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Friday, July 17, 2015

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Bill, thanks for this.

-- You say, "Rabbits give birth to rabbits, not kangaroos or pumpkins. Nature is orderly."

Inchoate evolutionary disclaimer: Let's not read into this that a member of a given kind always has only the capacity to give birth to a member of the _same_ kind. Perhaps, at least, an ape once had the capacity to gave birth to a human. So let's read your claim as saying that a member of a given kind has the capacity to give birth to a member of the same kind, and sometimes perhaps to a member of another (close enough) kind, though not to a member or _any_ kind.

-- You say, "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."

I'd rather argue: For the two cells do not have the potential to survive the conception.

-- You formulate an objection you disagree with: "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."

No. Neither the egg nor the sperm cell have the (in principle) potential to survive the conception. So they do not have the in principle potential to become a person.

-- On a minor side: Could God or a future scientist give them the potential to survive the conception? For example, could either the egg or the sperm cell be changed to contain all the genetic material, not just half of it? (The other cell would be there just for starting the cell division or just for nourishment.) I don't know. But if this could be done, the cells would be changed so much that they might not be correctly counted as egg and sperm cells anymore. The reproducttive cell containing all the genetic material would rather become something like zygote.

-- I admit I have no general account of where exactly the line lies behind which the cells would be too changed to be what they were. Likewise I don't know when exactly a thing is too damaged to have the corresponding in principle potentiality. But some scenarios seem clear anyway.

-- Likewise, you granted in one comment to your post "What is Potentiality?" that I have the potentiality to speak English even when I am asleep, drunk, under an anaesthetic, and even when in a temporary coma. But you said, too, that a car does not have the potentiality to start when few of its cables are misplaced. For that car, you said, "just as it is, cannot start." (And you said so apart from the identity problems with artifacts.)

I wonder why. Why (setting aside the identity problems with artifacts) do you grant to the drunken myself the potentiality to speak English yet do not grant to the disconnected car the potentiality to start?

Perhaps you should approach this question by asking what is meant in principle PAP (in your post "What is Potentiality?") by " the proviso that the circumambient conditions are favorable."

-- More generally, as one of my email correspondents noted, the point of talking about potentiality is to move us away from considering what the thing can do _now_ to considering what we expect it to be able to do at other times. Once we start saying, "But this is child with a severe birth defect of the brain, so he doesn't really have the potential to become self-conscious, etc." we've just gone back to talking about the capacities or potentialities of this individual right now (e.g., how good are his genes right now, how good is his brain development right now), which is what we were getting away from by talking about potentiality in the first place.

-- Now you might ask how could we know that (i) the egg and sperm cells do _not_ have the in principle potential to survive the conception or become persons, and that (ii) anencephalic human embryos _do_ have the in principle potential to have upper brains.

As for (i), reproductive cells are not individuals in the biological sense, they are only parts of such individuals. This seems relevant, though it is difficult to say what is such an individual in general (cf. the SEP entry on this). Also, it is not the case that the cells should have the potential.

As for (ii), three tentative proposals. I've given them before.

Firstly an inductive one:

Many human embryos E1, ..., En have the in principle potentiality to grow a brain and then think logically etc. Here, E1, ..., EN are paradigmatic, normal human embryos. So, probably, all human embryos have that in principle potentiality, including anencephalic human embryos.

Secondly my reading of Oderberg's proposal:

1. What a material thing is (i.e., its real definition) is indicated by what its overall morphology should be. (Here 'should' means that if the thing does not have the morphology, then it is damaged.)
2. Whatever this morphology involves, if the thing does not have it, it has the in principle potentiality (i.e., a second potentiality) for it.
3. What the overall morphology of a material thing should be amounts to the overall morphology of normal members of the thing's kind.
4. The overall morphology of normal human beings involves the (upper) brain.
So,
5. The anencephalic human being has the in principle potentiality for the brain.

Or, thirdly, we may simplify:

1'. If a thing does not have a feature it should have, then it has the in principle potentiality (i.e., second potentiality) for it.
2'. The anencephalic human being does not have the (upper) brain, but it should.
Hence (5) again.

-- You say, "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."

No. This is better: "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, AND x should eventually develop into an F (i.e., else it is damaged)."

That's why cats don't have the in principle potentiality to fly.

-- You say it follows from the idea of in principle potentialities that "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."

