Since the failure of both pure corpuscular and pure wave philosophies of nature,
process theories assume that only events need to exist in order to have
a physics. Starting from an ontology of actual events, a dispositional
analysis is shown here to lead to a new idea of substance, that of a `distribution
of potentiality or propensity'. This begins to provide a useful foundation for
A model is presented to show how the existence of physical substances could
be a reasonable consequence of a theory of processes.
The role of dispositions in the physical world is considered.
It is shown that not only can classical physics be reasonably construed
as the discovery of real dispositions, but also quantum physics. This approach
moreover allows a realistic understanding of quantum processes.
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 39
(1988) 67-79. Also:
Modern physics has cast doubt on Newton's idea of particles
with definite properties. Do we have to go back to Aristotle for a new
understanding of the ultimate nature of substance?
Cogito, 2 (1988) pp 10 - 12.
In a pragmatic approach to ontology, what is necessary and
sufficient for the dispositional causation of events is interpreted
realistically, and postulated to exist. This leads to a concept of `generic
substance' (Aristotle's underlying `matter') as being constituted by
dispositions, not just being the `bare subject' for those dispositions. If we
describe the forms of objects according their spatiotemporal range, then this
form is best viewed as a field, and substances themselves are best conceived as
'fields of propensity'. With the help of such a concepts, we can try to
understand some of the more mysterious quantum features of nature, such as the
nature of measurement interactions and non-localities, not as well as the
duality of wave and particle descriptions.
The analysis of dispositions is used to consider cases where the effect of one
disposition operating is the existence of another disposition. This may arise
from rearrangements within aggregated structures of dispositional parts, or, it
is argued, also as stages of derivative dispositions within a set of multiple
generative levels. Inspection of examples in both classical and quantum physics
suggests a general principle of 'Conditional Forward Causation': that
dispositions act 'forwards' in a way conditional on certain circumstances or
occasions already existing at the `later' levels.
Examining the role of
dispositions (potentials and propensities) in both physics and psychology
reveals that they are commonly derivative dispositions, so called because they
derive from other dispositions. Furthermore, when they act, they produce
further propensities. Together, therefore, they appear to form discrete degrees
within a structure of multiple generative levels. It is then constructively
hypothesized that minds and physical nature are themselves discrete degrees
within some more universal structure. This gives rise to an effective dualism
of mind and nature, but one according to which they are still constantly
related by causal connections. I suggest a few of the unified principles of
operation of this more complicated but universal structure.
extension of dispositional essentialism is proposed, whereby what is necessary
and sufficient for the dispositional causation of events is interpreted
realistically, and postulated to exist. This ‘generative realism’ leads to a
general concept of ‘substance’ as constituted by its more fundamental powers or
propensities appearing in the form of some structure or field. This neo-Aristotlean
view is reviewed historically, and in respect to quantum physics.