Monday, August 08, 2005

Muriel and Schmuriel

I've been trying to work out why the area around Billund and Aarhus feels familiar in an unsettling way. I think it's that it combines the climate and long days of my current home county, Fife, with the flat landscapes and wide skies of my previous home county, Cambridgeshire. The effect is somewhat like that of meeting a friend wearing another friend's clothes in a context where you weren't expecting to see either of them.

The NAMICONA centre is pretty quiet at the moment but seems very friendly. I'll be giving a seminar on Fitch on Thursday afternoon to earn my passage out here, so there may be more to follow on that topic. Meanwhile, over dinner last night I discovered that Lars Gundersen shares my interest in the intrinsicness or otherwise of dispositions, and Eline Busck reminded me about this paper by Jennifer McKitrick on the topic (Ingenta access is required for this link).

I thought it might be illuminating to reformulate my 'friend of Muriel' example (originally described here as an example of a disposition with an extrinsic base) in conformity with McKitrick's pattern for examples of extrinsic dispositions. (This ought to work if the original does, since I guess that dispositions with extrinsic bases are extrinsic dispositions, although it would be more controversial to suppose that the converse holds.)

So consider person x and person y, who are perfect duplicates. They each have a friend whom they like very much and call by the name ‘Muriel’, but neither of them has ever met the other's friend. Let us refer to x’s friend as ‘Muriel’, and y’s friend as ‘Schmuriel’. Now we have the following argument:

1. x and y are perfect duplicates.
2. x is disposed to get upset when someone is rotten to Muriel.
3. y is not disposed to get upset when someone is rotten to Muriel.
4. Therefore, perfect duplicates do not necessarily share this dispositional property.
5. Therefore this dispositional property is extrinsic.

As far as I can tell, this example has an advantage over McKitrick's, in that there is no possible interference from relevant context-sensitivity in ‘gets upset when someone is rotten to Muriel’, of the kind that an objector might think was operative in the phrases that appear in McKitrick’s examples (‘weight’, ‘the contents of my pocket’, ‘recognizable’, etc.) and which the objector could use to motivate the ‘objection from relationally specified properties’ (see p. 163ff.).

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