Modal metaphysical puzzling possible words. An inquiry


Bachelor Thesis, 2016
84 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Excerpt

A thesis submitted
for the degree of
Bachelor of Arts
in the subject of
Philosophy
© 2016 Valery Alice Berthoud Frías
Deadline: August 30, 2016
Institute of Philosophy
University of Stuttgart

Abstract
The concept of possible worlds is useful because it defines the
four modalities ­ possibility, necessity, contingency, and impos-
sibility ­ but a challenge lies in defining it. The polemical hy-
pothesis from David Lewis ("genuine modal realism" as it is
called) succeeds in it. Lewis' modal realism stirred controversy
because he maintains that a plurality of worlds exists. Some
philosophers suggest that the Lewisian view is a violation to
the law of parsimony, also known as Ockham's Razor ­ "don't
multiply entities beyond necessity" (Spade and Panaccio 2015).
While avoiding a circular definition, Lewis constructs an in-
flated ontology. Is it worth it, and if we do not want to assume
too many Lewisian worlds, what alternatives remain? Actualist
modal realism and modal antirealism are the most relevant alter-
natives because modal abstentionism simply will not progress in
this direction. This thesis evaluates theories of possible worlds.
iii

Acknowledgements
For his proofreading and all the work he has done to help me
through the learning and writing process of this bachelor thesis,
I would like to offer my special thanks to Jonathan Mai.
Many thanks to all the people who discussed ideas with me,
who provided me with very valuable inspiration and useful com-
ments.
Foremost, I am much obliged to my family for their support
and guidance.
iv

Contents
List of Figures
vii
List of Symbols
viii
I
Background
1
1
Modalities
4
1.1 Possibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7
1.2 Contingency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8
1.3 Necessity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
9
1.4 Impossibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
10
2
Modal Logic
11
2.1 What is Modal Logic? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
12
2.2 Possible Worlds Semantics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
16
II
What Are Possible Worlds?
21
3
Theories of Possible Worlds
23
3.1 Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
27
3.2 Actualist Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
28
3.2.1 Plantingan Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
29
3.2.2 Combinatorialism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
30
v

CONTENTS
3.2.3 Nature Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
32
3.2.4 Book Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
32
3.3 Concreteness or abstractness? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
33
3.4 Genuine Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
34
3.4.1 Lewis' Analysis of Possible Worlds. . . . . . . . . . .
35
3.4.2 Counterpart Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
40
3.4.3 Arguments in Favour of Genuine Modal Realism . .
42
3.5 Critique of Genuine Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
44
3.6 Neo-Meinongianism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
49
3.6.1 Meinongian Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
53
3.7 Hybrid Modal Realism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
55
4
Evaluation
58
III
Conclusion
63
5
Summary
65
6
Final Thoughts
66
Bibliography
70
Index
75
vi

List of Figures
1.1 Relation between modalities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
5
1.2 Tree structure of possible futures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
8
vii

List of Symbols
Necessity (necessarily)
Possible worlds, a W with a subscript numeral is also used instead
of uppercase Greek letters
Possibility (possibly)
Material equivalence, (if and only if; iff)
Existential quantification (there exists)
Universal quantification (for all; for any; for each)
¬
Negation (not), ¬ A is true only if A is false
Inclusive disjunction (or)
Lowercase Greek letters are used for formulae
Therefore sign
Material conditional (implies; if A then B)
Conjunction (and)
P
Uppercase Roman letters are used for propositions
viii

Part I
Background


Introduction
"Do you come to a philosopher as to a cunning man, to learn
something by magic or witchcraft, beyond what can be known
by common prudence and discretion?"
­ David Hume (1793)
The title of this bachelor thesis, "An Inquiry on Modal, Metaphysical,
Puzzling Possible Worlds", includes four adjectives that qualify the noun
worlds
: possible, puzzling, metaphysical, and modal. Possible and worlds
coalesce into the concept of possible worlds, and the remaining three adjec-
tives qualify it. Puzzling indicates the enigma that is the concept of pos-
sible worlds, and metaphysical relates possible worlds to things treated
in the framework of metaphysics.
1
Finally, modal characterises possible
worlds by asserting or denying possibility, impossibility, contingency, or
necessity. This thesis is explanatory, and the debate begins by defining
possible worlds, a concept that contemporary philosophers use often.
I deal with a metaphysical question. My position regarding metaphysi-
cal questions is that we can seek answers, since such questions are part of a
branch of philosophy. Therefore, my method is to seek clarification of the
concepts as it is usual in philosophy.
1
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality and inves-
tigates the fundamental nature of being and the world; it answers what there is and what
it is like.
3

