Evidence for Possibility

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1998)

Consider the claim: Our actions are free if and only if we could have done otherwise; or the claim, We are essentially mental substances because we can exist without our bodies. Both of these claims, along with countless others, employ a notion of possibility. If this notion is to have a place in philosophy, we must be able to justify our modal claims. We need an epistemology of possibility. It is often assumed that the imagination is the key here. The assumption is this; if I can imagine that a proposition is the case, then p is possible. Suppose I am wondering whether Kant Critique could float above my desk; if I can imagine this book floating, then it is possible. But is the imagination a guide to the modal status of propositions? ;To answer this question we must first consider what it is to imagine a proposition. We can distinguish five main methods of imagining: to imagine is to form a mental image, to evoke experiences, to suppose, to pretend, or it is to tell a story. Can any of these methods provide us with a guide to possibility? I contend that only the last two methods are up to this task insofar as they provide us with evidence of p's modal status. Moreover, how good that evidence is depends on our ability to satisfy the requirements of completeness, coherence, and accuracy. Finally, I argue that we will have the best evidence for the possibility of p, if we combine these two methods. For by combining our evoked experiences with a story, we will generate experiences of p, the best possible explanation of a world in which p is true, and an account of p's truth that complements this explanation. Thus, given explanationist standards, we will have what we need to be justified in concluding that p is possible
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