No. A fetus born dead is not a fetus anymore. It's a corpse, which is another is thing than the fetus. So we have here principle PIP (from your post "What is Potentiality?") left unsatisfied: 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. Hence the fetus born dead does not have the in principle potentiality.

-- You say, "A potentiality is an intrinsic, actual, not merely possible, 'principle' in a thing that directs it toward a certain outcome. ... It cannot be reduced to a possibility ..."

I do not deny this. And I accept principles PIP, PEP and PAP (from your post "What is Potentiality?") for all potentialities, including in principle ones.

Thanks for the response, V.

As I was writing the above, the evolutionary wrinkle occurred to me, but that is easily accommodated and doesn't affect the points I am making.

>>-- You say, "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."

I'd rather argue: For the two cells do not have the potential to survive the conception.<<

I have no idea what you getting at here. My point is a very simple one. Please re-read.

>>-- You formulate an objection you disagree with: "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."

No. Neither the egg nor the sperm cell have the (in principle) potential to survive the conception. So they do not have the in principle potential to become a person.<<

Excellent point! I think what you are arguing is that S and E, when combined in conception, both cease to exist as a matter of metaphysical necessity. Therefore, it is metaphysically impossible that anything be done to either to give either the ready potentiality to become a person. Is that your argument?

Quite apart from your in principle versus ready distinction, the argument just sketched can be deployed against the 'probative overkill' objectors. We can both use it. Here is something we can agree on.

But note that this wreaks havoc with your car example. A car without a battery cannot start (in the preferred manner!) and so it lacks the 'ready' potentiality to start in the preferred manner. But you want to say it has the 'in principle' potentiality to start inasmuch as something can be done to the car to give it the ready potential to start, namely, a battery can be installed and properly connected. But doesn't car-minus-battery cease to exist when battery is installed? This gets us into transtemporal numerical artifact identity, mereological essentialism, and other nasty questions.

Bill, Vlastimil,

(A suggestion!)

Could V's "in principle" potentiality be construed as a second-order potentiality: i.e., there exists a potentiality that a certain potentiality will become present? (Question: to what the first occurrence of 'potentiality' is attributed? To the same thing to which the first is attributed? To a broader system (to be specified)?

Or alternatively: "in principle" potentiality is allowing the concept of potentiality to be iterated, analogously to possibility and necessity (e.g., it is possible that it is possible that ..., etc.).
(The same Question as above).

I am not sure whether doing either one of these will salvage Vlastimil points, but maybe it could.

Correction; in the Question, the second 'first' should be replaced by the word 'second'. My mistake.

>>-- Likewise, you granted in one comment to your post "What is Potentiality?" that I have the potentiality to speak English even when I am asleep, drunk, under an anaesthetic, and even when in a temporary coma. But you said, too, that a car does not have the potentiality to start when few of its cables are misplaced. For that car, you said, "just as it is, cannot start." (And you said so apart from the identity problems with artifacts.)

I wonder why. Why (setting aside the identity problems with artifacts) do you grant to the drunken myself the potentiality to speak English yet do not grant to the disconnected car the potentiality to start?<<

Because the cases are different. If you are drunk, you will naturally sober up within a few hours. If you are asleep you will naturally wake up in a few hours, and similarly for being under a general anaesthetic and in a temporary reversible coma. But the car without properly connected battery cables will not naturally acquire them on its own in a few hours. Something has to be done *ab extra.*

A car has no natural, in-built, tendency to repair itself. But an animal does. Your drunken state is repaired naturally over time without the need of external assistance or modification. I don't have to implant something in you to get you to sober up. But I have to install a battery into a car . . .

This all goes to the question of what EXACTLY a potentiality is. Do artifacts have potentialities? A statue is an artifact. You might say it has the potentiality to break if dropped. But is that due to the artifactuality of the artifact or due to its material composition?

Peter asks: >>Could V's "in principle" potentiality be construed as a second-order potentiality: i.e., there exists a potentiality that a certain potentiality will become present?<<

I don't think so.

Consider V's car example. No cables, no 'ready' potentiality to start. But, says V, there is the 'in principle' potentiality to start inasmuch as cables can be installed.

Now compare that with me and the Czech language. I do not have the ability to speak it: I do not have the 'ready' potentiality to speak Czech; but I could learn it well enough for everyday purposes. So I have the 2nd-order potentiality to acquire the 1st-order potentiality to speak Czech. Note that the 2nd-order potentiality is grounded in me, and when it is actualized, there is then grounded in me the 1st-order potentiality. Both end up in the same 'subject,' me.

