Boris Kment takes a new approach to the study of modality that emphasises the origin of modal notions in everyday thought. He argues that the concepts of necessity and possibility originate in counterfactual reasoning, which allows us to investigate explanatory connections. Contrary to accepted views, explanation is more fundamental than modality.
Evidential decision theory (EDT) says that the choiceworthiness of an option depends on its evidential connections to possible outcomes. Causal decision theory (CDT) holds that it depends on your beliefs about its causal connections. While Newcomb cases support CDT, Arif Ahmed has described examples that support EDT. A new account is needed to get all cases right. I argue that an option A’s choiceworthiness is determined by the probability that a good outcome ensues at possible A-worlds that match actuality in (...) the facts causally unaffected by your decision (the “unaffected facts”). Moreover, you should evaluate A on the assumption that A is compossible with the unaffected facts. This view entails that you should use EDT when evaluating A on the assumption that the unaffected facts determine your action, but use CDT when assessing A on the opposite assumption. A’s choiceworthiness equals a weighted average of these conditional assessments. The weights are determined by your beliefs about whether the unaffected fact determine your action. This account gets both Newcomb and Ahmed cases right. According to an influential view, whether you take the unaffected facts to determine your action can make a difference to whether you can regard yourself as free and the action as being under your control. While my account is neutral on this issue, it entails that whether you take the unaffected facts to determine your action is important in a different way: it matters to whether you should follow EDT or CDT. (shrink)
On the received view, counterfactuals are analysed using the concept of closeness between possible worlds: the counterfactual 'If it had been the case that p, then it would have been the case that q' is true at a world w just in case q is true at all the possible p-worlds closest to w. The degree of closeness between two worlds is usually thought to be determined by weighting different respects of similarity between them. The question I consider in the (...) paper is which weights attach to different respects of similarity. I start by considering Lewis's answer to the question and argue against it by presenting several counterexamples. I use the same examples to motivate a general principle about closeness: if a fact obtains in both of two worlds, then this similarity is relevant to the closeness between them if and only if the fact has the same explanation in the two worlds. I use this principle and some ideas of Lewis's to formulate a general account of counterfactuals, and I argue that this account can explain the asymmetry of counterfactual dependence. The paper concludes with a discussion of some examples that cannot be accommodated by the present version of the account and therefore necessitate further work on the details. (shrink)
During the last quarter of a century, a number of philosophers have become attracted to the idea that necessity can be analyzed in terms of a hyperintensional notion of essence. One challenge for proponents of this view is to give a plausible explanation of our modal knowledge. The goal of this paper is to develop a strategy for meeting this challenge. My approach rests on an account of modality that I developed in previous work, and which analyzes modal properties in (...) terms of the notion of a metaphysical law. I discuss what information about the metaphysical laws is required for modal knowledge. Moreover, I describe two ways in which we might be able to acquire this information. The first way employs inference to the best explanation. The metaphysical laws, including the essential truths, play a crucial role in causal and grounding explanations and we can gain knowledge of these laws by abductive inferences from facts of which we have perceptual or a priori knowledge. The second way of gaining information about the metaphysical laws rests on knowledge that is partly constitutive of competence with the concepts that are needed to express the relevant information. Finally, I consider how knowledge of the metaphysical laws can be used to establish modal claims, paying special attention to the much-discussed connection between conceiving and possibility. (shrink)
Antihaecceitists believe that all facts about specific individuals—such as the fact that Fred exists, or that Katie is tall—globally supervene on purely qualitative facts. Haecceitists deny that. The issue is not only of interest in itself, but receives additional importance from its intimate connection to the question of whether all fundamental facts are qualitative or whether they include facts about which specific individuals there are and how qualitative properties and relations are distributed over them. Those who think that all fundamental (...) facts are qualitative are arguably committed to antihaecceitism. The goal of this paper is to point out some problems for antihaecceitism (and therefore for the thesis that all fundamental facts are qualitative). The article focuses on two common assumptions about possible worlds: (i) Sets of possible worlds are the bearers of objective physical chance. (ii) Counterfactual conditionals can be defined by appeal to a relation of closeness between possible worlds. The essay tries to show that absurd consequences ensue if either of these assumptions is combined with antihaecceitism. Then it considers a natural response by the antihaecceitist, which is to deny that worlds play the role described in (i) and (ii). Instead, the reply continues, we can introduce a new set of entities that are defined in terms of worlds and that behave the way worlds do on the haecceitist position. That allows the antihaecceitist to formulate antihaecceitist friendly versions of (i) and (ii) by replacing the appeal to possible worlds with reference to the newly introduced entities. This maneuver invites an obvious reply, however. If the new entities are the things that play the role we typically associate with worlds, as partially described by (i) and (ii), then it is natural to conclude that they really are the entities we talk about when we speak of worlds, so that haecceitism is true after all. (shrink)
Much of the modern philosophy of causation has been governed by two ideas: (i) causes make their effects inevitable; (ii) a cause is something that makes a difference to whether its effect occurs. I focus on explaining the origin of idea (ii) and its connection to (i). On my view, the frequent attempts to turn (ii) into an analysis of causation are wrongheaded. Patterns of difference-making aren't what makes causal claims true. They merely provide a useful test for causal claims. (...) Moreover, what justifies us in using them as a test is idea (i). That's how (i) and (ii) are connected. (shrink)
Many philosophers and non-philosophers who reflect on the causal antecedents of human action get the impression that no agent can have morally relevant freedom. Call this the ‘non-existence impression.’ The paper aims to understand the (often implicit) reasoning underlying this impression. On the most popular reconstructions, the reasoning relies on the assumption that either an action is the outcome of a chance process, or it is determined by factors that are beyond the agent’s control or which she did not bring (...) about. I argue that arguments based on this premise fail to apply to some possible agents for whom the non-existence impression arises. On the alternative reconstruction I offer, the impression rests on the assumption that free will requires being involved in the ultimate explanation of one’s actions in a novel sense in which nothing can be involved in the ultimate explanation of anything. (shrink)
