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Ideas of Barbara Vetter, by Text

[German, fl. 2014, Studied at Oxford. At Humbolt University, Berlin.]

2010 Essence and Potentiality
1 p.4 Real definition fits abstracta, but not individual concrete objects like Socrates
     Full Idea: I can understand the notion of real definition as applying to (some) abstact entities, but I have no idea how to apply it to a concrete object such as Socrates or myself.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 1)
     A reaction: She is objecting to Kit Fine's account of essence, which is meant to be clearer than the normal account of essences based on necessities. Aristotle implies that definitions get fuzzy when you reach the level of the individual.
1 p.4 Modal accounts make essence less mysterious, by basing them on the clearer necessity
     Full Idea: The modal account was meant, I take it, to make the notion of essence less mysterious by basing it on the supposedly better understood notion of necessity.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 1)
2 p.5 Essence is a thing's necessities, but what about its possibilities (which may not be realised)?
     Full Idea: Essence is, as it were, necessity rooted in things, ...but how about possibility rooted in things? ...Having the potential to Φ, unlike being essentially Φ, does not entail being actually Φ.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 2)
     A reaction: To me this invites the question 'what is it about the entity which endows it with its rooted possibilities?' A thing has possibilities because it has a certain nature (at a given time).
3 p.7 Possible worlds allow us to talk about degrees of possibility
     Full Idea: The apparatus of possible worlds affords greater expressive power than mere talk of possibility and necessity. In particular, possible worlds talk allows us to introduce degrees of possibility.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 3)
     A reaction: A nice feature, but I'm not sure that either the proportion of possible worlds or the closeness of possible worlds captures what we actually mean by a certain degree of possibility. There is 'accidental closeness', or absence of contingency. See Vetter.
3 p.8 Closeness of worlds should be determined by the intrinsic nature of relevant objects
     Full Idea: The closeness of possible worlds should be determined by similarity in the intrinsic constitution of whatever object it is whose potentialities are at issue.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 3)
     A reaction: Nice thought. This seems to be the essentialist approach to possible worlds, but it makes the natures of the objects more fundamental than the framework of the worlds. She demurs because there are also extrinsic potentialities.
4 p.9 Maybe possibility is constituted by potentiality
     Full Idea: We should look at the claim that possibility is constituted by potentiality.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 4)
     A reaction: A problem that comes to mind is possibilities arising from coincidence. The whole of reality must be described, to capture all the possibilities for a particular thing. So potentialities of what? Nice thought, though.
4 p.10 The apparently metaphysically possible may only be epistemically possible
     Full Idea: Some of what metaphysicians take to be metaphysically possible turns out to be only epistemically possible.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], 4)
     A reaction: A nice clear expression of the increasingly common view that conceivability may be a limited way to grasp possibility.
p.2 p.2 Metaphysical necessity is even more deeply empirical than Kripke has argued
     Full Idea: We support the views of metaphysical modality on which metaphysical necessity is an even more deeply empirical matter than Kripke has argued.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Essence and Potentiality [2010], p.2)
     A reaction: [co-author E. Viebahn] This seems to pinpoint the spirit of scientific essentialism. She cites Bird and Shoemaker. If it is empirical, doesn't that make it a matter of epistemology, and hence further from absolute necessity?
2012 Dispositional Essentialism and the Laws of Nature
9.3 p.201 Laws are relations of kinds, quantities and qualities, supervening on the essences of a domain
     Full Idea: The laws of a domain are the fundamental, general explanatory relationships between kinds, quantities, and qualities of that domain, that supervene upon the essential natures of those things.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Dispositional Essentialism and the Laws of Nature [2012], 9.3)
     A reaction: Hm. How small can the domain be? Can it embrace the multiverse? Supervenience is a rather weak relationship. How about 'are necessitated/entailed by'? Are the relationships supposed to do the explaining? I would have thought the natures did that.
2015 Potentiality
1.1 p.2 Potentiality does the explaining in metaphysics; we don't explain it away or reduce it
     Full Idea: This book is a plea for recognising potentiality as an explanans in the metaphysics of modality, rather than as something in need of explanation or reduction.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.1)
     A reaction: Something has to do the explaining, and it is obviously much better to have some aspect of the real world do the job, rather than remote abstractions such as laws, possible worlds or Forms. Personally I like the potentiality of 'powers'.
1.1 p.2 The modern revival of necessity and possibility treated them as special cases of quantification
     Full Idea: Necessity and possibility had a revival with the development of modal logic, treating them as special cases of the existential and universal quantifiers, ranging over an infinity of possible worlds.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.1)
     A reaction: The problem seems to be that possible worlds offer a very useful and interesting 'model' of modality, but say nothing at all about its nature. Any more than a weather map will show you what weather is.
