Meet George Molnar. Not the witty cartoonist, but the other one: a thwarted philosopher whose wild life finally found some meaning after his death.
Did you think there was only one George Molnar - the witty and urbane Hungarian whose cartoons graced the pages of the Herald for many years? Well, think again. To many Sydneysiders, the truly famous George Molnar, famous to the point of notoriety, was someone else altogether. He was George Molnar, libertarian philosopher, left-wing radical and one of the sharpest minds the city's intellectual circles had known.
The view I've arrived at is that sentences involving 'possibility' can be re-written into sentences involving just 'possibly', and that our modal notions arise from our encounter with inference. I'm happy to say, There is the possibility that the bulb will shatter -- we say things like that all the time -- provided it's understood to mean, Possibly, the bulb will shatter. I certainly don't want to commit myself to things called possibilities, unless they can be seen as constructions out of sentences, roughly, Possibly, S ≡ The truth value of sentence S cannot be determined from what we currently know together with deduction from known principles.
Can you persuade me otherwise? A 'big topic' I would imagine!
Let B be an ordinary light bulb. Light bulbs are typically fragile: they are disposed to shatter if suitably struck or dropped from a sufficient height onto a hard surface. I take Brightly to be saying two things. He is maintaining, first, that there is no more to the possibility of B's shattering in circumstances C than the truth of the sentence, 'Possibly, B will shatter in C.' Second, he is offering an analysis of 'possibly' in such sentences.
I take Brightly to be saying that there is nothing in B, and thus nothing in reality, that could be called B's disposition to shatter. In general, unrealized possibilities have no ontological status. But then what makes the sentence 'Possibly, B shatters in C' true? Presumably, Brightly will say that nothing makes it true: it is just true. He would not, I take it, say the same about 'B exists.' He would not say that nothing makes 'B exists' true, that the sentence is just true. I would guess that he would say that it is B itself, or perhaps the existence of B, that makes 'B exists' true. So there is something in reality that 'B' names, and this item is, or is part of, the truth-maker of 'B exists.'
But if he says this, should he not also admit that there is something in reality that make 'B is disposed to shatter in C' true?
To appreciate the point one must see that a disposition and its manifestation are different. B is disposed to shatter at every time at which it exists. But it needn't ever shatter. It might remain intact throughout its career. Therefore, the reality of a disposition cannot be identified with its actual manifestation. The same goes for powers and potentialities. If a man has a power he never exercises, it does not follow that he does not have the power. The potentiality of a seed to sprout in the right conditions is something real even if the seed remains on a shelf and its potentiality is never actualized.
There is an epistemological question that I want to set aside lest it muddy the waters. The question is: How does one know de re, of a particular light bulb, that it is disposed to shatter if it never does? I am not concerned here with the epistemology of modal knowledge, but with the ontology of the merely possible, which includes the ontology of unmanifested dispositions.
A disposition, then, is real whether or not it is ever manifested. But doesn't this just beg the question against Brightly? I maintain that unmanifested dispositions are real. Brightly denies this. If I understand him, he is eliminating unmanifested dispositions in favor of the truth of possibility sentences.
My objection to this invokes the Truth-Maker Principle: truths need truth-makers. Or at least many classes of truths need truth-makers, one of these being the class of truths about the powers, potentialities, dispositions, and the like of concrete individuals. (I am not a truth-maker maximalist.) My point against Brightly is that the sentence, 'Possibly, B shatters in C,' if true, is true in virtue of or because of something external to this sentence, namely, the unmanifested disposition in B to shatter.
My view is consistent with the view that unmanifested dispositions reduce to the so-called 'categorical' features of things like light bulbs. Unmanifested dispositions can be real without being irreducibly real. What I have said above does not commit me to irreducibly real dispositions. It commits me only to the reality of unmanifested dispositions, whether reducible or not.
" Possibly, S ≡ The truth value of sentence S cannot be determined from what we currently know together with deduction from known principles."
