I am thinking through how to teach a specific course, as either a grad or an upper level undergrad, that uses as the overarching theme a view called “dispositional essentialism” (abbreviated as “DE” below). This course would be a great opportunity to combine a list of topics within metaphysics and philo of science which are all inter-related through their connections to DE. Below is a rough course description.
In short, DE is the view that the identity of a property is the causal disposition that an object has if the object possess this property. At first glance, this might appear to be a view that is somewhat conceptually isolated from other philosophical topics. To the contrary, this view has implications that extend to some of the most profound and long standing issues in metaphysics and philosophy of science. This view offers deep insight and potential resolutions to such topics as Humean skepticism of necessary connections and causation; what laws of nature are and how they work; the question of the “one over many”; the nature of and unity of the world’s metaphysical structure; and what the general metaphysics is that underlines science. Indeed, the philosophical power of DE is nothing short of astounding. But is it plausible and why does it have such tremendously far reaching implications? This course seeks to address these questions and thus it seeks to explore the terrain of metaphysics and philosophy of science that surrounds DE.
Here are some rough plans for the structure of the course and the reading list:
Stage 1 – Background and Conceptual Springboard
Let’s begin by reading Hume’s famous critique of causation. This material serves as the historical background and the conceptual springboard for much of the material to follow. Thus reading excerpts of from Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding will be a productive start.
Stage 2 – Connections, DE and the Extensions of DE
Armstrong: “Four disputes about properties.”
Shoemaker: “Causality and properties.”
The implications of DE and Scientific Essentialism – Ellis: excerpts from “The Philosophy of Nature”, and “Scientific Essentialism” (chapter 3, sections 3.1 to 3.10).
Stage 3 – DE vs. Categoricalism; Critique of DE.
Bird: Chp. 4 Of Nature’s Metaphysics: Against Categoricalism.
Critical response to DE? Armstrong: “Two problems for essentialism” And Ellis: “Response to Armstrong.”
Bird: Chp. 9 Of Nature’s Metaphysics: Defending DE from Mumford’s Critique DE’s picture of Laws.