1.1 p.3 All possibility is anchored in the potentiality of individual objects
     Full Idea: Potentiality is, metaphorically speaking, possibility anchored in individual objects; I claim that all possibility is thus anchored in some individual object(s) or other.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.1)
     A reaction: This will be fine for specific physical possibilities, but may become tricky for possibilities that are increasingly abstract, or universal, or idealised. I agree with the general approach. Anchor modality in reality (which is physical!).
1.2 p.6 If worlds are sets of propositions, how do we know which propositions are genuinely possible?
     Full Idea: If possible worlds are sets of propositions, we need some way to distinguish those sets of propositions that do from those that do not correspond to genuine possibilities.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.2)
     A reaction: The idea of a 'genuine' possibility does not seem to play a role in the conceptual scheme of those who treat possibility entirely in terms of possible worlds. If possibility is primitive, or is a set of worlds, there can be no criterion for 'genuine'.
1.2 p.7 The Humean supervenience base entirely excludes modality
     Full Idea: Humean supervenience excludes modality - the whole modal package - from the supervenience base. The Humean world is, at root, thoroughly non-modal.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.2)
     A reaction: This sums up my problem with David Lewis with perfect clarity. He is just excessively empirical. Hume himself also excluded modality from the basic impressions. Locke allows powerful essences (even if they are well hidden).
1.4 p.18 Possibility is a generalised abstraction from the potentiality of its bearer
     Full Idea: We should think of possibility as potentiality in abstraction from its bearer. So 'it is possible that p' is defined as 'something has an iterated potentiality for it to be the case that p'.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.4)
     A reaction: If possibilities are abstractions from potentialities, I am inclined the treat potentialities as abstractions from dispositions, and dispositions (and properties) as abstractions from powers. Powers are not abstractions - they are the reality.
1.6 p.25 How can spatiotemporal relations be understood in dispositional terms?
     Full Idea: Spatiotemporal relations are a prime example of properties that are difficult to understand in dispositional terms.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.6)
     A reaction: [Vetter refers to A.Bird 2007 Ch.8 for an attempt] One approach would be to question whether they are 'properties'. I don't think of relations as properties, even if they are predicates. Is space a property of something?
1.6 p.27 Grounding can be between objects ('relational'), or between sentences ('operational')
     Full Idea: 'Relational' grounding is between entities, best expressed by the two-place predicate 'x grounds y'. 'Operational' grounding is between sentences, best expressed by the two-place sentence operator read as 'because of' or 'in virtue of'.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.6)
1.7 p.30 We should think of dispositions as 'to do' something, not as 'to do something, if ....'
     Full Idea: We should think in terms of dispositions in terms of the manifestation alone - not as a disposition to ...if..., but as a disposition to ..., full stop.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 1.7)
     A reaction: This way of individuating dispositions seems plausible. Some dispositions only have one trigger, but others have many. All sorts of things are inclined to trigger a human smile, but we are just disposed to smile. Some people smile at disasters.
2.7 p.61 Nomological dispositions (unlike ordinary ones) have to be continually realised
     Full Idea: Nomological dispositions such as electric charge seem different from ordinary dispositions. A particle's being electrically charged is not just a possibility of exerting a certain force. Rather, the particle has to exert a force in certain circumstances.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 2.7)
     A reaction: I can only pull when there is something to pull, but a magnet seems to have a 'field' of attraction which is pullish in character. Does it detect something to pull (like a monad)? Can there be a force which has no object?
3.5 p.88 Explanations by disposition are more stable and reliable than those be external circumstances
     Full Idea: Patterns of behaviour may be explained by circumstances external to the individual, but dispositional explanations, based on the instrinsic make-up of individuals are typically more reliable and stable.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 3.5)
     A reaction: [compressed] This is very nice support for the view I have been defending. She doesn't deal in essences, and prefers 'potentialities' (as broader) to 'dispositions'. The point is to explain events by the natures of the ingredients.
4.1 p.102 Potentiality is the common genus of dispositions, abilities, and similar properties
     Full Idea: Potentiality can now be recognised as the common genus of dispositions and such related properties as abilities.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 4.1)
     A reaction: This is the reason why Vetter defends a metaphysics of modality based on potentialities, rather than on narrower concepts such as dispositions, powers or essences. She can evade the problems which those narrower concepts raise.
4.5 p.133 Grounding is a kind of explanation, suited to metaphysics
     Full Idea: Grounding is a kind of explanation - and specifically, the kind of metaphysical explanation that metaphysicians are after.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 4.5)
     A reaction: Depending on how you interpret 'grounding', it is plausible that it is the sort of explanation that physicists and economists are after as well. If the aim is to understand the structure of everything, the target is to know what grounds what.
4.6 p.135 I have an 'iterated ability' to learn the violin - that is, the ability to acquire that ability
     Full Idea: I do not have the ability to play the violin. Nor does my desk. Unlike my desk, however, I possess the ability to learn to play the violin - the ability, that is, to acquire the ability to play the violin. I have an 'iterated ability' to play the violin.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 4.6)
     A reaction: An important idea, though the examples are more likely to come from human behaviour than from the non-human physical world.
4.6 p.136 Water has a potentiality to acquire a potentiality to break (by freezing)
     Full Idea: Water has no potentiality to break. But water has a potentiality to be frozen and turn into ice, which does have a potentiality to break. So water has a potentiality to acquire a potentiality to break.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 4.6)
     A reaction: Thus potentially has an 'iterated' character to it, and an appropriate modal logic for it will have to allow for those iterations. She suggests a version of System T modal logic.
5.3.3 p.157 Slippery slope arguments are challenges to show where a non-arbitrary boundary lies
     Full Idea: Slippery slope arguments are not intended as demonstrative arguments, but rather as a challenge to show where a boundary is, and to show that the boundary is not arbitrary.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 5.3.3)
     A reaction: [extracted from details of its context] You could respond by saying that a slippery slope levels off, rather than hitting a wall or plunging to perdition.
5.7.2 p.178 A determinate property must be a unique instance of the determinable class
     Full Idea: The crucial feature of the determinates / determinables relation is that to possess the determinable property, an object must possess exactly one of the determinate properties.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 5.7.2)
     A reaction: This sounds like a determinable being a function, and the determinate being its output. If 'scarlet' is a determinate of the determinables 'red' or 'coloured', it is not obvious that there is only one possible shade of scarlet. This schema oversimplifies.
5.7.4 p.183 Potentialities may be too weak to count as 'dispositions'
     Full Idea: Potentialities may get exercised despite having a degree that is too low for them to qualify as dispositions.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 5.7.4)
     A reaction: The key reason why her book is called 'Potentialities', rather than 'Dispositions'. She still wants to offer a naturalistic picture which ties potentialities to individual objects, but I am wondering whether potentialities are too abstract for the job.
5.8 p.191 If time is symmetrical between past and future, why do they look so different?
     Full Idea: Any defender of the symmetry of time will have to provide some explanation of the obstinate appearance that the future is very different from the past.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 5.8)
     A reaction: Presumably you have to say that it is all there, but only one end of the time spectrum is revealed to us, namely the past. But how do we get this uniquely lopsided view? Being an ominiscient god is more obvious than being a lopsided human.
5.9 p.196 Potentiality logic is modal system T. Stronger systems collapse iterations, and necessitate potentials
     Full Idea: The logic for potentiality corresponds to modal system T, the minimum for metaphysics. The S4 axiom ◊◊φ → ◊φ says iterated potentialities collapse, and the S5 ◊φ → □◊φ says potentialities can't be lost.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 5.9)
     A reaction: [compressed] This seems persuasive. I nice example of modern analytic metaphysics, that you have to find a logic that suits your theory. N.Salmon defends system T for all of metaphysics, though most people favour S5.
6.1 p.197 Possibilities are potentialities of actual things, but abstracted from their location
     Full Idea: When we speak of possibility, we speak of potentiality in abstraction from its possessor; a possibility is a potentiality somewhere or other in the world, no matter where.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 6.1)
     A reaction: I note that, as so often, this is psychological abstraction, which is usually sneered at by modern philosophers (e.g. Geach), and yet is employed all the time. This is Vetter's key thesis, which I like.
6.2 p.203 It is necessary that p means that nothing has the potentiality for not-p
     Full Idea: Necessities mark the limits of the potentialities that objects have. More precisely, it is necessary that p just in case nothing has, or had, or will have a potentiality to be such that not-p.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 6.2)
     A reaction: [See Vetter's other ideas for her potentiality account of modality] If we wish to build a naturalistic account of modality (and if you don't want that then your untethered metaphysics will drift away in logical space) then this is the way to go.
6.2 p.204 Why does origin matter more than development; why are some features of origin more important?
     Full Idea: Not every feature of an individual's origin is plausibly considered necessary, so we can distinguish two questions: 'why origin, rather than development?', and 'why these particular features of origin?'.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 6.2)
     A reaction: [she cites P. Mackie 1998] The point is that exactly where someone was born doesn't seem vital. If it is nothing more than that every contingent object must have an origin, that is not very exciting.
6.4 p.207 There are potentialities 'to ...', but possibilities are 'that ....'.
