Norms and Necessity

Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (2):143-160 (2013)

Abstract

Modality presents notorious philosophical problems, including the epistemic problem of how we could come to know modal facts and metaphysical problems about how to place modal facts in the natural world. These problems arise from thinking of modal claims as attempts to describe modal features of this world that explain what makes them true. Here I propose a different view of modal discourse in which talk about what is “metaphysically necessary” does not aim to describe modal features of the world, but, rather, provides a particularly useful way of expressing constitutive semantic and conceptual rules in the object language. The result is a “modal normativist” view that enables us to avoid the epistemic problems of modality and mitigate the metaphysical worries, while also leaving open the possibility of a unified account of the function of modal language. Finally, I address a serious challenge: we have the norms we do in order to track the modal facts of the world, so that the order of explanation must go in the opposite direction. I close by showing how the normativist may answer that challenge.

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Amie Thomasson
Dartmouth College

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