You are walking down the street, in a bit of a hurry, thinking about your tax return or the next meeting, and a pollster stops you in the street to ask your opinion about Ed Miliband, Scottish independence and exiting the European Union. You give three quick answers and hurry on. Was each answer a snap judgement, made in the instant? Of course not. Even if you had not spent much time consciously pondering these matters and discussing them in the pub, you had subconsciously been processing news, opinions and impressions repeatedly encountered. Dispositions had been forming.
Of course, competing dispositions might have been forming—this is what we mean by being undecided. We are in effect waiting on ourselves to see which side of the argument will prevail when choosing becomes necessary.
Being asked a question can prompt that choice, as with the collapse of the wave function when an observation is made of a quantum state, causing something indeterminate to become determinate. Or it might not: but then you are really unsure, and no judgement is forthcoming. Your response to the pollster goes into the “don’t know” column.
“Disposition” is a philosophical term of art in this context. A dispositional attitude is contrasted to an occurrent one—the latter being an attitude consciously possessed at a given moment, while the former is latent until called forth by (for example) being asked to make a judgement. We each have an enormous fund of dispositions, consisting of beliefs and tendencies to react in distinctive ways, almost all of them formed by experience and most of them unconsciously. (“Almost all” because there might be genetic dispositions to react to certain stimuli in certain ways. Mammals appear to be genetically programmed to notice and shy away from spiders and snakes, for example.)
We talk of “intuitions,” “gut feelings” and “snap judgements” as if these were exemplars of spontaneity, but a moment’s reflection shows how much they are expressions of attitudes and complexes of beliefs processed over time in the cavernous…