1
Modalities
This chapter offers a broad perspective on modalities, and I begin by defin-
ing modality and explaining types of them: logical, metaphysical, nomo-
logical, epistemic, doxastic, deontic, and temporal.
2
I then define the four
modalities: possibility, contingency, necessity, and impossibility. Modal-
ity refers to the way things might have been; if a possibility is asserted,
impossibility is disqualified.
(1) Life is possible.
When stating that (1) impossibility is disqualified, it is impossible that
life is not possible, and we do not have to prove it. The four modalities
interrelate; possibility requires contingency or necessity, but it cannot be
both, inasmuch as contingency contradicts necessity and vice versa. The
difference lies in whether it need not be or it must be. Contingency and
necessity both require possibility, and both disqualify impossibility. Thus,
impossibility disqualifies possibility, contingency, and necessity (cf. Divers
2002, pp. 3-4). Statements that suggest what must be, cannot be, may be,
or need not be are called modal statements, of which there are multiple
types. Modal statements appear to be true.
2
I do this because it is easier to understand the nature of possible worlds if they are
involved with modal discourse.
4

1. MODALITIES
(2) Possible worlds exist.
Depending on the understanding of (2), possible worlds exist either in a
logical, metaphysical, or physical space. Shown in figure 1.1 (Vaidya 2015),
Figure 1.1: Relation between modalities
logical modality is the most inclusive, and logical modality is fixed by the
laws of logic. One proposition must be true and the other false, and if they
are contradictory propositions, this is the law of the excluded middle, which
brings us to the law of non-contradiction: there is no proposition such that
both it and its negation are true. Apart from logical modality, other types
can be classified, of which metaphysical modality is one, fixed by the laws
of metaphysics (e.g., the nature and identity conditions of things). Meta-
physical modality includes everything that might have existed. Something
is metaphysically necessary if it is determined by the laws of metaphysics,
and it is possible if compatible with the laws of metaphysics.
3
The origin
and constitution of something are the type of properties that are thought
to be essential. I cannot lose the property of being human; this property is
metaphysically necessary. Magic is metaphysically possible. An example is
growing larger or smaller after eating cake like Alice in Wonderland. This
is not physically possible. Nomological modality is fixed by the laws of
3
Some suggest no disparity between logical and metaphysical spaces, but it is difficult
to think of metaphysical modalities that are not concordant with logical modalities.
5

1. MODALITIES
physical reality; the laws of nature have to allow it. Something is nomolog-
ically necessary if it is determined by the laws of nature, and it is possible
if compatible with the laws of nature. It is nomologically necessary that
an isolated system's entropy always increases over time, and it is nomo-
logically possible to jump five meters (e.g., on the moon) (cf. Priest 2008,
pp. 46-47). Another type is deontic modality, determined by what satisfies
a norm or rule. Something is deontically necessary if it is required by the
laws of morality, and deontically possible if permitted. Temporal modality
is fixed by time; something is temporally necessary if it is true at all times,
and temporally possible if true sometimes (cf. ibid., pp. 46-47). Another
type of modality is epistemic. Facts that can be known or believed (e.g.,
evidence) are epistemic modal notions. Epistemic modality is fixed by what
is known. If something is known to be true, it is epistemically necessary,
and epistemically possible if it might be true. Doxastic modality is fixed by
what is believed. If something is believed true, it is doxastically necessary,
and doxastically possible if it could be believed. A debate exists regard-
ing whether epistemic modalities are different from metaphysical ones (cf.
Kment 2012). Dualists argue for a fundamental distinction between epis-
temic and metaphysical modalities, but monists for only a single type of
modality (cf. ibid.) I argue that it is possible to distinguish a metaphysical
notion of necessity from an epistemic one. Regardless of whether one is a
dualist or monist, it is possible to differentiate them and distinguish both
epistemic and metaphysical reasons to seek a reduction of the definition of
modality. Asking "Why seek such a reduction?" is like asking why philoso-
phers avoid circular reasoning. The reasons have to do with connections
among modality, epistemology, and metaphysics. Modality is important
to philosophy because it connects with epistemology and metaphysics, and
these connections are influential in analytic philosophy. Epistemology of
the modal requires reductionism to define modal notions in terms that do
not include modal notions and can therefore be the epistemology of the
6