S in Brightly's example is 'The bulb will shatter.' True or false? I grant that the truth value cannot be known from what we currently know together with what we can deduce from known principles. But this cannot be what the possibility that the glass will shatter consists in. Brightly is making the very real possibility that the glass shatter, the bomb explode, the round fire, the cat scratch, Hillary throw a lamp at Bill, etc., depend on our ignorance. But then real possibility is eliminated in favor of epistemic possibility.
Suppose Sally knows that Tom is in Boston now and believes falsely that Scollay Square still exists. I ask Sally: is it possible that Tom is in Scollay Square now? She replies, "Yes, it is possible." But of course this is a mere epistemic possibility sired by Sally's ignorance. It is possible for all Sally knows. It is not really possible that Tom is in Scollay Square now given that the place no longer exists.
I don't think we should say that the possibility of the bulb's shattering consists in our igntrance as to whether or not 'The bulb will shatter' is true or false. Consider also that long before minded organisms arose in our evolutionary history, and thus long before there was knowledge or ignorance, there we seeds and such with real potencies some of which were actualized and some of which were not.
Here is a simple version of the Potentiality Argument (PA):
1. All potential persons have a right to life. 2. The human fetus is a potential person. ----- 3. The human fetus has a right to life.
Does PA 'prove too much'? It does if the proponent of PA has no principled way of preventing PA from transmogrifying into something like:
1. All potential persons have a right to life. 4. Everything is a potential person. ----- 5. Everything has a right to life.
Probative Overkill I
One kind of probative overkill objection is easily sent packing, namely, the sort of objection that is based on the confusion of potentiality with the mere logical possibility of transformation. It is thinkable without contradiction that a pumpkin seed become a rabbit. Indeed it is thinkable without contradiction, and thus narrowly logically possible, that anything become anything. But of course a potentiality is something quite specific and has nothing to do with an empty logical possibility of transformation. After all, we know that (planted) pumpkin seeds do not become rabbits; they become pumpkins. Rabbits give birth to rabbits, not kangaroos or pumpkins. Nature is orderly.
If there are potentialities in nature, they are directed at specific outcomes. There are two points here. The first is that potentialities are directed; the second is that their directedness is to specific outcomes. They are like dispositions in this regard. Solubility is the disposition to dissolve, not the disposition to shatter or explode. Potentiality is interestingly analogous to intentionality. Necessarily, thoughts take objects. Necessarily, potentialities have outcomes. In both cases we can speak of directedness -- of thoughts to their objects and of potentialities and dispositions to their outcomes or realizations. In both cases the object/outcome enters into the individuation of the thought/potentiality. And in both cases the object/manifestation need not exist.
A potentiality can go unrealized without ceasing to be directed at an outcome. This is analogous to the situation in which one thinks of something but the thing does not exist. To say that a potentiality can go unrealized is not to say that the potentiality is not itself something real, indeed something actual. It is real analogously as a thought is real even when its object does not exist.
Anyone with an elementary grip on the notion of potentiality can see that the first kind of overkill objection fails. For it is based on a failure to see that (4) is false. If a thing has a potentiality, that is not a 'blank check' to become anything at all.
Probative Overkill II
According to a less crude objection, there is no principled way to ascribe potential personhood to a zygote without also ascribing it to spermatazoa, unfertilized ova, and pairs of sperm cells and egg cells.
Let's consider first the pair (S, O). Let S be one of my sperm cells and O an unfertilized egg cell of a nun in India. This pair exists because its members exist. But this pair is not a potential person. The very idea is incoherent. If a pair is a set or a set-theoretical construct, then it is an abstract object; but surely no abstract object has the potentiality to become a concrete individual person. But whether or not pairs are abstract objects, the notion that the pair in question is a potential person is absurd on the face of it. For a sperm cell out of all contact with an egg cell simply cannot develop into a person.
Now consider a sperm cell S. Given that there are potentialities in nature, S has the active potentiality to fertilize an egg. But as noted, potentialities are directed to specific outcomes and not others. The potentiality to fertilize an egg is not the potentiality to become a person. Surely, a sperm cell that has not fertilized an ovum does not have the potentiality to become a person.
