From Conceivability to Possibility: An Essay in Modal Epistemology

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Does it succeed in doing so simply because one possesses a distinct kind of modal or non-modal knowledge that allows for conceivability to operate so as to produce justification? For example, does conceivability guide one to the belief that a round square is impossible simply because one knows what squares and circles are, and by examining their definition one can arrive safely at the conclusion that such objects are impossible? Similarly, does one simply find water in the absence of hydrogen possible because one either suppresses the knowledge that water contains hydrogen or one does not know that water does contain hydrogen?

Is conceivability an ultimate source of modal knowledge, or is it a derivative source of modal knowledge, dependent on another source, such as knowledge of essence and essential properties? The Conditions Question : suppose that conceivability does provide justification for believing that something is possible.

Does conceivability ever entail possibility? If it does, what are the conditions one must be in for conceivability to entail possibility? Do humans ever instantiate those conditions? See Worley for discussion. The Direction Question : There are two directions in which conceivability can be discussed. It is theoretically possible that the two theses are logically independent. And that one is more reliable than the other. For example, one could argue that inconceivability is a reliable guide to impossibility, while conceivability is a not a reliable guide to possibility.

The Relational Question : what are the relations between the epistemic domain of a priori and a posteriori knowledge and the metaphysical domain of necessary, essential, and contingent truths? That is, independently of human cognition, what relations obtain between the epistemological and the metaphysical categories? Following the work of Benacerraf in the philosophy of mathematics, Christopher Peacocke , develops an epistemology of modality aimed at solving the integration challenge for modality.

On the assumption that moderate realism, which maintains that modal truths are mind-independent, is true for modal claims, the integration challenge for modality is to reconcile the mind-independence of modal claims with an epistemology that shows how we can know modal claims even though human thinkers do not bear causal relations to the relevant truth-makers for modal truths.

That is, Peacocke aims to solve the causal-isolation problem. He believes that the best way to solve the problem is to adopt moderate rationalism , which. In pursuing moderate rationalism for modality Peacocke develops the Principles of Possibility account. The analogy is as follows. For critical discussion of the Principles of Possibility approach see the symposium on Being Known in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 64 3.

In general, there are two main critical issues that surround the Principles of Possibility. On the one hand, there are issues about circularity. It appears that at several places the conception potentially opens itself up to a charge of circularity in virtue of using one kind of modality to explain another kind of modality.

For example, genuine possibility is explained via admissibility of assignment. However, admissibility itself is a modal notion. Thus, one could question whether the modality involved in admissibility is problematic. Peacocke presents several responses to possible circularity objections. On the other hand, there are issues surrounding the kind of modality that is embraced by the approach. An actualist maintains that objects, properties and relations that actually exist constitute the basis for the construction of all possible worlds. A possibilist denies this, maintaining that in some possible worlds there are objects, properties, or relations that are not found in the actual world.

One might worry that the principles articulated in the theory limit the approach to an actualist ontology. Peacocke b presents an extension of his view, which aims at accounting for some possibilist claims. More recently, Sonia Roca-Royes draws attention to a distinct kind of circularity problem she calls the revenge of the integration challenge. We determine that something is possible or necessary for an entity in part through our knowledge of what is constitutive of the entity.

That is, what it is to be the kind of thing in question. For example, if we know that being human is a constitutive property of a given human, such as Tom, then we can come to know that it is impossible for Tom to be a zebra, but that it is possible for Tom to be born somewhat later than he was actually born. As a consequence of this relation between the role of constitutive principles and our evaluation of specific modal claims for the purposes of generating modal knowledge, a comprehensive account of modal knowledge is incomplete without a picture of how we come to know the relevant constitutive principles involved in our evaluations of modal knowledge.

Thus, the integration challenge returns when we ask the question: how do we arrive at our knowledge, implicit or explicit, of the constitutive principles that play a role in explaining our modal knowledge? This question is important because arguably in the case of grammaticality there is an innate universal grammar that aids in the acquisition of a local grammar, such as English; by contrast, in the case of modality it could be that no innate universal modal principles exist. Peacocke himself notes the worry,.

