Armstrong's Theory of Dispositions: Identity versus Distinctness

Sharon Ford

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper presented at Conference (not in Proceedings)peer-review


David Armstrong, an Australian philosopher whose work is concerned with a broad range of issues in metaphysics, has generated a large body of writing on universals and particulars, states of affairs, laws of nature, causality, and the central topic of interest in this paper, dispositions and powers. The problem addressed by this paper is that Armstrong’s later writing puts forward token, contingent identity between dispositions and their bases, while simultaneously attempting to maintain his earlier reductive account of dispositions. If dispositions and their bases are only contingently identical and in some other possible world that identity does not hold, it follows that the two are distinct in some way. Armstrong requires the existence of this distinction if he is to maintain a stance whereby all truly existing properties are categorical. In terms of distinctness he writes, ‘Properties (and relations) are thought of [by the Categoricalist] … as having a nature that is self-contained, distinct [my emphasis] from the powers that they bestow’ (Armstrong, 1997, 69). However, reducing dispositions to their bases requires that the dispositions and their bases be identical. The question posed is how can dispositions be identical to, yet distinct from, their subvening bases. This paper seeks to answer the following two questions: Do Armstrong’s inclusion of laws of nature as partial truthmaker for the truths of dispositional ascriptions work? And if so, how does the inclusion answer the problems posed by the Impotence Thesis? This paper briefly looks for a candidate answer in Armstrong’s recent change of heart concerning necessary rather than contingent particular-property relation, and concludes that this change leads to irreducible dispositionality in Armstrong’s ontology.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes
EventAustralasian Association of Philosophy (2005) - University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 3 Jul 20058 Jul 2005


ConferenceAustralasian Association of Philosophy (2005)


Dive into the research topics of 'Armstrong's Theory of Dispositions: Identity versus Distinctness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this