What I mean when I say: ‘Disposition,’ with Lauren Ashwell

Lauren Ashwell celebrates 5 years of working for Bates College. (Sarah Crosby/Bates College)

Lauren Ashwell is an associate professor of philosophy at Bates. (Sarah Crosby/Bates College)

When Lauren Ashwell, associate professor of philosophy, uses the word “disposition,” she often means:

“An object’s potential, in a metaphysical sense. For example, a glass vase may have a disposition to break under stress, and in some sense, this is about what would happen in certain potential circumstances.

“This raises a puzzle about how we can ascribe a quality to the vase while seeming to say nothing about the way the world actually is; the glass might never be stressed, and never break.

“Thinking about dispositions might help us to understand a whole host of different phenomena, such as laws of nature, metaphysical chance, mental states — and perhaps even what it is to have freewill.”

Lauren Ashwell, who chairs the Program in Digital and Computational Studies, is one of 21 scholars to receive a prestigious ACLS Burkhardt Fellowship for 2016-17.

The series “What I Mean When I Say” explains terms and phrases used by Bates professors in their teaching and research.