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Dispositionalism and Moral Nonnaturalism

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  1. J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), p. 39.

  2. Sharon Street, “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value,” Philosophical Studies 127 (2006): 109–166; Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007).

  3. Travis Dumsday, “Laws of Nature Don’t Have Ceteris Paribus Clauses, They Are Ceteris Paribus Clauses,” Ratio 26 (2013): 134–147; Matthew Tugby, “Platonic Dispositionalism,” Mind 122 (2013): 451–480.

  4. For literature on the negative definition, see for instance Seth Crook & Carl Gillett, “Why Physics Alone Cannot Define the ‘Physical’: Materialism, Metaphysics, and the Formulation of Physicalism,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 31 (2001): 333–359; see also Barbara Montero, “The Body Problem,” Nous 33 (1999): 183–200. See Robin Brown & James Ladyman, “Physicalism, Supervenience, and the Fundamental Level,” Philosophical Quarterly 59 (2009): 20–38; see also Jessica Wilson, “On Characterizing the Physical,” Philosophical Studies 131 (2006): 61–99. For a definition based on current physics see Agustin Vicente, “Current Physics and the ‘Physical’,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (2011): 393–416. For a definition based on completed physics consult J.L. Dowell, “The Physical: Empirical, Not Metaphysical,” Philosophical Studies 131 (2006): 25–60.

  5. Ned Markosian, “What are Physical Objects?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (2000): 375–396.

  6. My thanks to an anonymous referee for the JVI for drawing my attention to the need to clarify these two points.

  7. That is a fairly standard formulation – for details see especially Stephen Mumford, Dispositions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

  8. Recent advocates of dispositionalism include for instance Alexander Bird, Nature’s Metaphysics: Laws and Properties (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Anjan Chakravartty, A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism: Knowing the Unobservable (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Brian Ellis, Scientific Essentialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); John Heil, From an Ontological Point of View (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Jennifer McKitrick, “The Bare Metaphysical Possibility of Bare Dispositions,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (2003): 349–369; Stephen Mumford, Laws in Nature (London: Routledge, 2004); and David Oderberg, Real Essentialism (London: Routledge, 2007).

  9. On this point see especially Mumford, Laws in Nature.

  10. See his 2013, pp. 145–146.

  11. The background idea there is that a disposition is really oriented/directed to its stimulus conditions and possible manifestations (and the universals involved therein), and that such direction, like any relation, must obtain between two existents; that is, if one party to a relation is not real, the relation does not obtain. So that to which the disposition (by its very identity conditions) is related must somehow be real, even if uninstantiated in the material world.

  12. See Tugby, 2013, pp. 461–462.

  13. William F. Harms, “Adaptation and Moral Realism,” Biology and Philosophy 15 (2000): 699–712; Scott M. James, “The Caveman’s Conscience: Evolution and Moral Realism,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 87 (2009): 215–233.


I would like to express my sincere thanks to Matthew Braddock, Jeff Wisdom, and an anonymous referee for the JVI for their insightful, detailed comments on earlier drafts. Further, this research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs program. I would like to thank the government and taxpayers of Canada for their financial support.

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Dumsday, T. Dispositionalism and Moral Nonnaturalism. J Value Inquiry 50, 97–110 (2016).

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