Potentiality and Possibility

Dissertation, Oxford (2010)
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In this thesis, I develop a nonreductive and general conception of potentiality, and explore the prospects of a realist account of possibility based on this account of potentiality. Potentialities are properties of individual objects; they include dispositions such as fragility and abilities such as the ability to play the piano. Potentialities are individuated by their manifestation alone. In order to provide a unified account of potentialities, I argue in chapter 2 that dispositions, contrary to philosophical orthodoxy, are best understood in terms only of their manifestations (as disposi- tions to ...), rather than in terms of a stimulus and a manifestation condition (as dispositions to ... if ...). Chapter 3 provides some preliminary motivation for a nonreductive and gen- eral account of potentiality, and chapter 4 develops such an account. The guiding question is how far the notion of potentiality can be extended from the initial ex- amples of familiar dispositions and abilities, and it is argued that it can be extended very far. Various features of potentialities are explored, among them extrinsicality, iterations of potentiality, and the behaviour of potentiality with regard to logical equivalence. In chapter 5, the account is set to work in providing the outlines and a defense of a potentiality-based account of possibility. The basic idea of such an account is that it is possible that p just in case some thing has a potentiality for p. The account is defended against the objection that there may not be enough potential- ities to ground all the possibilities that there are. Finally, in chapter 6, a logic of potentiality is formulated and the logic of possibility derived from it, showing that the potentiality-based account of possibility is formally adequate: it provides pos- sibility with the formal features that modal logicians have studied. I conclude that the proposed account of possibility is a promising research programme.
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