We certainly do not want all the initial puzzlement about modality simply to be transferred to the domain of the constitutive. Only a satisfactory general theory of the constitutive, and an attendant epistemology, can allay this concern.

Analytic Epistemology

Peacocke , fn. Lowe a, and Bob Hale have independently developed accounts of the epistemology of modality based on metaphysical essentialism. The two core theses of metaphysical essentialism are: i entities have essential properties or essences that are not merely dependent on language, and ii not all necessary truths capture an essential truth or the essence of an entity. Although their views differ at crucial points in the epistemic landscape, the program they share maintains the following:.

Metaphysical Grounding: The essential properties or essences of entities are the metaphysical ground of metaphysical modality. When we look for an explanation of why something is metaphysically possible or necessary we ultimately look to the essential properties or essences of the entities involved. Epistemic Guide: The fundamental pathway to acquiring knowledge of metaphysical modality derives from knowledge of essential properties or essences of the entities involved.

When we look for an explanation of how we can know metaphysical modality we ultimately look to our knowledge of essential properties or essences as the basis upon which we make inferences to metaphysical modality. As a general point, it is important to note that both Lowe and Hale can be taken to endorse symmetric essentialism , which is the view that essence is both the ground and the epistemic pathway to modal knowledge. This view is to be contrasted with asymmetric essentialism , which holds that while essence is the ground of modality, it is not the epistemic pathway.

An asymmetric essentialist holds that our knowledge of necessity is prior to our knowledge of essence. And that it is through a special investigation of necessities that we come to possess knowledge of essence by modal sorting. From a metaphysical point of view both Lowe and Hale share the view that the essential properties of an entity are distinct from the mere metaphysical necessities that are true of the entity. This position is inspired by the work of Fine on the relation between essence and metaphysical modality.

Fine argues against modal conceptions of essence on which it is claimed that an essential property of an object is simply any property the object has in all possible worlds in which it exists. He offers the following argument against the view:. Simply put, essential properties are more fine-grained than necessary properties. As a consequence, we cannot simply take essential properties or essences to be what an object has in every possible world in which it exists. From an epistemological point of view both Lowe and Hale provide a picture of our knowledge of modality that sharply contrasts with accounts that take conceivability or intuition to be our fundamental source of justification for believing metaphysically modal truths.

The core contrast, for example with conceivability, is that modal knowledge derives from essentialist knowledge, and that conceivability is explained as being successful only in virtue of our possession of essentialist knowledge that is unpacked in a conceivability exercise. For the purposes of clarifying his approach, Lowe explains our knowledge of metaphysical necessities through the following procedure:. For example, the real definition of a circle is that it is a set of points in a plane equidistant from a given point. As a consequence, the essence of a circle is that a circle is a set of points in a plane equidistant from a given point.

The property of being a circle an entity that is a set of points in a plane equidistant from a given point is incompatible with the property of being a rectangle a four-sided closed figure consisting of four right angles. Thus, given the essence of circles, it is metaphysically impossible for a circle to have the property that defines rectangles. These questions allow for a critical examination of essentialist type accounts. For example, concerning i , Vaidya defends an understanding-based account of essence, while Lowe and Hale defend a knowledge-based, or what is known as an essentialist-k style theory.

An outline of the problem is as follows:. The core problem is that by saying there is a single source for modal knowledge—via knowledge of essence—Lowe has potentially undermined his ability to provide an account of how one can know B. One route that is plausible is the following. Argue that i conceptual analysis is how we come to know B , ii in all cases of modal knowledge we reason by way of essence, and iii as a consequence the epistemology of modality is non-uniform.

However, Lowe cannot adopt this route, since he has ruled out knowledge of modality by i — iv. Lowe articulates his epistemic essentialism in his a. And by this I mean that the former precedes the latter both ontologically and epistemically. Otherwise, it seems to me, we could never find out that something exists. Lowe a: Epistemic Essentialism: knowledge of essence must precede knowledge of existence. Epistemic Existentialism: knowledge of existence must precede knowledge of essence. Epistemic Entanglement: knowledge of essence neither necessarily precedes knowledge of essence nor is necessarily preceded by knowledge of existence.

