Edited by Douglas W. Portmore (Arizona State University)
|Summary||The actualism-possibilism debate concerns cases that have the following three features: (F1) Each of the following is something that the given subject, S, could possibly do: (a) φ, (b) φ well, (c) φ poorly, and (d) refrain from φ-ing—where, for all x, x-ing at tʹ is, as of t, something that S could possibly perform if and only if there exists an available schedule of intentions from t on wards such that if, S’s intentions were to follow this schedule, S would x at tʹ (tʹ being later than t). (F2) Her φ-ing well is the best thing that she could possibly do, her refraining from φ-ing is second best, and her φ-ing poorly is the worst thing that she could possibly do. And, (F3) as a matter of fact, she would actually φ poorly if she were to φ. Actualists and possibilists disagree about whether the subject ought to φ in such cases. Actualists say 'no', and possibilists say 'yes'. To illustrate, consider the case that I call Cookies: If Gifre were to eat some cookies, he would continue eating one after another until he finishes the whole bag and is sick to his stomach. But if, after eating just one cookie, he were to decide to stop and put the bag away, he would then stop after having eaten just one cookie, which is what would be best. Second best would be his refraining from eating some cookies. And worst of all would be his eating all the cookies. The problem is that although he would stop eating after having eaten just one cookie if he were to decide then (that is, after having eaten the first cookie) to stop and put the bag away, he is in fact going to decide, after tasting how delicious they are, to continue eating them. And this unfortunate decision will lead to his eating all of them and becoming sick to his stomach. Moreover, there’s nothing that Gifre can do now to change the fact that he would continue eating the whole bag if he were eat some cookies. Thus, even if he were, say, to resolve now to put the bag of cookies away after eating just one, he would change his mind after eating the one and continue eating the whole bag. Now, whereas actualists hold that Gifre ought to refrain from eating some cookies given that he would actually eat all the cookies if he were to eat some cookies, possibilists hold that, because he could possibly eat just one cookie if, and only if, he were to eat some cookies, he ought to eat some cookies. More generally, actualists hold that, for any subject S and any act φ that she could possibly perform, the normative status of S’s φ-ing depends only on what would actually happen if she were to φ and how that compares to what would actually happen if she were to perform various alternatives to φ. And, by contrast, possibilists hold that, for any subject S and any act φ that she could possibly perform, the normative status of S’s φ-ing depends only on what could possibly happen if she were to φ and how that compares to what could possibly happen if she were to perform various alternatives to φ.|
|Key works||Some of the classic works defending actualism are Goldman 1976, Sobel 1976, and Jackson & Pargetter 1986. And some of the classic works defending possibilism are Greenspan 1978, Feldman 1986, and Zimmerman 1996. Other works try to take some sort of intermediary position between the two: see, for instance, Goldman 1978, Portmore 2011, Ross 2012, Woodard 2009, Timmerman & Cohen 2016, and Portmore 2019.|
|Introductions||For an introduction to the actualism and possibilism debate, I would recommend Timmerman & Cohen 2019.|
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