Similarly with a an egg cell. It has the passive potentiality to be fertilized by a sperm cell. But this potentiality is not the potentiality to become a person.
It follows that the Potentiality Argument is not an argument against contraception. Contraception prevents sperm cells from 'hooking up' with egg cells, either by killing the former or by blocking their access to the ova they lust after. Thus a spermicidal jelly does not destroy potential persons.
It is worth noting that it would be the Fallacy of Division to argue that since the zygote is a potential person, each of its constituents is as well.
The Potentiality 'in Principle' Response to Probative Overkill II
"The egg cell does not have the 'ready' potential to develop into a person, but it has the 'in principle' potential because something can be done to it to give it the 'ready' potential, namely, it can be fertilized by a sperm cell. And the same goes for the sperm cell: it does not, by itself, have the 'ready' potential to develop into a person, but it has the 'in principle' potential because something can be done to it to give it the 'ready' potential, namely, it can be brought into contact with an egg cell."
"Therefore, your 'probative overkill' objection fails. If a zygote is a potential person, then so are sperm cells and unfertilized eggs. Since this is an absurd consequence, the Potentiality Argument proves too much and fails for this reason."
"The situation is really no different from that of the anencephalic fetus. It lacks the 'ready' potential to develop normally on its own into a person whose faculties are normal. But it has the 'in principle' potential for such development because something could be done to the fetus to get it to develop a normal brain."
"There is also the case of the comatose individual who will not emerge from his coma on his own, but can be made to emerge from it by special medical interventions. This individual lacks the 'ready' potentiality to emerge from the coma state, but possess an 'in principle' potentiality to do so."
"In sum, we need to distinguish between 'ready' and 'in principle' potentiality to account for cases like that of the comatose individual just mentioned. But then the distinction applies to sperm and egg cells prior to their union. Since anything with either kind of potentiality to develop into a person has a right to life, sperm and egg cells have this right as well. Herein lies the reductio ad absurdum of the Potentiality Argument."
Rejoinder to the Potentiality 'In Principle' Response
The above response eviscerates the concept of potentiality, stripping it of its usefulness. 'In principle' potentiality is intolerably latitudinarian. The idea is this:
X has the 'in principle' potentiality to develop into an F =df there is something that could be done to x to enable it to develop into an F.
But then a fetus born dead has the potentiality to develop into a normal human person because God or some other agent with superhuman powers could resuscitate it. That's possible! Or it is possible that in the future babies born without brains can be given brains, or certain pre-natal genetic interventions could be performed that would cause the fetus to develop a normal brain.
Cats cannot at present fly. But they would like to, the better to catch birds. So they have the 'in principle' potentiality to develop into airborne critters because they could be fitted out with wings.
I think this approach shows a failure to grasp the notion of potentiality. A potentiality is an intrinsic, actual, not merely possible, 'principle' in a thing that directs it toward a certain outcome. It is 'built-in.' It cannot be reduced to a possibility -- even a nomological possibility -- that the thing be modified ab extra in various ways.
So I reject 'in principle' potentialities and with them the 'probative overkill' objection to the Potentiality Argument which requires them. At the same time I issue a challenge to the partisans of 'in principle' potentialities: How do you rebut the probative overkill objection?
Or do you 'bite the bullet' and accept that human sperm and egg cells by themselves are potential persons?
I believe it is precisely the potentiality -- or the in principle capacity -- of logical thinking, free decisions, or higher emotions that makes killing human embryos morally problematic, seemingly unlike the killing of non-human embryos. This seems to me a promising hypothesis, to say the least. But I need help with settling several issues.
And then V. peppers me with a bunch of tough questions. I'll address just the first in this entry:
What is potentiality or in principle capacity in general? How does it differ from (metaphysical) possibility?
This is indeed the logically first question. Potentiality is widely misunderstood even by many philosophers. No wonder they do not appreciate the Potentiality Argument. Here the focus is not on the Potentiality Argument against abortion, but on the concept of potentiality it requires. My task is merely to unpack it, not evaluate it. We may begin by treading the via negativa.