This 2nd-order potentiality is quite unlike the 'in principle' potentiality in the car example. For the latter is really the potentiality or power of an auto mechanic to install and connect cables.

So it looks as if we have two different distinction pairs and they 'cut perpendicular' to each other. This is because an 'in principle' potentiality need not be a 2nd-order potentiality. And a 1st-order potentiality need not be a ready potentiality. My potential to be alert is 1st-order, but not 'ready' when I am sleeping.)

Suppose I cannot walk because I have bad knees. So I lack the ready potential to walk. But I can get a double knee replacement. So in V's jargon I have the 'in principle' potentiality to walk. But note that the latter is not a 2nd-order potentiality in me, but a 1st-order potentiality in the orthopedic surgeon.

I had the impression earlier that V. was conflating the two distinctions. I could be wrong about that.

Good discussion, gentlemen.

How about substituting 'ability' for 'potential'?

--"Do you have the ability to speak Latin?" - do you mean, do I speak Latin? Or do you mean, do I have the ability to learn and then speak Latin?

--"Do you have the potential to speak Latin?" - No, I actually do speak Latin, I have that ability.
"Do you have the potential to speak Latin?" - No. Perhaps, if I could learn it.

--'A' has the potential to have the 'ready potential', to speak Latin.
Does this equal:
'A' has the ability to gain the ability to speak Latin?

--'Ability' can be used, I think, in place of 'ready potentiality'?
-- But what about 'in principle potentiality'?
"Do you have the in principle ability to run the 4 minute mile?"
"No, I am paralyzed from the waist down, irrevocably"
"But you could if things changed - miracle, medicine, transplant etc., right"
"So?"
"So you could in principle run the 4 minute mile!"
"Well, if by 'in principle' you mean - anything I can possibly imagine - sure. If 'in principle' = whatever can be imagined. But isn't that like having 'in principle' a million dollars in the bank, when actually I don't? What's the point?"

If I have a million dollars in liquid assets, then I have the ready potential to buy something costing one million. But I don't have a million dollars in liquid assets. If V. says that I have the 'in principle' potential to buy something costing one million inasmuch as Donald Trump or someone could just lay a cool mil on me, then I suggest that that intolerably inflates the term 'potential' so that it becomes useless.

>>1. What a material thing is (i.e., its real definition) is indicated by what its overall morphology should be. (Here 'should' means that if the thing does not have the morphology, then it is damaged.)
2. Whatever this morphology involves, if the thing does not have it, it has the in principle potentiality (i.e., a second potentiality) for it.
3. What the overall morphology of a material thing should be amounts to the overall morphology of normal members of the thing's kind.
4. The overall morphology of normal human beings involves the (upper) brain.
So,
5. The anencephalic human being has the in principle potentiality for the brain.<<

I don't understand (2). Reason is, I don't understand what an 'in principle' potentiality is supposed to be. Suppose a baby is born without legs. You want to say that such an abnormal baby has the in principle potentiality to have legs.

What does that mean exactly?

Hi Bill. Interesting discussion!

Bill, your notion of ready potentiality cannot include there are no exogenous "ab extras," right?

A zygote requires lots of intra-uterine ab extra conditions - nutrients etc. - to develop a human brain and become a person. It's not just internal entelechy. A lit firecracker has the potential to explode. All of the conditions of the lit firecracker are built in (except perhaps the oxygen to keep the fuse burning, but let's say it has a visco fuse which can burn with no oxygen.) That would seem to be strict "ready" potentiality, (assuming you agree artifacts have potentiality, or we can just use it as an analogy) But it also seems an UNLIT fire cracker has the ready potential to explode too - it still needs to have something done to it from the outside - heat or a flame.

I think the only reasonable position is to say there is a continuum from strict ready potentiality (no ab extras) through degrees of potentiality, all the way to causal possibility. Unless you are merely stipulating,I don't think there is a way to draw a clear line distinguishing possibilities from potentialities. The place on the continuum is determined by the number of causes (internal or external) that are needed for the thing to be actualized, and the probability of the actualization occurring based on the presence of those conditions. A lit fire cracker has the potential to explode, but less than a lit one, etc. A damp unlit one even less than a mere unlit one etc. How about one dangerously close to a fireplace? And some gunpowder here, and a fuse over there, even less, or maybe we would draw the line excluding these scattered elements as a "potentiality," and call them a possibility.