Williamson , a,b , Hill , Kroedel , and Kment have all offered counterfactual theories of modal knowledge. He partially describes his project in the epistemology of metaphysical modality through discussion of the philosophy of philosophy. Logical Equivalence: metaphysical possibility and necessity can be proven to be logically equivalent to counterfactual conditionals. Epistemic Pathway: counterfactual reasoning in imagination through the method of counterfactual development can provide one with justified beliefs or knowledge about metaphysical possibility and necessity.

Williamson presents his proof of the logical equivalence between counterfactuals and metaphysical modality by engaging the work of Robert Stalnaker and David Lewis. However, he does not commit himself to any specific account of the truth-conditions for counterfactual conditionals. The basic idea he employs from Stalnaker and Lewis is the following:. Suppose that you are in the mountains. As the sun melts the ice, rocks embedded in it are loosened and crash down the slope. You notice one rock slide into a bush. You wonder where it would have ended if the bush had not been there.

A natural way to answer the question is by visualizing the rock sliding without the bush there, then bouncing down the slope into the lake at the bottom. Under suitable background conditions, you thereby come to know the counterfactual:. The imagining may but need not be perceptual imagining. Contemporary theorists often maintain that what separates the a priori from the a posteriori is that in the former case experience only plays an enabling role—a role in enabling possession of a concept for an individual thinker—while in the latter case experience plays not only an enabling role, but an evidential role—the justification for a claim involving the concept requires appeal to experience by the thinker making the claim.

Williamson maintains that several instances of counterfactual knowledge the route by which we acquire modal knowledge will be neither a priori nor a posteriori in any deep or insightful sense. Rather, he acknowledges an extensive category of armchair knowledge under which many cases of our knowledge of metaphysical modality would fall. We may acknowledge an extensive category of armchair knowledge , in the sense of knowledge in which experience plays no strictly evidential role, while remembering that such knowledge may not fit the stereotype of the a priori , because the contribution of experience was far more than enabling.

He defines armchair knowledge as knowledge that is either strictly a priori knowledge or not strictly a priori or a posteriori. In the latter case, the knowledge is such that experience plays no strictly evidential role, but at the same time the role of experience does not fit the model of a priori knowledge, since far too much experience played a role in enabling concept possession and reliable use. There are at least four kinds of critical questions that one can ask about counterfactual imaginability as a theory of our knowledge of metaphysical modality. The Question of Dependence : Does the counterfactual account of our knowledge of metaphysical modality depend on any kind of modal knowledge?

If so, is that dependence problematic? This knowledge can be arrived at through counterfactual reasoning in imagination. However, one might ask does this counterfactual reasoning depend itself on any kind of modal knowledge or essentialist knowledge? The Question of Imaginative Engagement : Since the counterfactual account of our knowledge of metaphysical modality depends on counterfactual reasoning in imagination, what are the details of how the counterfactual imagination works?

What can we learn about the conditions under which the counterfactual imagination is fallible or likely to be successful? What guides our counterfactual development? Why are we prone to imagine things unfolding in one manner rather than another? More over: what epistemic relevance does the fact that our imagination takes certain directions rather than others have on the epistemic status of our counterfactual development of a subjunctive conditional?

The Question of Scope : Given that the counterfactual account of our knowledge of metaphysical modality aims to capture metaphysical modality, does it really do so for the wide range of metaphysically modal claims that are known? However, can the account also provide us with modal knowledge of extraordinary modal claims, such as that it is possible for there to be a physical duplicate of a human that is not conscious? If the theory can only deliver knowledge of ordinary, as opposed to extraordinary, modal knowledge, is this a problem?

One critical question is whether the strategy is explanatorily adequate. Is it legitimate to suppose that we do have a general capacity to handle counterfactuals?

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I will argue that it is not; more precisely, that it is not legitimate to suppose that we have a general capacity at the appropriate level of implementation. The core of her argument is as follows:. She offers several reasons, which are paraphrased below. Non-rationalist accounts of the epistemology of modality aim to explain modal knowledge through mechanisms other than that afforded by a priori reasoning.

