Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



Published (as Chapter 2) in Dispositions and Causes, Toby Handfield, ed., Oxford University Press, 2009. pp. 31-64.


Copyright © 2009 Oxford University Press. Used by permission.


Dispositionality and causation are both modal concepts which have implications not just for how things are, but for how they will be or, in some sense, must be. Some philosophers are suspicious of modal concepts and would like to make do with fewer of them.1 But what are our reductive options, and how viable are they? In this paper, I try to shut down one option: I argue that dispositions are not reducible to causes.

In doing so, I try not to prejudice the issue by assuming a particular analysis of causation or dispositions. I make the following minimal assumptions about dispositions: they are properties of objects which have characteristic manifestations that occur in certain circumstances, and an object can have a disposition outside of the circumstances of manifestation and hence without the manifestation occurring. I think of causation primarily as a relation between events, though there can be true causal generalizations, and objects might be causes.

In Section 1, I will try to clarify what it means for one kind of thing to reduce to another. I will then argue in Section 2 that dispositions do not conceptually reduce to causes, and in Section 3 that dispositions do not metaphysically reduce to causes. In Section 4, I explore other reductive possibilities, in particular that causes reduce to dispositions.