I don't remember if you agree but I find it hard to accept that destroying a new zygote is morally equivalent to late term abortion or infanticide. And my continuum suggestion would explain why since the later fetus needs fewer ab extras to actualize. So the fact that an ovum needs the ab extras of chromosomes provided by sperm cannot in itself disqualify the ovum from being a "potential person."

Also, do the primary causes that constitute the ready potentiality of something have to reside internally?

It seems that the ovum of an ovulating bride on a romantic honeymoon evening would have much more potential for personhood, than, say, the ovum of a nun in the Dominican Sisters of Mary.

Hi Tony,

It's been a while. 'Ready' potentiality is not my notion but Vlastimil Vohanka's with whom I am now in dialogue. He contrasts it with 'in principle' potentiality, which I am having a hard time understanding.

But your point is correct: there have to be exogenous factors. A seed, for example, has to be properly planted, in the right kind of soil, irrigated, etc. if it is to grow.


V's example of a ready potentiality was that of car's potential to start assuming that all components are in working order. But suppose the car has no battery. Then it cannot start -- at least not in the normal way. V. says it has an 'in principle' potential to start inasmuch as a battery could be installed and properly connected. That's what I meant by an *ab extra* factor.

As you appreciate, there is a question whether we can apply the Aristotelian notion of potentiality to artifacts. One could argue that a car without a battery has absolutely no potentiality to start because (i) it cannot start in the normal way without a functioning battery properly connected, and (ii) a car with a battery cannot be diachronically numerically identical to a car without a battery. But this emboils us in thorny questions about artifact identity over time and mereological essentialism.

As for the firecracker, isn't the disposition to explode when properly 'triggered' exactly the same whether or not the fuse is lit? I am assuming a realist theory of dispositions.

Wine glasses are typically fragile: they are disposed to shatter if suitably struck. Isn't the disposition to shatter of a particular wine glass exactly the same whether or not the glass is sitting on a shelf or in free fall toward a tile floor?

In the second case, the manifestation of the disposition is imminent; in the first case the manifestation is not imminent and perhaps may never occur. But the disposition itself, I am suggesting, is the same in both cases.

Tony,

Your notion of degrees of potentiality is an interesting one. I am not sure it is wrong, but I am sorely tempted to resist it, as I already started to do with my wine glass example. To extend the example:

Wine glass in padlocked steel box
Wine glass in unlocked steel box
Wine glass on shelf in Arizona
Wine glass on shelf in the once great state of California where there are earthquakes
Wine glass in hand of drunken philosopher standing on a tile floor
Wine glass in free fall toward tile floor

I take it you are saying that the potentiality to shatter increases as we work down this list of examples. Right? It seems to me, however, that the potentiality/disposition, as a sort of ontological ingredient/constituent in the wine glass is exactly the same throughout the examples, and that it is the likelihood of actualization/manifestation that admits of degrees and increases from top down.

It may be that you are conflating a potentiality with the likelihood of its actualization.

Bill, regarding degrees of potentiality, what if there is a series of wine glasses made of different materials starting with more durable glass that can shatter, but is very unlikely even when dropped on a tile floor, up through a graduated series to a highly shatterable thin crystal. Doesn't the latter have more potential than the former through the series? Seems odd to say they have the same potential to shatter.

Or to make the analogy more like living things, say there is some glass, the molecular structure of which, slowly through time becomes more and more shatterable. Doesn't it have more and more potential to shatter?

Tony

Tony,

There is also the mafioso who drank his Dago Red out of wine glasses made of bullet-proof glass . . .

You raise an important point, though. How 'fine-grained' are potentialities? The mafioso case aside, all wine glasses are disposed to break if suitably struck. We might speak of a generic potentiality to break.

But in concrete reality each wine glass has its own potentiality to break indexed to a certain degree of force, the force required to break the glass in question.

So rather than speaking of more or less potentiality to shatter, as if potentiality comes in degrees, we can speak of numerically distinct potentialities, a different one for each glass.

Your second example is also very interesting. And more troublesome. Elasticity is a dispositional property. Now we all know that the elasticity of a waist band decreases with wear and washing and other factors. Elasticity is the passive potentiality to be stretched and then return to its unstretched state.

Perhaps I can say that this potentiality, as long as it exists in my waist band, is one and same potentiality, but that its degree of actualization/manifestation lessens over time.

Or should we say that there is a different potentiality at each different time in the life of the waist band?

