Mere Possibilities

Mere Possibilities: Metaphysical Foundations of Modal Semantics

Robert Stalnaker
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Mere Possibilities
    Book Description:

    It seems reasonable to believe that there might have existed things other than those that in fact exist, or have existed. But how should we understand such claims? Standard semantic theories exploit the Leibnizian metaphor of a set of all possible worlds: a proposition might or must be true if it is true in some or all possible worlds. The actualist, who believes that nothing exists except what actually exists, prefers to talk of possible states of the world, or of ways that a world might be. But even the actualist still faces the problem of explaining what we are talking about when we talk about the domains of other possible worlds. InMere Possibilities, Robert Stalnaker develops a framework for clarifying this problem, and explores a number of actualist strategies for solving it.

    Some philosophers have hypothesized a realm of individual essences that stand as proxies for all merely possible beings. Others have argued that we are committed to the necessary existence of everything that does or might exist. In contrast,Mere Possibilitiesshows how we can make sense of ordinary beliefs about what might and must exist without making counterintuitive metaphysical commitments. The book also sheds new light on the nature of metaphysical theorizing by exploring the interaction of semantic and metaphysical issues, the connections between different metaphysical issues, and the nature of ontological commitment.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4229-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 On What There Isn’t (But Might Have Been)
    (pp. 1-21)

    The problem of ontology, Quine told us in his classic essay “On what there is,”¹ can be put in a simple question, “what is there?” and answered in a word: “everything.” My question should be equally simple, and its answer should follow from Quine’s: there is nothing that isn’t. But of course as Quine went on to say, the problem gets harder when one tries to be more specific about what there is and what there isn’t. Quine’s concern was mainly with the problem of expressing disagreement about ontology—if I believe there are more things in Heaven and Earth...

  5. 2 Merely Possible Possible Worlds
    (pp. 22-51)

    E. J. Lowe, in a general discussion of ontology, makes the following remark, in passing:

    Many abstract objects—such as numbers, propositions and some sets—appear to be necessary beings in the sense that they exist “in every possible world.”… Indeed, possible worlds themselves, conceived of as abstracta—for instance as maximal consistent sets of propositions—surely exist “in every possible world.”¹

    I suggested in chapter 1 that this is false. Possible worlds, in the sense in which it is reasonable to believe that there are many of them—the sense in which they are “conceived of as abstracta”—are...

  6. 3 What Is Haecceitism, and Is It True?
    (pp. 52-88)

    Alvin Plantinga’s way of avoiding contingently existing propositions was to hypothesize a domain of primitive but necessarily existing individual essences—actual entities that correspond, one-to-one, with the merely possible entities that are hypothesized by a possibilist metaphysics. Timothy Williamson’s way of avoiding them was to deny that there could have been anything other than what actually exists and to claim that nothing there is could have failed to exist. There is a third strategy that has many precedents in the tradition and that some may consider more plausible, though it also involves a controversial metaphysical commitment. This is theanti-haecceitist...

  7. 4 Disentangling Semantics from Metaphysics
    (pp. 89-125)

    The logical empiricists held that metaphysics was cognitively meaningless. They offered a diagnosis—an explanation for the appearance of sense in metaphysics: metaphysics involved equivocation between semantic questions about what linguistic forms are most apt for describing the empirical world and empirical questions about which of the sentences of the languages we choose to speak are true, according to the rules we use to interpret those sentences. Rudolf Carnap gave a clear statement of the diagnosis in an influential paper, written near the end of the time during which logical empiricism flourished.¹ He distinguished internal from external questions; the former...

  8. 5 Modal Realism, Modal Rationalism, Modal Naturalism
    (pp. 126-135)

    David Lewis promised us a paradise if we bought his modal realism, but most met the offer with an incredulous stare (which he regarded as a good, if not sufficient, reason to reject the offer). The offer might seem to have a Mephistophelian flavor: philosophical riches in exchange for your ontological conscience, your philosophical soul. Russell might have talked of the advantages of theft over honest toil, but let’s not get too moralistic here. We know the advantages of theft over honest toil, but what is the downside? Who are the victims of our philosophical thievery? Is someone going to...

  9. Appendix A Modeling Contingently Existing Propositions
    (pp. 136-138)
  10. Appendix B Propositional Functions and Properties
    (pp. 139-148)
  11. Appendix C A Model for a Mighty Language
    (pp. 149-153)
  12. Appendix D Counterpart Semantics for the Cheap Haecceitist
    (pp. 154-156)
  13. References
    (pp. 157-160)
  14. Index
    (pp. 161-167)