For example, Carrie Jenkins offers a non-rationalist account of conceivability grounded in a theory of concepts, and Peter Kung has developed a sensory-based theory of imagination as a guide to possibility. In general, there are two independent threads of thought that motivate non-rationalism about the epistemology of modality. On the one hand, there is the perceived failure of rationalist attempts to provide a comprehensive account of modal knowledge. Rebecca Hanrahan and Sonia Roca-Royes , a,b, provide a treatment of some of the problems with modal rationalism, moderate rationalism, and counterfactual accounts of modal knowledge.

On the other hand, some theorists have developed, in detail, non-rationalist theories of the epistemology of modality. For example, Crawford Elder defends an empiricist account of our knowledge of essence through the test of flanking uniformities. Amie Thomasson articulates and defends modal normativism, on which modal discourse is not to be taken as being descriptive. On this account modal discourse expresses the limits of what we can find imaginable and unimaginable. Robert Fischer forthcoming defends a theory-based account of the epistemology of modality, on which our modal knowledge primarily derives from the theories both modal and non-modal that are justified through inference to the best explanation.

Bueno and Shalkowski defend modalism about the metaphysics and epistemology of modality. For an extended examination of modalism see their and For the purposes of the epistemology of modality, modalism maintains the following:. The metaphysical point of departure for modalism comes from understanding why the attempt to reduce modality to possible worlds semantics might be unacceptable. Consider the following two claims about the conditions under which a statement of possibility and necessity are true:.

P and N give the wrong truth conditions when we allow worlds to include both possible and impossible worlds. The problem is that P would supposedly allow for a statement to be true even if it was only true at an impossible world, while N would force it to be the case that a statement is necessary only when it is true in all worlds, both possible and impossible. Hold as a background assumption that there are no impossible worlds.

This yields the following result:. However, one might object that an account of the truth conditions for possibility and necessity so described is really circular or a non-genuine reduction of modality to something genuinely non-modal. Another point of departure for the modalist program in the epistemology of modality is that because there is no postulation of possible worlds that serve as the truth-makers for claims about possibility and necessity there is no worry that in knowing modal truths we must come into contact with privileged objects that are not thought to be accessible to human minds.

In sum, the causal isolation problem is avoided, since there are no causally isolated possible worlds upon which modal truths depend. However, this leaves open two questions: How can we know non-actual possibilities? How can we know necessities? Bueno and Shalkowski describe their account of our knowledge of non-actual possibilities as follows:. The core idea of their account is that for many cases of modal knowledge we arrive at modal knowledge by investigating the relevant properties and objects in question rather than turning to some special property, such as conceivability.

How is that we come to know this piece of ordinary modal knowledge? We do so on the basis of our knowledge of wood, chemical bonds, and the physical relations the table can find itself in, such as having a giant bull elephant sit on it. As Bueno and Shalkowski point out:. What about necessities? To understand the case of necessity one must ask the question: when is one epistemically entitled to believe that something is necessary and not merely true? The central idea that Bueno and Shalkowski develop as an answer to this question is the following. And in those cases, for example, one can make the transition to 3 , since any claim that requires no premises for its proof is a claim that is true no matter what , and thus necessary.

For example the axioms of a logical system, such as first order classical logic, may endorse the law of excluded middle:. LEM can be proved in classical first-order logic from no premises. In addition, given that anything that follows from something that is necessary is itself necessary, one can also conclude that a claim is necessary when it can be derived from a set of necessary truths. A clear case of this occurs when one deduces a theorem from axioms of a logical system. Given that each axiom is itself necessary, the theorem derived only from the axioms, is itself necessary.

One might characterize the approach to necessity as an argument-based approach , upon which, endorsing a necessity claim amounts to endorsing the premises, and being justified in believing the conclusion requires being justified in believing the premises. Bueno and Shalkowski hold that one is justified in believing something to be necessary when one is justified in believing that something holds no matter what.

