Talents often play a significant role in our personal and social lives. For example, our talents may shape the choices we make and the goods that we value, making them central to the creation of a meaningful life. Differences in the level of talents also affect how social institutions are structured, and how social goods and resources are distributed. Despite their normative importance, it is surprising that talents have not yet received substantial philosophical analysis in their own right. As a result, the current literature is rife with conceptual ambiguity: a talent is referred to as all of a skill, potential, ability, capacity, endowment, and a natural gift. In response to this confusion, in this paper I develop an account of what a talent is, based on the debate concerning the metaphysics of ability and dispositions. I argue for a position that I call ‘talent dispositionalism’: S has a talent for skill A in circumstances C iff S has the general disposition to excellently develop and maintain A when, in circumstances C, she tries to excellently develop and maintain A. On this account, a talent is not the skill itself, but a general iterated ability for the excellent development and up-keep of a particular skill, constituted by an agent’s dispositional properties. I defend the account against four objections usually levelled against traditional dispositionalist theories of ability, and highlight some ways the account may influence debates in other areas of philosophical inquiry.
- New dispositionalism