: dispositional terms express how things or persons would behave if they were in certain circumstances. Some philosophers think that, exactly for this reason, dispositional terms cannot refer to objects’ causally relevant properties. Others think that they can do so only if they can be reduced to objects’ non-dispositional properties or that dispositions must have some ‘categorical base’. In the course we shall discuss the case for and against realism about dispositions as well as specific issues related to the role the concept of powers play in the understanding of theoretical properties, metaphysical essentialism, and in the metaphysics of modality.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students are expected to acquire the ability to reconstruct and analyze philosophical arguments or positions. These involve the understanding of validity and soundness of the arguments, the ability to identify background principles and assumptions as well as the ability to draw out the consequences of certain philosophical commitments. They are also expected to acquire certain oral communication skills such as the ability to formulate arguments concisely and accessibly in words and to give short critical comments. They should also learn how to identify and execute an appropriate writing project. Finally, they should be familiarized with the main contemporary debates about dispositions. Learning outcomes shall be measured by term papers and oral presentations on the relevant topics.


Students’ performance shall be evaluated on the following grounds. First, students are required to attend classes regularly and to participate actively in seminar discussions. 30 % of their final grade shall be given on the basis of this in-class activity. Second, students are required to give one or two short presentations of some chosen topic(s). The choice of topic is optional, but overlap should be avoided. This will make up another 30 % of their final grade. Thirdly, students are required to submit a max. 2 000 word long term-paper. The chosen topic should be approved by the instructor and presented in the last class of the course. The term paper’s contribution to the final assessment of students’ performance is 40 %.

File Attachments: