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Dispositions and Normativity

Applicant Rathgeb Nicole
Number 184194
Funding scheme Early Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution University of Hertfordshire
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.03.2019 - 31.10.2020
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Keywords (12)

Ryle; Meaning; Speaker Meaning; Philosophy of Mind; Dispositions; Philosophy of Language; Theory of Action; Hacker; Belief; Kripke; Normativity; Justification

Lay Summary (German)

Im Projekt werden bestimmte, unter anderem mit Normativität zusammenhängende Argumente gegen die dispositionale Analyse von Überzeugungen und von anderen geistigen Eigenschaften kritisiert.
Lay summary

Dispositionen sind Eigenschaften, die darin bestehen, unter bestimmten Bedingungen ein bestimmtes Verhalten zu zeigen. Ein Beispiel dafür ist Wasserlöslichkeit: die Eigenschaft eines Gegenstands, sich aufzulösen, wenn er in Wasser gelegt wird. Das Projekt setzt sich unter anderem mit der Auffassung auseinander, dass auch Überzeugungen als Dispositionen analysiert werden sollten. Die Idee wäre, dass beispielsweise die Überzeugung, dass das Eis auf dem zugefrorenen See gefährlich dünn ist, nichts anderes ist als eine Kombination von Dispositionen der folgenden Art: „ja“ zu antworten, wenn man gefragt wird, ob das Eis gefährlich dünn ist; nicht auf das Eis hinauszulaufen; zu erschrecken oder sich zu fürchten, wenn jemand anderes unerwartet auf das Eis hinausläuft; usw. Eine solche Analyse wurde in der Vergangenheit unter anderem auf der Basis von Argumenten abgelehnt, die mit Rechtfertigung und somit mit Normativität zusammenhängen: Eine Überzeugung kann nicht mit einer Disposition identisch sein, weil wir ein bestimmtes Verhalten zwar mit Bezug auf Überzeugungen, aber nicht mit Bezug auf Dispositionen rechtfertigen können: Dass ich meinen Mitbewohner mit lauter Musik geweckt habe, kann ich damit rechtfertigen, dass ich die Überzeugung hatte, dass er schon wach war, aber nicht damit, dass ich dazu disponiert war, laute Musik abzuspielen. Dieses und ähnliche Argumente werden im Projekt einer kritischen Überprüfung unterzogen.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 09.01.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Ayer on Analyticity
RathgebNicole (2020), Ayer on Analyticity, in Tuboly Adam (ed.), Palgrave, Cham, Switzerland, 101-121.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Mind Readings: Philosophy of Mind Reading and Discussion Group Individual talk How would you answer this question? — Can dispositional analyses of belief account for first-person authority? 08.06.2020 Hertfordshire (via Skype), Great Britain and Northern Ireland Rathgeb Nicole;
Ringvorlesung "Die Philosophie der Philosophie" Individual talk Philosophie und Begriffsanalyse 11.05.2020 Zürich, Switzerland Rathgeb Nicole;
Conceptual Analysis, Conceptual Engineering, and Experimental Philosophy Talk given at a conference The Strawsonian Challenge to Conceptual Engineering 15.11.2019 Zürich, Switzerland Rathgeb Nicole;


Dispositions are, roughly speaking, properties of acting in certain ways under certain conditions. Paradigmatic examples include physical properties, such as solubility and fragility, and, debatably, character traits, such as shyness and irrascability.In the debate about which philosophically interesting phenomena should be given a dispositional analysis, questions of normativity often play a role. Most prominently, Saul Kripke (1982) has appealed to the notion of normativity in his arguments against the view that a speaker’s meaning something by an expression can be identified with her having certain dispositions. Such an identification would not, according to Kripke, be able to accommodate the normativity of speaker meaning. For while the relationship between an individual’s dispositions and her linguistic behaviour is descriptive, that between what a speaker means and her linguistic behaviour is normative: what someone means by an expression does not determine how she will behave, but rather how she should behave.Analogous arguments can be found in other contexts, where they have so far received less attention. For example, P. M. S. Hacker (2013) has argued against the identification of beliefs with dispositions on the basis that it is possible to justify an agent’s actions by appeal to her beliefs but not by appeal to her dispositions. If I wake my housemate by playing loud music, I can justify my action by reference to my belief that she was already awake, but not, the argument goes, by reference to my disposition to act in this way.As I endeavour to show, the debate as to whether the dispositional analysis of speaker meaning is consistent with the latter’s normativity has suffered from a failure consistently to distinguish between speaker meaning and word meaning. As a consequence, the normativity of speaker meaning, for which Kripke was pleading, has often been run together with the more commonly discussed normativity of word meaning.The dispositional analysis of belief, on the other hand, has often been discounted on the basis of arguments which, I shall argue, do not withstand closer scrutiny.In the course of this project - which will be a crucial component of a wider habilitation project on dispositions - I shall write (1) an article on the normativity of speaker meaning and (2) a defence of the dispositional analysis of belief against a number of objections. In addition, I shall (3) examine to what extent speakers can be said to have first-person authority about what they mean by an expression and the implications this has for the viability of the dispositional analysis of speaker meaning: Is there also a sense in which we have first-person authority about certain sorts of dispositions?The significance of such an investigation into dispositional concepts can hardly be overstated: Since dispositions play a fundamental role not just in everyday life but in every domain of the behavioural and cognitive sciences, a deeper understanding of dispositional concepts will help us improve our conceptions of many different kinds of phenomena.