Warranted belief in the necessity of a claim must at least tacitly arise from warranted belief that something holds no matter what. As a consequence, the focus of the dispute over whether, for example, the necessity of origins holds, amounts to dispute over the premises and assumptions used to derive the necessity of origins. It may turn out that the argument-based approach to necessity deployed by modalism is limited in that many extraordinary modal claims, claims for example about the necessity of origins, are such that there is no secure ground for them, since they rest on controversial metaphysical principles.

By contrast the approach may deliver many ordinary modal claims, claims that are natural extensions of well-grounded scientific and mathematical theories. One important critical question for the modalist view is: how much knowledge of modal matters can we derive from non-modal knowledge? By investigating i the non-modal properties of some entities, such as the structure of a table and an elephants weight and when tables usually break under certain kinds of force we can come to form rational beliefs about ii the modal properties of certain objects, such as the breakability of the table.

However, one might question how far this strategy can go. In what kind of cases does this approach work? And if the approach does break down in certain cases, what accounts for the difference between cases where the approach succeeds and where it fails? Within metaphysics and the philosophy of modality it is standard practice to draw two important distinctions. On the one hand, a distinction between abstract entities and concrete entities is drawn. Typically, the former are taken to be entities that exist outside of space and time, and the latter are taken to be entities that exist within space and time.

For example, some claim that numbers, such as 2, are abstract objects, while particular plants, such as a rose, are concrete objects. On the other hand, a distinction is drawn between de re and de dicto modality. A sentence is semantically de re just in case it permits substitution of co-designating terms without changing the truth-value of the sentence. Otherwise, it is semantically de dicto. Sonia Roca-Royes forthcoming defends a similarity-based view of how we can come to know de re possibilities for concrete entities, such as a table.

Her view is important because it explores the area of modal epistemology that concerns de re modality as opposed to de dicto modality. The latter has often been the central focus point of rationalist theories in the epistemology of modality. I know that the wooden table in my office, Messy, is not broken.

How do I know that? I see it. Although not broken, Messy can break. Roca-Royes forthcoming: 4. In order to better understand the approach that is taken one needs to look carefully at steps 2 and 3. The core question is: what does relevant similarity mean? Roca-Royes characterizes it as follows:. What follows below is a selection of papers on the epistemology of modality as discussed in the 20 th century.

It is important to note that because the epistemology of modality is a subarea of the philosophy of modality one can get a better grasp on the epistemology by also engaging the metaphysics, semantics, and logic of modality as well as general epistemology. Thus, many papers that influence the epistemology of modality are not on this list, since they are properly papers in one of the other areas.

Finally, there is a vast body of historical literature on the epistemology of modality that stretches across both the Analytic and Phenomenological traditions. This entry had gone through many revisions, since its initial publication in Many people have helped with the production of this entry through readings and commentary. Most of the time, we encounter what might be called ordinary modal judgments, such as the following: Although I am a philosopher, I could have been a musician.

Not only is it the case that nothing is red and green all over at the same time, it is impossible for something to be red and green all over at the same time. Although the table is not broken, it could have been broken. Even though the cup is on the left side of the table, it could have been on the right side.

Here are some examples: St. Anselm Necessarily: God exists. The central question of this field is: How can we come to know be justified in believing or understand what is necessary, possible, contingent, essential, and accidental for the variety of entities and kinds of entities there are? In addition to the central question there are three other main questions of interest.

Introduction 1. Rationalist Theories 2. Counterfactual Theories 3. Non-Rationalist Accounts 4. Consider the following claims: It is possible that P. For example, although there are 15 people in the room, it is possible that 20 are in the room. It is necessary that P. For example, not only are whales mammals, it is necessary that whales are mammals.

Now ask: under what circumstances are possibilities and necessities like i and ii true? According to PWS , iii and iv provide the truth-conditions for statements of possibility and necessity. As a consequence of these arguments, in the mid 20 th century many philosophers thought that the following equivalences were true: A statement S is a priori if and only if S is necessary.

A statement S is a posteriori if and only if S is contingent. Second, that the relevant fact is known to be true by empirical investigation: P. Plausible, and often discussed, examples of necessity-generating principles are: The necessity of identity, which maintains that true identity claims are necessary. The necessity of origins, which maintains that the originating matter of a given kind of thing is necessary for its existence.