     Full Idea: Potentialities are 'potentialities to ....', while possibilities are 'possibilities that ....'.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 6.4)
     A reaction: This feels a bit like a stipulation, rather than a precise description of normal usage. That said, it is quite a nice distinction. It sounds as if an event follows a potentiality, and a state of affairs follows a possibility. Active and passive?
6.4 n5 p.213 S5 is undesirable, as it prevents necessities from having contingent grounds
     Full Idea: Wedgwood (2007:220) argues that S5 is undesirable because it excludes that necessary truths may have contingent grounds.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 6.4 n5)
     A reaction: Cameron defends the possibility of necessity grounded in contingency, against Blackburn's denial of it. It's interesting that we choose the logic on the basis of the metaphysics. Shouldn't there be internal reasons for a logic's correctness?
6.9.2 p.239 Deontic modalities are 'ought-to-be', for sentences, and 'ought-to-do' for predicates
     Full Idea: Deontic modality can be divided into sentence-modifying 'ought-to-be' modals, and predicate-modifying 'ought-to-do' modals.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 6.9.2)
     A reaction: [She cites Brennan 1993] These two seem to correspond to what is 'good' (ought to be), and what is 'right' (ought to do). Since I like that distinction, I also like this one.
7.3 p.258 The world is either a whole made of its parts, or a container which contains its parts
     Full Idea: We can think of the world as a 'whole' that has everything as its parts, like raisins in a cake, or we can think of the world as a 'container', which is disjoint from everything there is, like a bottle containing water.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.3)
     A reaction: [compressed] Space and time seem to have a special role here, and it is hard to think of any other candidates for being the 'container'. I think I will apply my 'what's it made of' test to ontology, and opt for the world as a 'whole'.
7.5 p.267 The Barcan formula endorses either merely possible things, or makes the unactualised impossible
     Full Idea: Subscribers to the Barcan formula must either be committed to the existence of mere possibilia (such as possible unicorns), or deny many unactualised possibilities of existence.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.5)
     A reaction: It increasingly strikes me that the implications of the Barcan formula are ridiculous. Williamson is its champion, but I'm blowed if I can see why. What could a possible unicorn be like? Without them, must we say unicorns are impossible?
7.5 p.269 Are there possible objects which nothing has ever had the potentiality to produce?
     Full Idea: Is it not possible that there be objects with (natural) properties that no actual thing ever had the potentiality to have, to produce, or constitute? (Call such properties 'super-alien properties').
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.5)
     A reaction: This is a problem for her potentiality account of possibility. Her solution is (roughly) to either deny the super-aliens, or have chains of iterated possibility which take this case back to actuality. That sounds OK to me.
7.8 p.282 Dispositional essentialism allows laws to be different, but only if the supporting properties differ
     Full Idea: Even on the dispositional essentialist view the world might have been governed by different laws, if those laws involved different properties. What is excluded is the possibility of different laws involving the same properties as our actual laws.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.8)
     A reaction: Important. Critics of dispositional essentialism accuse it of promoting the idea that the laws of nature are necessary, a claim for which we obviously have no evidence. I prefer to say they are necessary given that 'stuff', rather than those properties.
7.8 p.288 The view that laws are grounded in substance plus external necessity doesn't suit dispositionalism
     Full Idea: The Armstrong/Tooley/Dretske view, which takes laws to be substantial but grounded in a relation of nomic necessitation external to the properties themselves, is not an attractive option for the dispositionalist.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.8)
     A reaction: The point is that the dispositionalist sees laws as grounded in the properties. I prefer her other option, of dispositionalism plus a 'shallow' view of laws (which she attributes to Mumford). The laws are as Lewis says, but powers explain them.
7.9 p.291 We take origin to be necessary because we see possibilities as branches from actuality
     Full Idea: The plausibility of the necessity of origin is a symptom of our general tendency to think of possibility in terms of the 'branching model' - that unactualised possibilities must branch off from actuality, at some point.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.9)
     A reaction: [she cites P. Mackie 1998] It is hard to see how we could flatly deny some possibilities which had absolutely no connection with actuality, and were probably quite unimaginable for us.
7.9 p.294 Presentists explain cross-temporal relations using surrogate descriptions
     Full Idea: Presentists usually deal with the lack of cross-temporal relations by the construction of a surrogate, by way of paraphrasing the objectionable relation ascriptions. 'I admire Socrates' becomes 'I admire the Socrates properties'.
     From: Barbara Vetter (Potentiality [2015], 7.9)
     A reaction: [compressed. The cites Markosian 2004:63] Why can't I just say 'I admire Socrates, who no longer exists'? The present includes tensed facts, and memories and evidence-based theories. Admiring is not a direct relation between objects.