The sample space of the chance distribution at a given time is a class of possible worlds. Thanks to this connection between chance and modality, one’s views about modal space can have significant consequences in the theory of chance and can be evaluated in part by how plausible these implications are. I apply this methodology to evaluate certain forms of modal contingentism, the thesis that some facts about what is possible are contingent. Any modal contingentist view that meets certain conditions (...) that I specify generates difficulties in the philosophy of chance, including a problem usually associated with Humeanism that is known as ‘the problem of undermining futures’. I consider two well-known versions of modal contingentism that face this difficulty. The first version, proposed by Hugh Chandler and Nathan Salmon, rests on an argument for the claim that many individuals have their modal features contingently. The second version is motivated by the thesis that the existence of a possible world depends on the existence of the contingent individuals inhabiting it, and that many worlds are therefore contingent existents. (shrink)
Amie Thomasson has argued against descriptivism about modality, which starts from the idea that modal statements serve to track features of the world and that these features explain the truth-values of modal claims. Thomasson objects that descriptivists cannot satisfactorily explain how modal features fit into the naturalistic picture of the world and that they cannot account for our apparent capacity to acquire modal knowledge. On Thomasson’s alternative to descriptivism (called ‘normativism’), the function of modal claims is to facilitate communication about (...) certain semantic rules. I argue that it is not obvious that the semantic rules that Thomasson takes to be expressed by modal truths really exist. Moreover, I defend a specific version of descriptivism – essentialism – against Thomasson’s objections. Essential truths play a central role in the best explanations of many facts about the world. That includes the explanations delivered by our best scientific theories once these theories are correctly interpreted philosophically. In this way, essences earn their keep in a naturalistic view of the world. Furthermore, the abductive methods by which we confirm our explanatory theories also support certain theses about essences. This allows essentialists to explain knowledge of essences and modal knowledge. (shrink)
The Russell-Myhill paradox puts pressure on the Russellian structured view of propositions by showing that it conflicts with certain prima facie attractive ontological and logical principles. I describe several versions of RMP and argue that structurists can appeal to natural assumptions about metaphysical grounding to provide independent reasons for rejecting the ontological principles used in these paradoxes. It remains a task for future work to extend this grounding-based approach to all variants of RMP.
Contingentism is the view that it is possible for there to be contingent existents. Timothy Williamson has argued that contingentists cannot provide a satisfactory interpretation of the possible-world semantics for modal logic. This paper aims to provide such an interpretation on behalf of contingentists.
Barbara Vetter has argued that the notion of a metaphysical possibility functions like a natural-kind concept that picks out whatever kind is instantiated by the large majority of paradigmatic examples. Vetter holds that proponents of such a view can reject appeals to intuition and a priori reasoning as ways of supporting claims about the extension of metaphysical possibility, and that the attractiveness of a natural-kind account is consequently undiminished by intuitive counterexamples. This paper argues that that is far from obvious. (...) It may be true on a natural kind view that the claim that it is metaphysically possible that p can be established only on the basis of empirical evidence about which kind is instantiated by most paradigm examples and what the members of this kind are. However, that leaves open the possibility that intuition and a priori reasoning can be used to evaluate conditional claims of the following form: If the kind instantiated by most paradigm examples includes (fails to include) X, then it is possible (not possible) that p. If intuition and a priori considerations can be used in this manner, then they are relevant to the assessment of the natural-kind view. Keywords: modality, natural kinds, the a priori, intuition, potentiality. (shrink)
The aim of Modality and Explanatory Reasoning (MER) is to shed light on metaphysical necessity and the broader class of modal properties to which it belongs. This topic is approached with two goals: to develop a new and reductive analysis of modality, and to understand the purpose and origin of modal thought. I argue that a proper understanding of modality requires us to reconceptualize its relationship to causation and other forms of explanation such as grounding, a relation that connects metaphysically (...) fundamental facts to non-fundamental ones. While many philosophers have tried to give modal analyses of causation and explanation, often in counterfactual terms, I argue that we obtain a more plausible, explanatorily powerful and unified theory if we regard explanation as more fundamental than modality. The function of modal thought is to facilitate a common type of thought experiment – counterfactual reasoning – that allows us to investigate explanatory connections and which is closely related to the controlled experiments of empirical science. Necessity is defined in terms of explanation, and modal facts often reflect underlying facts about explanatory relationships. The study of modal facts is important for philosophy not because these facts are of much metaphysical interest in their own right, but largely because they provide evidence about explanatory connections. (shrink)
The aim of Modality and Explanatory Reasoning (MER) is to shed light on metaphysical necessity and the broader class of modal properties to which it belongs. This topic is approached with two goals: to develop a new and reductive analysis of modality, and to understand the purpose and origin of modal thought. I argue that a proper understanding of modality requires us to reconceptualize its relationship to causation and other forms of explanation such as grounding, a relation that connects metaphysically (...) fundamental facts to non-fundamental ones. While many philosophers have tried to give modal analyses of causation and explanation, often in counterfactual terms, I argue that we obtain a more plausible, explanatorily powerful and unified theory if we regard explanation as more fundamental than modality. The function of modal thought is to facilitate a common type of thought experiment—counterfactual reasoning—that allows us to investigate explanatory connections and which is closely related to the controlled experiments of empirical science. Necessity is defined in terms of explanation, and modal facts often reflect underlying facts about explanatory relationships. The study of modal facts is important for philosophy not because these facts are of much metaphysical interest in their own right, but largely because they provide evidence about explanatory connections. (shrink)