For example, given that a table t is wholly carved from a block of wood m , it is necessary that t originated from m —nothing could be t that did not originate from m. Or, given, that Sheba originated from gamete g , the product of sperm s and egg e , nothing could be Sheba that did not originate from g. The necessity of fundamental kind, which maintains that the fundamental kind that an entity falls under is necessary for its existence.

For example, given that a particular table t is fundamentally a material object, it could not have been non-material. Or, given that a particular organism is a biological kind, such as Sheba being a human being, she could not have been a non-biological kind, and additionally could not have failed to be human.

As a consequence, a priori accounts face the following potential situation: To X it seems that P is possible on a priori grounds, such as through conceiving of a scenario S or imagining a situation in which P appears true. Q is necessary and knowable only a posteriori. Q implies that P is necessarily false. P is true in all possible worlds.

The problem can be formulated as follows: Realism: Realism about possible worlds in the metaphysics of modality maintains that i facts about possible worlds are the truth-makers for modal statements, and ii that possible worlds are not causally connected to the actual world, either because a possible world is a comprehensive concrete universe that is causally isolated from our world or because a possible world is an abstract object, and in virtue of being an abstract object it has no causes or effects on the actual world.

The Nozickian evolutionary skeptic argues as follows: There is no adaptive advantage to getting things right about all possible worlds. If there is no adaptive advantage to getting things right about all possible worlds, then there is no module or faculty for detecting truths about all possible worlds; and since truth in all possible worlds is the definition of metaphysical necessity, there is no module or faculty for detecting metaphysical necessity.

If there is no reliable module or faculty for detecting necessity, then none of our beliefs about necessity are justified. So, we are not justified in any of our specific beliefs to the effect that something is metaphysically necessary. There are three kinds of claims that the Nozickian skeptic brings forth to establish 1 : Our ability to imagine different scenarios is constrained by how evolution engineered our mind, and as a consequence it may not have the power to consider all the possible scenarios. Whenever we have an appearance of possibility or necessity, the appearance is best explained as being about something other than metaphysical possibility or necessity.

There may be an adaptive advantage to having appearances of impossibility, when in actuality what appears impossible is possible. Although a — c are controversial. Some initial plausibility can be given to each. Counterfactual theories of the epistemology of modality typically take this approach see section 3 for discussion 2.

Rationalist Theories Rationalist theories, in one way or another, are grounded in the idea that despite the existence of a posteriori necessities , there is still a great deal of modal knowledge to be gained through a priori means. WMR is constructed out of three distinctions: Prima facie vs. Ideal rational reflection.

Positive vs.

Negative conceivability. Primary vs. Where S is a statement the distinction between primary and secondary intensions is the following: The primary intension of S is a function from scenarios to truth-values. The primary intension of S is determined by asking an actual world evaluation question: If the scenario w turns out to be the actual world, what is the truth-value of S in w?

The secondary intension of S is a function from worlds to truth-values. By contrast, the story that weak modal rationalism offers is the following. The idea is that conceiving with primary intensions requires that we ask the question: could it have turned out that the brightest star seen in the morning is not the same star as the brightest one seen in the evening? He believes that the best way to solve the problem is to adopt moderate rationalism , which seeks to explain cases of a priori knowledge by appeal to the nature of the concepts that feature in contents that are known a priori.

Peacocke In pursuing moderate rationalism for modality Peacocke develops the Principles of Possibility account. Grammaticality i. Modality iii. It is possible for the chair located by the wall to be located in the corner. It is necessary that any specific human, such as Sheba, is a member of a biological kind. A plausible explanation of how a native speaker of a language can be credited with making reliable and knowledgeable claims about the grammaticality of sentences in their native language is in virtue of the fact that they tacitly draw on and know the very principles of grammar that render sentences of the language grammatical.

