This use of the word dispositive in a letter to the editor in my morning paper left me puzzled:
Religious dogma and scripture tend to be grab-bags out of which all kinds of often-contradictory points can be made by [whoever] wants to reach in, and who is to say which of them is dispositive?
I think I know what the letter-writer meant by dispositive, but I can’t help wondering why he didn’t use a more familiar word when addressing a general audience.
Dispositive as an adjective signifies the quality of “directing, controlling, or disposing of something.” In Scottish law, a “dispositive clause” is the clause of conveyance in a deed, by which the disposition of the property is expressed.
In US law, a “dispositive motion” is
a motion asking a for court order that entirely disposes of one or more claims in favor of the moving party without need for further court proceedings. A dispositive motion does not necessarily seek to dispose of the entire lawsuit. The most common types of dispositive motions are the motion to dismiss and the motion for summary judgment. A dispositive motion may also be used to request that an indictment be dismissed or quashed, or for judgment on pleadings. (uslegal.com)
French philosopher Michel Foucault used dispositive (dispositif) as a noun to refer to “the various institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body.”
A Google search brings up about 2,210,000 results for “dispositive.” Here is a sampling of usage:
A variety of factors will inform each stage of our inquiry; the factors that we consider today do not constitute an exhaustive list of factors relevant to the mainstreaming issue. Moreover, no single factor is dispositive in all cases.
Though the speech at issue concerned the subject matter of his employment, and was expressed within his office rather than publicly, the Court did not consider either fact dispositive, and noted that employees in either context may receive First Amendment protection.
The Chinese middle class, I argue, is a dispositive class.
To grasp the true character of this dispositive (theoretical fragments focused on the formulation of a political problem) and its effects, we must jump a step.
Historicizing Security – Entering the Conspiracy Dispositive
The Bible, and only the Bible, is dispositive for all Christians.
If one cannot in a dispositive way show the non-existence of god, what does the atheists’ position mean?
Dispositive is a useful and meaningful term in specialized contexts, but it seems to me that some speakers may be using dispositive when all they mean is authoritative or conclusive.