1. A potentiality is not the same as a possibility. It is obviously not the same as an actualized possibility, but it is also not the same as an unactualized possibility. Potentialities are strange items and their ontological status is puzzling. Don't assume you know what they are, and don't assume that you can learn what they are from the uses of 'potential' and cognates in English.
Take the fragility of a piece of glass. Its fragility is its potentiality (passive potency, disposition, liability) to shatter in certain circumstances. Consider two panes of thin glass side by side in a window. The two panes are of the same type of glass, and neither has been specially treated. A small rock is thrown at one, call it pane A, and it shatters under the moderate impact. The other pane, call it B, receives no such impact. We know that A is fragile from the fact that it shattered. ("Potency is known through act," an Aristotelian might say.) We don't have quite the same assurance that B is fragile, but we have good reason to think that it is since it is made of the same kind of glass as A.
Suppose that B never in its existence is shattered or in any way pitted or cracked or broken. Then its fragility, its disposition-to-shatter (break, crack, etc.) is never manifested. We can express that by saying that the manifestation of the disposition remains an unactualized possibility. That is, the shattering of pane B remains, for the whole of B's existence, a merely possible state of affairs, a mere possibility.
But that is not to say that the disposition is a mere possibility, let alone that it is unreal. The disposition is as actual as the thing that has it. A disposition is distinct from its manifestation. The disposition is actual whether its manifestation is actual, as in the case of pane A, or merely possible, as in the case of pane B.
So we make a distinction between the (de re) possibility of B's shattering and B's disposition to shatter. The first is the possibility of the manifestation of the second. The first may never become actual while the second is as actual as B. What's more, the possibility of B's shattering is (in some sense needing explanation) grounded in B's disposition to shatter.
The point extends to potentialities: it is an elementary confusion to think of unrealized or unmanifested or unactualized potentialities as unactualized possibilia or mere possibilities. For example, a human embryo has the potentiality to develop, in the normal course of events, into a neonate. This potentiality is something actual in the embryo. It is not a mere or unactualized possibility of the embryo. What is a mere possibility is the realization of the potentiality. Just as we must not confuse a disposition with its manifestation, we must not confuse a potentiality with its realization.
One difference to note is that between a passive potentiality and an active potentiality. The pane's potentiality to shatter is passive whereas the embryo's potentiality to develop into a neonate is active. As for terminology, I don't see any non-verbal difference between a potentiality-to-X and a disposition-to-X. (I could be wrong.) Some people are irascible. They are disposed to become angry under slight external provocation. Is that a passive potentiality or an active potentiality? Put that question on the 'back burner.'
2. Another difference between a possibility and a potentiality is that, while every actual F is a possible F, no actual F is a potential F. Therefore, a possible F is not the same as a potential F. For example, an actual cat is a possible cat, but no actual cat is a potential cat. A towel that is actually saturated with water is possibly saturated with water; but no towel that is actually saturated with water is potentially saturated with water. If a man is actually drunk, then he is possibly drunk; but an actually drunk man is not a potentially drunk man. Potentiality excludes actuality; possibility does not. But can't a man who is actually drunk at one time be potentially drunk at another? Of course, but that is not the point.
Necessarily, if x is actually F at time t, then x is possibly F at t. But, necessarily, if x is actually F at t, then:
a. It is not the case that x is potentially F at t
b. X is not potentially F at t.
Furthermore, an actual truth is a possible truth, but it makes no sense to say that an actual truth is a potential truth. A truth is a true proposition; propositions are abstract objects; abstract objects are not subjects of real, as opposed to Cambridge, change. So it makes no sense to speak of potential truths.
The actual world is a possible world; but what could it mean to say that the actual world is a potential world?
If God necessarily exists, then God actually exists, in which case God possibly exists. But it makes no sense to say that God potentially exists. In terms of possible worlds: If God exists in every world, then he exists in the actual world and in some possible worlds. But 'God exists in some potential worlds' makes no sense.