These principles and rules of grammar are for the most part not explicitly expressible by the subject, but they are tacitly known. Likewise, a person that possesses the concept of metaphysical modality tacitly knows a set of Principles of Possibility in virtue of which any given metaphysically modal judgment holds true. The Principles of Possibility are the principles that the subject tacitly draws on in making, evaluating and understanding metaphysically modal judgments. The Principles of Possibility are tacitly known, rather than explicitly known.

Peacocke himself notes the worry, the provision of a general theory of the constitutive, as opposed to the modal, seems to me to be an urgent task for philosophy. Although their views differ at crucial points in the epistemic landscape, the program they share maintains the following: Metaphysical Grounding: The essential properties or essences of entities are the metaphysical ground of metaphysical modality. Being human, by itself, has no relation automatically to being the only member of a certain kind of set. In every possible world in which Socrates exists, sets also exist, since mathematical entities exist in all possible worlds.

For the purposes of clarifying his approach, Lowe explains our knowledge of metaphysical necessities through the following procedure: First , we arrive at a real definition of the entities in question, such as ellipses and cones, or statues and lumps of clay. A real definition of an entity or kind of entity either specifies what the entity is or what the kind is.

This can be done either through a standard definition of the thing, or through a generating principle. Next, from an understanding of the relevant real definitions of the entities in question, we arrive at an understanding of their essential properties or essences, such as the essence of an ellipse, a cone, a statue, or a lump of clay. Second , we reason our way to a conclusion about what is compatible or incompatible with the relevant essential properties or essences. Third , using a principle linking essential properties and essences with metaphysical necessity and possibility, we conclude that a certain proposition, derived from claims involving the essential properties or essences of the relevant entities in question, is metaphysically necessary or possible.

What is the fundamental epistemic relation that essentialism is based on? Is it knowledge of essence, justification for beliefs about essence, or understanding of essence that is the basic epistemic relation? What is the essence of an entity? Are essences the sum of their essential properties? Are essences distinct existences from those things that they are essences of? What is an essential property, in addition to being a property that an entity has in every possible world where it exits?

Given that there are mathematical kinds, such as circles and numbers, natural kinds, such as water and lightning, and social kinds, such as chairs and paintings, how is it that we can come to know the essence of these distinct kinds of things? Is it the same in all of these cases? Do all entities have exactly the same kind of essence?

Do social kinds have the same kind of real nature or essence that natural kinds and mathematical kinds possess? For every entity or kind of entity are its essential properties or essence known a priori or are some known a posteriori?

I. Introduction: The CP Thesis and Conceivability Arguments

How is the connection or bridge principle between essence and modality known? B can be known either through i intuition, ii conceptual analysis, iii conceivability, or iv via counterfactual imaginability. Lowe denies that i — iv are valid ways of knowing in the epistemology of modality.

Lowe Section 1 Lowe argues for the no-further-entity account of essence on which an essential property or an essence of an entity is no further entity over and above the entity it is an essence of. Given 3 — 5 , one can argue that it is unlikely that Lowe can provide an account of our knowledge of possibility on the basis of our knowledge of essence. Lowe a: 40 The epistemic position can be properly captured as: Epistemic Essentialism: knowledge of essence must precede knowledge of existence.


  1. The Epistemology of Modality.
  2. The Epistemology of Modality (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
  3. Optical Characterization of Epitaxial Semiconductor Layers!

And it can be contrasted with two distinct views. Humans evolved under no pressure to do philosophy. One possibility is that the conceivability he intends is ideal conceivability. In this case, his argument against CP is not complete. Another possibility is that the kind of conceivability involved in his argument stands for prima facie conceivability. A proposition is prima facie conceivable if we cannot a priori rule it out or if we can find a seemingly coherent situation in which p is true.

A proposition being ideally conceivable requires it being contradiction free, but there is no such requirement in the notion of prima facie conceivability. However, due to the limitations of our cognitive capabilities, p may involve a contradiction that we cannot detect. In this case, p is not possibly true.

We can even conceive of a situation where mathematicians announce that GC is false. However, GC, as a mathematical claim, is necessarily true if it is true.

