Dispositions or powers played and still play a central role in philosophizing about a great range of things. But their role in philosophy is continuously shifting: While ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle primarily appealed to dispositions or powers (dunameis) as explainers or explanantia for various phenomena, medieval philosophers increasingly started to wonder about these explainers themselves. What do we talk about when we ascribe dispositions or powers to things? Do we merely talk about a (potential) way of being of these things or do we also ascribe them some actual states? And if we do the latter: how are these actual states, which are presupposed by the powers or dispositions of things, related to the powers of things: are these powers identical to these actual states or rather realized or somehow grounded in them? By pursuing such questions, medieval authors gradually turned dispositions or powers from explanantia into explananda: things that are to be explained by a satisfying theory. In the wake of modern physics, early modern philosophers radicalized this trend. Mocking themselves about their explanatory futility, these authors developed various reductive accounts of (bodily) powers or dispositions and became highly suspicious of their real existence. Indeed, this suspicion even came to be the new orthodoxy among philosophers until recently. However, in the last 25 years or so, philosophers have launched severe criticism against reductive accounts of dispositions and the Humean worldview, on which such accounts tend to rely. In light of this criticism, many philosophers began to take the option of real or fundamental dispositions seriously and started to explore their explanatory potential. It seems therefore that dispositions or powers are increasingly appreciated as respectable explanantia of philosophical theories again, and are no longer considered as mere troublesome explananda.
The workshop ‘Exploring Dispositions: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives’ seeks to examine these different roles of dispositions or powers by means of case studies about selected historical approaches to dispositions or powers and by systematic considerations about their explanatory potential for many different fields of philosophy, such as theories of action, asthetics, ethics, social ontology, modality, physics, and others.