It makes sense to say that it is possible that there exist an individual distinct from every actual individual. But it makes no sense to say that there is the potentiality to exist of some individual distinct from every actual individual.
3. So, to answer Vlastimil's question, potentiality is not to be confused with possibility. And it doesn't matter whether we are talking about narrowly logical possibility, broadly logical possibility, nomological possibility, institutional possibility, or any other sort of (real as opposed to epistemic/doxastic) possibility. Nevertheless, the two are connected. If it is possible that a boy grow a beard, then presumably that possibility is grounded in a potentiality inherent in the boy. The point, once again, is that this potentiality is not itself something merely potential, but something actual or existent, though not yet actualized.
I am now seated. I might now have been standing. The first is an actual state of affairs, the second is a merely possible state of affairs. How are we to understand the mere possibility of my standing now? Pace the shade of David Lewis, it would be 'crazy' to say that there is a possible world in which a counterpart of me is standing now. But it seems quite sane to say that the possibility of my standing now, when in actual fact I am seated, is grounded in the power (potentiality) I have to stand up.
A mere possibility is not nothing. So it has some sort of ontological status. A status can be secured for mere possibilities if mere possibilities are grounded in really existent powers in agents.
('Potential' Puzzle. I have the power to do X iff it is possible that I do X. But do I have the power because it is possible, or is it possible because I have the power? Presumably the latter. But my power is limited. What constrains my power it not what is antecedently possible? Throw this on the 'back burner' too, Euthyphro!)
As I understand the Aristotelian position, real possibilities involving natural items are parasitic upon causal powers and causal liabilities ingredient in these items. That, by the way, implies constituent ontology, does it not? Score another point for constituent ontology.
The Aristotelian position also implies a certain anti-empiricism, does it not? A rubber band that is never stretched never empirically manifests its elasticity; yet it possesses the dispositional property of elasticity whether or not the property is ever manifested empirically. So dispositions and potencies are in a clear sense occult (hidden) entities, and they are occult in a way the occult blood in your stool sample is not occult. For the latter, while not visible to gross inspection is yet empirically detectable in the blood lab.
4. Go back to the two panes of glass. One we know is fragile: it broke under moderate impact. How do we know that the other is fragile? I submit that the concept of potentiality underlying the Potentiality Argument is governed by the following Potentiality Universality Principle:
PUP: Necessarily, if a normal F has the potentiality to become a G, then every normal F has the potentiality to become a G.
To revert to the hackneyed example, if an acorn is a potential oak tree, then every normal acorn is a potential oak tree, and this is so as a matter of natural necessity. It cannot be the case that some normal acorns have, while others do not have, the potentiality to become oak trees. Potentialities are inherent in the things that have them. They are not a matter of ascription. We don't ascribe potentialities; things have them regardless of our mental and linguistic performances. And these very performances themselves realize potentialities. So if the potentialities of the ascribing mind were themselves ascribed, who or what would do the ascribing? I cannot ascribe potentialities to myself if the ascribing is itself the realization of my potentiality to ascribe.
Similarly with passive potentialities. To say of a sugar cube that it is water-soluble is to say that, were it placed in water, it would dissolve. Now if this is true of one normal sugar cube, it is true of all normal sugar cubes. Suppose you have 100 sugar cubes, all alike. There would be no reason to say that some of them are water-soluble and some are not. If one is, all are. If one is not, none are.
5. Note that the water-solubility of sugar cubes cannot be identified with the truth of the subjunctive conditional 'If a sugar cube were placed in water then it would dissolve.' It needs to be identified with the truth maker of that conditional, namely, the passive potency to dissolve inherent in the sugar cube.
6. Potentiality as here understood brings with it further Aristotelian baggage.
Pointing to a lump of raw ground beef, someone might say, "This is a potential hamburger." Or, pointing to a hunk of bronze, "This is a potential statue." Someone who says such things is not misusing the English language, but he is not using 'potential' in the strong specific way that potentialists -- proponents of the Potentiality Principle in the Potentiality Argument-- are using the word. What is the difference? What is the difference between the two examples just given, and "This acorn is a potential oak tree," and "This embryo is a potential person?"
