Thursday, October 16, 2008

Becoming charged

Suppose I become negatively electrically charged. I then acquire a bunch of dispositional properties, such as the property of repelling electrons and attracting positrons. But have I gained any basic dispositional properties?

One could take one of two views here:

  1. In becoming charged, I took on new basic dispositional properties characteristic of charge.
  2. Prior to being charged, I already had the dispositional property of being such as to repel electrons and attract positrons when negatively charged.
On the first view, charge is a dispositional property. On the second view, charge is not a dispositional property per se, but a triggering condition for a dispositional property I already had. An advantage of the first view is that it helps explain why it is that charge makes anything that has it be ceteris paribus attractive to electrons and repellent to positrons. On the second view, it is just a coincidence or a matter of divine arrangement that all the material things there are have the dispositional property stated in (2). On the other hand, the second view is slightly neater in a different way, because it allows one to say that all dispositional properties are grounded in the essences of things. I suspect that only a generalization of the first view lets one preserve the Catholic view that pursuit of the supernatural end of human life is something graciously superadded on top of our nature.


Mark said...


Considering view #2- if the essence of things have all dispositional properties (some conditionally), then it seems like there is still, in a sense, a way to gain dispositional properties simply in virtue of making their conditions cognitively salient.

i.e., there seems to be an important difference between persons A and B, where A and B both have all dispositional properties, but where B has considered some triggering condition (that A has not thought of, and maybe never will). Therefore B has a certain causal efficacy that A lacks.

So, I think 'superaddition' can be thought of in at least two ways.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I kind of like the suggestion. Can one read it as a special case of the first/second potentiality distinction?

On my tentative account of faith, the central distinctively Christian doctrines--the mysteries of faith--are doctrines that apart from grace it is not even possible to entertain. (Consequently, Pelagianism fails, since salvation requires acting from beliefs that one cannot entertain, much less have, apart from faith.) But it is possible that we have dispositions with triggering conditions that involve these doctrines. Thus, we would all desire the beatific vision, if we had the concept of the beatific vision. And since, by grace, we do have the concept of the beatific vision, Aquinas' argument for why our beatitude calls for the beatific vision is plausible to us--while it would be implausible to someone who did not receive grace.

Still, I worry that this is too weak a view of the 'superaddition'. I've wondered whether there isn't a way in which the fall literally changed our nature, and redemption has changed ours. I don't think that in the end I want to say this, but once we realize that human nature need not be a modally essential property (else Christ couldn't become human) the idea is less absurd.

Sorry to ramble.

Mark said...


Yes, I was thinking of it as a middle ground of potentiality between the first and second views. It definitely is a weaker understanding of 'superaddition.'

I agree that something like the fall strongly superadded (or subtracted) to human nature - perhaps because its effects persist through generations. Though with this criterion, another distinction can be made between the potentiality of becoming charged, and the potentiality associated with the fall.

...and I think I'm complicating the two views unnecessarily at this point.