Hence, prima facie conceivability does not entail possibility. So if Yablo has prima facie conceivability in mind, his argument against CP fails. Whether or not CP fails is yet to be determined. So why should we reduce the domain of CP to avoid his attack? And yet, Chalmers insists on doing so due to another concern. The reason, according to him, is that it is very difficult to conceive of what a necessity claim says.

Gendler and J. H is idea can be stretched using the metaphor by Mizrahi and Morrow.

The Logic of Conceivability

Mizrahi and D. Elsewhere, Chalmers is quite explicit that if what a proposition says is hard to conceive of, then this proposition cannot be used in the conceivability premise of a conceivability argument. Refuting Sturgeon, who holds that phenomenal consciousness being a physical process is ideally conceivable i.

I do not think this unimaginability is so obvious that it should be used as a premise in an argument against materialism, but likewise, the imaginability claim cannot be used as a premise, either. In the following, I will respond to Chalmers by arguing that P 2 is false. As far as I am concerned, there are only two reasons for us to refuse that a proposition p is used in a conceivability premise: i p is not ideally conceivable. If i holds, a conceivability argument which resorts to the ideal conceivability of p is unsound; if ii holds, we have no knowledge or evidence for whether a conceivability argument is sound.

In either case, a conceivability argument cannot provide an epistemic guide to what is possible. However, the mere fact that what a proposition says is hard to conceive of does not entail that this proposition is not ideally conceivable. Both of them are defined in terms of apriority and coherence, and thus are grounded in rational, rather than psychological notions. Therefore, it is independent from our cognitive capabilities.

Whether it is ideally conceivable that p has nothing to do with the trouble we may have in conceiving of what p says, just like whether a flower is red does not depend on whether we are able to see it. That what a proposition says is hard to conceive of does not entail that we have no knowledge or evidence of its ideal conceivability, either.

In Naming and Necessity , Kripke provides an argument against type identity theory. According to type identity physicalists, a type of mental state is identical to a type of physical state. From the discussion above, I think both Yablo and Chalmers fail to see the real problem of modal conceivability arguments. In the following, I will present the problem with modal conceivability arguments that Yablo and Chalmers fail to see.

A problem arises if we try to single out the sound one. In order to tell the sound one from the unsound, we have to invoke an independent argument. Then we will be confronted with a dilemma: If we cannot provide such an argument, then a modal conceivability argument cannot be justified; if we can provide such an argument, then this argument renders the modal conceivability argument redundant.

The core idea of the CP thesis is that all necessity propositions i. This entailment is revealed by the following reasoning:. INC For any proposition p , it is ideally negatively conceivable that p iff p is not ruled out a priori. We can conclude 1 and 2 : 1 For any proposition p , if p is not a priori false, then p is possibly true. Based on 3 and 4 , 5 holds: 5 For any proposition p , if p is either necessarily true or necessarily false, then p is a priori true or a priori false.

The entailment from a priority to necessity is a widespread assumption. If p is a priori true, then it is logically in a broad sense necessary, therefore, metaphysically necessary. Therefore, according to 6 , it is an a priori proposition if CP holds. In the following, I will argue that the real problem of modal conceivability arguments is that either their soundness cannot be justified or they are redundant. Let p be any a priori proposition.

To tell the conceivable one from the inconceivable one, we have to appeal to an independent argument. Let us assume that this argument provides a reason for accepting that p is ideally negatively conceivable. In other words, this argument actually shows that p is a priori true, therefore, true. On the contrary, without such an independent argument, we have no idea whether p is ideally negatively conceivable and therefore cannot determine whether a conceivability argument is sound.

We have shown in Section 1 that ideal positive conceivability requires ideal negative conceivability. According to the discussion above, in each pair of modal conceivability arguments, only one is sound, and the other is not.

The Epistemology of Modality

We have to invoke an independent argument to determine which one is sound. However, if we can provide such an argument, then a modal conceivability argument is not needed anymore. If we cannot do this, then we cannot know or have evidence for whether a modal conceivability argument is sound.

In conclusion, if CP holds, it is proved to be of little practical use in the modal domain. Volume 50 , Issue 1.

CFP: Special Issue of Synthese on the Epistemology of Modality - PhilEvents

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