Bill you asked:

"Or should we say that there is a different potentiality at each different time in the life of the waist band?"

Yes, I would say the token potentiality of the waistband is different. If potentialities are ontological features of things that are somehow distinct from their likelihood of actualizing as you are saying, then there is an ontological difference that needs to be noted. Say the waistband, which is gradually becoming more rigid, is somewhere like a dump where there is no likelihood of it being stretched. So the likelihood of actualization is the same throughout, but there is a difference in its disposition (that could be analyzed counterfactually, say).

That then would mean that the 'ready' in 'ready potential' is on a sliding scale? 'Ready', then, would be a measure of the likelihood of actualization.
That still leaves me thinking that there is a gulf between 'ready potential'(=likelihood of actualization) and 'in principle (=possible?) potential'. The former can approach but not equal zero, while the latter, I think, is still undefined. In my mind.

Tony,

"somewhere like a dump"? What does that mean?

I reject the notion that dispositions can be analyzed counterfactually. The sugar cube's disposition to dissolve in water cannot be reduced to the truth of the counterfactual conditional, "If the sugar cube had been placed in water, then it would have dissolved." That is true, of course, but truths need truth-makers. Dispositions are truth-makers.

Vlastimil,

What say you to Dave's point?

Bill, say a rubber band which can originally be stretched four inches without breaking is buried a few inches in a remote area of the Mojave desert for a year. The likelihood of its stretching four inches is the same every day of the year - close to zero. If you want to separate external factors as in your wine glass example, from the particular or token potentiality of something, and reduce it to the internal disposition of the thing, then there would still be degrees of potentiality, since the rubber band would become more and more brittle, right?

Bill,

Sorry again for the delay. And this time for the brevity.

-- Once more to this reasoning of yours: "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."

I said I'd rather argue: For the two cells do not have the potential to survive the conception. Why did I say that? Because not having outside preconditions or objects nearby need not always deprive of the given potentiality. Think of Robinson Crusoe's potentiality to play violins.

-- Current human eggs and the sperm cells have no in principle potential to survive the conception. But no, I don't think that I need to claim that it is metaphysically necessary for human eggs and sperm cells whatsoever not to have such a potential. (Although it does seem to be the case.)

-- I've suggested to set the identity of artifacts like cars aside.

-- You say, "If you are drunk, you will naturally sober up within a few hours. If you are asleep you will naturally wake up in a few hours, and similarly for being under a general anaesthetic and in a temporary reversible coma. But the car without properly connected battery cables will not naturally acquire them on its own in a few hours. Something has to be done *ab extra."

What do you mean by 'naturally'?

And is it really a relevant difference? Note that I need many external things to sober up: loads of air, plus certain temperature and pressure.

Or take two analogies. Crusoe can't make violins unless somebody gives him some. Does not he keep his potentiality to play violin? Or, Crusoe breaks a leg and can't make a lath to make it straight again. But if somebody gave him a lath, he would grow a seam that would make his leg such. Does not he have a potentiality to have a straight leg again?

-- I agree that an in principle potentiality need not be a 2nd-order potentiality. And that a 1st-order potentiality need not be a ready potentiality. You're right that I was confused about this in some of my earlier comments (to his post "What is Potentiality?"). Thanks for the important correction!

-- As for David's and your question whether 'in principle' is so inflated in my usage that it means the same as imaginable, possible, and the like: well no, it doesn't. For example, I've agreed that in principle potentialities are governed by principles PIP, PEP and PAP (stated by Bill in the same previous post).

-- You ask, "I don't understand what an 'in principle' potentiality is supposed to be. Suppose a baby is born without legs. You want to say that such an abnormal baby has the in principle potentiality to have legs. What does that mean exactly?"

So far I can't define. But here's a rough and tentative proposal: it is a potentiality (so it's governed by PIP, PEP and PAP) that is blocked by some damage of the given thing.

V,

Are you comparing Robinson Crusoe alone on the island with an anencephalic baby?

I reject the analogy. A better one: R C born with no arms, and who therefore never learned to play the violin, is like the anencephalic baby.

Bill,

Of course in _some_ respects my analogy with Crusoe is disanalogical. That's the case with all analogies. But in the _relevant_ respect suggested by you they are analogical. Both Crusoe and the anencephalic baby need _something to be done for or given to them them ab extra_. Yet even so Crusoe has the given potentiality. So why not the baby?

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