1. MODALITIES
modal secured. A metaphysical reason for seeking reduction is to begin an
ontology with primitive notions that are non-modal (cf. Sider 2003, p. 5).
1.1
Possibility
There are two ways of expressing possibilities: possible for is a qualifi-
able possibility, and possible that is a variable possibility (cf. Girle 2009,
pp. 140-141). The first phrase can be qualified using words such as logically,
metaphysically, and physically. For example:
(3) It is physically possible for light to travel at 299,792,458 m/s.
The second phrase can vary using terms such as quite and definite:
(4) It is definitely not possible for time to stop.
There is a connection between (3) and (4).
(5) If it is impossible to travel at the speed of light, then it is impossible
for time to stop.
The reverse does not hold:
(6) If it is impossible for time to stop, then it is impossible to travel at
the speed of light.
Shown in 1.1, if something is possible, it depends on the considered type
of modality.
(7) I could have done better.
Sentence (7) expresses possibility (i.e., can, might, could). We can imagine
what would have happened were the course of things different. Imagine a
painter choosing the colour blue instead of orange; the resulting painting
is different. What if my parents had not met and I had not been born? I
would not be here writing this thesis because existence is contingent.
7

1. MODALITIES
1.2
Contingency
A contingent proposition might or might not happen; the event could occur,
but is unnecessary. Logical contingency means something that is neither
logically necessary nor impossible. Maybe, maybe not, might have been,
might not have been and could have been otherwise ­ these are ways of
expressing contingency (cf. ibid., p. 3). In Figure 1.2, Ohrstrom and Hasle
(2015) illustrate an idea from Saul Kripke, concerning branching time, in
which Kripke considers the present as a point of Rank 1, the next possible
event as point of Rank 2, etc.
Figure 1.2: Tree structure of possible futures
(8) It might rain today.
For example, if someone says (8) at point 0, point 1 could be sunny, point
2 cloudy, and point 3 thunderstorm. Plans depend on contingent weather,
and we depend on contingent events because the future is uncertain. This
uncertainty will always change plans.
(9) If it rains, the picnic will be cancelled.
8

1. MODALITIES
The picnic depends on something that is neither necessarily true nor false.
A proposition is contingent if its contrary does not imply a contradiction.
When speaking, we make statements about the future, and most are con-
tingent.
(10) In 1999, a great King of terror will come from the sky.
When Nostradamus wrote (10), it was neither true nor false because the
year 1999 did not exist. Future contingents are neither true nor false (cf.
Priest 2008, p. 132).
1.3
Necessity
Our lives are full of decisions, leading to endless possibilities, but despite
so many possibilities, necessity expresses that something could not be oth-
erwise. Necessity (i.e., must and has to be) is another case of modality.
Something necessary is understood as an inevitable consequence. There is
a discussion about whether some things could have been otherwise. Many
things appear metaphysically possible, but more disagreement exists re-
garding whether metaphysical principles are necessary. Some philosophers
argue that metaphysical principles are merely contingent.
4
An important
question is whether anything is necessary ­ does a nomological necessity
exist? Are the laws of nature necessary? There is also an ongoing debate
on whether necessity must associate with the laws of nature, and some
examples suggest doubt. What about mathematical truths?
4
For example, Ross Cameron argues that metaphysical principles are contingent be-
cause were they necessary, it would lead to an unwarranted universalism (cf. Cameron
2007, p. 99).
9

1. MODALITIES
1.4
Impossibility
Something impossible cannot be done and cannot happen, and many agree
that something that violates the natural laws is impossible. Lewis argues
that what usually counts as nomologically impossible is possible, "so the
laws are not sacred" (Lewis 1973, p. 567). Another definition of impossibil-
ity contradicts the laws of classical logic, like the law of non-contradiction.
Consensus suggests that contradictions are impossible unless the law of
non-contradiction is invalid, as in the position of dialethism. Dialethists
defend the view that some contradictions are true; hence, for them, logical
laws are not sacred. Graham Priest suggests no problem with discrimina-
tions concerning impossibility (cf. Priest 2008, p. 15).
10
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Details

Title
Modal metaphysical puzzling possible words. An inquiry
College
University of Stuttgart
Grade
1,7
Author
Year
2016
Pages
84
Catalog Number
V375505
ISBN (eBook)
9783668527966
ISBN (Book)
9783668527973
File size
878 KB
Language
English
Tags
Mögliche Welten, Possible Worlds, David Lewis, Metaphysik, Ontologie
Quote paper
Valery Berthoud (Author), 2016, Modal metaphysical puzzling possible words. An inquiry, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/375505

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