The difference is explainable in terms of the difference between identity and constitution. A lump of raw meat cannot come to be a hamburger; at most it can come to constitute one. The same goes for the hunk of bronze: it cannot come to be a statue; at most it can come to constitute one. Note also that an external agent is required to shape and cook the meat and to hammer the bronze. An acorn and an embryo, on the other hand, can come to be an oak tree and a person, respectively, and indeed by their own internal agency. Potentiality in the strong sense here in play is therefore governed by the following Potentiality Identity Principle:
PIP: Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and there is a y such that y realizes, whether partially or fully, x's potentiality to be an F, then x = y.
Note that PIP does not imply that there is a y that realizes x's potential. Potentialities, after all, may go unrealized similarly as dispositions may go unmanifested. A seed's potential will go unrealized if the seed is destroyed, or if the seed is not planted, or if it is improperly planted, or if it is properly planted but left unwatered, etc. What PIP states is that if anything does realize x's potentiality to be an F, then that thing is transtemporally numerically identical to x. So if there is an oak tree that realizes acorn A's potentiality to be an oak tree, then A is identical over time to that oak tree. This implies that when the acorn becomes an oak tree, it still exists, but is an oak tree rather than an acorn. The idea is that numerically one and the same individual passes through a series of developmental stages. In the case of a human being these would include zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, and adult.
Not so with the hunk of bronze. It is not identical to the statue that is made out of it. Statue and hunk of bronze cannot be identical since they differ in their persistence conditions. The hunk of bronze can, while the statue cannot, survive being melted down and recast in some other form.
Consider the Pauline verse at 1 Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." This implies that numerically one and the same man, Paul of Tarsus, was first a child and later became an adult: it is not as if there was a numerically different entity, Paul-the-child, who passed out of existence when Paul-the-adult came into existence.
So not only is potentiality (in the strong Aristotelian sense here in play) governed by PIP, it is also governed by what I will call the Potentiality Endurantism Principle:
PEP. Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and there is a y such that y realizes, whether partially or fully, x's potentiality to be an F, then x (= y) is wholly present at every time at which x (= y) exists.
PEP rules out a temporal parts ontology according to which a spatiotemporal particular persists in virtue of having different temporal parts at different times.
Let me throw another principle into the mix, one that is implicit above and governs active potencies. I'll call it the Potentiality Agency Principle:
PAP. Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and x's potential is to any extent realized, then the realization of x's potential is driven, not by any agency external to x, but by x's own internal agency, with the proviso that the circumambient conditions are favorable.
The notion of (strong) potentiality that figures in the Potentiality Principle and the Potentiality Argument is governed by PUP, PIP, PEP, and PAP at the very least.
7. When Barack Obama was a community organizer was he 'potentially' president of the U. S.? It was surely possible that he become POTUS: logically, nomologically, and institutionally: there is nothing in the Constitution that ruled out his becoming president. And there is nothing incorrect in saying, in ordinary English, that the young Obama was 'potentially' POTUS. But does it make sense to say that, ingredient in the young Obama, there was a potentiality that was actualized when he became POTUS if we are using 'potentiality' in the Aristotelian sense?
I don't think so. It looks to be a violation of PUP above. Let 'F' stand for U. S. citizen. Does every U.S. citizen have the potential to become a presidential candidate? Obviously not: it is is simply false that every normal U. S. citizen develops in the normal course of events into a presidential candidate. A potentiality is a naturally inherent nisus -- and as natural not a matter of laws or other conventions -- which is the same in all members of the class in question. But the opportunity to become president has nothing natural about it: it is an artifact of our contingent laws and political arrangements. People like Obama do not become presidential contenders in the way acorns become oak trees.
One who balks at intentional objects on the ground of their queerness will presumably also balk at dispositional objects. But there is reason to speak of dispositional objects. And there is the outside chance that the foes of intentional objects might be 'softened up' by a discussion of dispositions and their objects. But I am not particularly sanguine about bringing the Londonistas out from under their fog and into the Phoenician sunshine.
