published on December 31, 2015
Errin D. Clark
How Aristotelian is Contemporary Dispositionalist Metaphysics
A Tale of Two Distinctions
Exciting and important work on the metaphysics of causal powers and dispositions is currently under way. Much of it has been branded as a return to Aristotelian metaphysics, as it seems to put agents and their actions back as ultimate principles of reality. Philosophers involved in this work often speak of a ‘categorical—dispositional’ distinction. And sometimes it is suggested that the distinction is, or is similar to, Aristotle’s distinction between act and potency. The aim of this paper is to assess the legitimacy of that suggestion by explicating both distinctions. I argue that in many recent ‘neo-Aristotelian’ accounts of dispositions a certain idea that lies at the heart of Aristotle’s metaphysics of act and potency is largely absent. This situation is unfortunate, for Aristotle’s idea suggests a surprising relationship between being and power and it flips a certain assumption, still made by many metaphysicians, on its head.