We can sensibly speak of object-directedness both in the case of thoughts (acts of thinking) and in the case of dispositions (powers, potencies, capacities, and the like). I cannot think without thinking of something. That of which I am thinking is reasonably called the object of my thought. Said object may or may not exist. So we speak of intentional objects. The intentional object of a mental act is the object precisely as intended in the act.
But dispositions have objects too. Call them 'dispositional objects.' Dispositions are directed to these objects which may or may not occur. Thus dispositions to dissolve, shatter, or swell under certain circumstances are directed to dissolvings, shatterings, and swellings which may or may not occur, and indeed without prejudice to object-directedness.
A sugar cube, for example, is disposed to dissolve if immersed in water or some other fluid. Distinguish the following four: the sugar cube, its disposition to dissolve, the causal factors needed to trigger the disposition, and the manifestation of the disposition, i.e., its actual dissolving. The last-mentioned is the object of the disposition, the dispositional object. It is an event that may or may not occur depending on circumstances. A disposition can exist without ever occurring. Suppose a sugar cube is manufactured, exists for a year, and then is destroyed by being pulverized with a hammer. It never dissolves. But at each time during its career it harbors the disposition to dissolve. It is liable to dissolve whether or not it ever does dissolve. It follows that one must not confuse a disposition with its manifestation. Dispositions are what they are whether or not they are manifested, whether or not their dispositional objects occur.
Similarly, acts of thinking are what they are and have the specific aboutness that they have whether or not their intentional objects exist in reality. In an earlier post I drew out the parallel between intentionality and dispositionality more fully. There is no need to repeat myself here. The point I want to make in this post is as follows.
If you admit that there are dispositions, then you must admit that there are dispositional objects. Thus if you admit that a sugar cube, say, has the disposition to dissolve in certain circumstances, then you must admit that this disposition points beyond itself to an event -- the manifestation of the disposition -- that may or may not occur. Why then balk at intentional objects?
Note that the following is apparently contradictory: X is disposed to do something (e.g., shatter) but nothing is such that X is disposed to it. That parallels: I am thinking of something but nothing is such that I am thinking of it. Clearly, both statement-forms have some true substitution-instances. So the statement forms are not contradictory.
How do we show that the apparent contradictions are not real? By distinguishing between intentional and dispositional objects on the one hand and real objects (objects-as-entities) on the other.
How will the Londonistas respond? Will they deny that there are dispositions? They might. But if they accept dispositions, then they must accept dispositional objects and a fortiori intentional objects. I write 'a fortiori' because, while dispositionality can be doubted, intentionality cannot be doubted, it being phenomenologically evident. It is certain that I think and just as certain that I cannot think without thinking of something.
The influential Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano took intentionality to be the mark of the mental, the criterion whereby physical and mental phenomena are distinguished. For Brentano, (i) all mental phenomena are intentional, (ii) all intentional phenomena are mental, and (iii) no mental phenomenon is physical. (Franz Brentano, Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt (1874), Bk. II, Ch. 1.)
What is intentionality? ‘Intentionality’ is Brentano's term of art (borrowed from the Medievals) for that property of mental states whereby they are (non-derivatively) of, or about, or directed to, an object. Such states are intrinsically such that they 'take an accusative.' The state of perceiving, for example is necessarily object-directed. One cannot just perceive; if one perceives, then one perceives something. The idea is not merely that when one perceives one perceives something or other; the idea is that when one perceives, one perceives some specific object, the very object of that very act. The same goes for intending (in the narrow sense), believing, imagining, recollecting, wishing, willing, desiring, loving, hating, judging, knowing, etc. Such mental states refer beyond themselves to objects that may or may not exist, or may or may not be true in the case of propositional objects. Reference to an object is thus an intrinsic feature of mental states and not a feature they have in virtue of a relation to an existing object. This is why Brentano speaks of the "intentional in-existence of an object." It is also why Husserl can 'bracket' the existence of the object for phenomenological purposes. Intentionality is not a relation, strictly speaking, though it is relation-like. This is an important point that many contemporaries seem incapable of wrapping their heads around.
There are some interesting points of analogy between intentionality and potentiality. An intentional state exhibits
C. B. Martin, "Dispositions and Conditionals," The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 174, January 1994, p. 1:
We must see that dispositions are actual, though their manifestations may not be. It is an elementary confusion to think of unmanifesting dispositions as unactualized possibilia, though that may characterize unmanifested manifestations.
Consider two panes of thin glass side by side in a window. The two panes are of the same type of glass, and neither has been specially treated. A rock is thrown at one, call it pane A, and it shatters. The other pane, call it B, receives no such impact. We know that A is fragile from the fact that it shattered. ("Potency is known through act," an Aristotelian might say.) We don't have quite the same assurance that B is fragile, but we have good reason to think that it is since it is made of the same kind of glass as A.
I have already introduced PIP, PEP, and PAP as three principles governing potentiality in the precise sense relevant to the Potentiality Argument. Now I introduce a fourth principle for your inspection which I will call the Potentiality Universality Principle:
PUP: Necessarily, if a normal F has the potentiality to become a G, then every normal F has the potentiality to become a G.
I claim that the standard objections to the Potentiality Argument (PA) are very weak and can be answered. This is especially so with respect to Joel Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality," which alone I will discuss in this post. This often-made objection is extremely weak and should persuade no rational person. But first a guideline for the discussion.
The issue is solely whether Feinberg's objection is probative, that and nothing else. Thus one may not introduce any consideration or demand extraneous to this one issue. One may not demand of me a proof of the Potentiality Principle (PP), to be set forth in a moment. I have an argument for PP, but that is not the issue currently under discussion. Again the issue is solely whether Feinberg's "logical point about potentiality" refutes the PA. Progress is out of the question unless we 'focus like a laser' on the precise issue under consideration.
Pointing to a lump of raw ground beef, someone might say, "This is a potential hamburger." Or, pointing to a hunk of bronze, "This is a potential statue." Someone who says such things is not misusing the English language, but he is not using 'potential' in the strong specific way that potentialists -- proponents of the Potentiality Principle -- are using the word. What is the difference? What is the difference between the two examples just given, and "This acorn is a potential oak tree," and "This embryo is a potential person?"
The idea behind the Potentiality Principle (PP) is that potential personhood confers a right to life. For present purposes we may define a person as anything that is sentient, rational, and self-aware. Actual persons have a right to life, a right not to be killed. Presumably we all accept the following Rights Principle:
RP: All persons have a right to life.
What PP does is simply extend the right to life to potential persons. Thus,
PP. All potential persons have a right to life.
PP allows us to mount a very powerful argument, the Potentiality Argument (PA), against the moral acceptability of abortion. Given PP, and the fact that human fetuses are potential persons, it follows that they have a right to life. From the right to life follows the right not to be killed, except perhaps in some extreme circumstances.
Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed., p. 299, Rand speaking:
What do you mean by "necessity"? By "necessity," we mean that things are a certain way and had to be. I would maintain that the statement "Things are," when referring to non-man-made occurrences, is the synonym of "They had to be." Because unless we start with the premise of an arbitrary God who creates nature, what is had to be. We have to drop any mystical premise and keep the full context in mind. Then, aside from human action, what things are is what they had to be.
The alternative of what "had to be" versus "what didn't have to be" doesn't apply metaphysically. It applies only to the realm of human action and human choice."
First of all, 'Things are' and 'Things had to be' cannot be synonyms since they obviously have different meanings as anyone who understands English knows. But let's be charitable. What Rand is trying to say is that every non-man-made occurrence is such that 'had to be' applies to it, and every man-made occurrence is such that 'did not have to be' applies to it. Charitably construed, she is not making a false semantic point, but two modal points. The first is that nothing non-man-made is contingent or, equivalently, that everything non-man-made is necessary. The second modal point is that the man-made is contingent. I will discuss only the first modal point. It is not obvious and is denied by many philosophers both theists and atheists. So it is legitimate to demand an argument for the thesis.