It is widely assumed that sense perception cannot deliver knowledge of nonactual (metaphysical) possibilities. We are not supposed to be able to know that a proposition p is necessary or that p is possible (if p is false) by sense perception. This paper aims to establish that the role of sense perception is not so limited. It argues that we can know lots of modal facts by perception. While the most straightforward examples concern possibility and contingency, others concern necessity and (...) impossibility. The possibility of a perceptual route to some modal knowledge is not as radical as it may at first sound. On the contrary, acknowledging it has benefits. (shrink)
It has long been recognized that we have a great deal of freedom to imagine what we choose. This paper explores a thesis—what we call “intentionalism (about the imagination)”—that provides a way of making this evident (if vague) truism precise. According to intentionalism, the contents of your imaginings are simply determined by whatever contents you intend to imagine. Thus, for example, when you visualize a building and intend it to be of King’s College rather than a replica of the college (...) you have imagined the former rather than the latter because you intended to imagine King’s College. This is so even if the visual image you conjure up equally resembles either. This paper proposes two kinds of counterexamples to intentionalism and discusses their significance. In particular, it sketches a positive account of how many sensory imaginings get to be about what they are about, which explains how the causal history of our mental imagery can prevent us from succeeding in imagining what we intended. (shrink)
The epistemology of modality has focused on metaphysical modality and, more recently, counterfactual conditionals. Knowledge of kinds of modality that are not metaphysical has so far gone largely unexplored. Yet other theoretically interesting kinds of modality, such as nomic, practical, and ‘easy’ possibility, are no less puzzling epistemologically. Could Clinton easily have won the 2016 presidential election—was it an easy possibility? Given that she didn’t in fact win the election, how, if at all, can we know whether she easily could (...) have? This paper investigates the epistemology of the broad category of ‘objective’ modality, of which metaphysical modality is a special, limiting case. It argues that the same cognitive mechanisms that are capable of producing knowledge of metaphysical modality are also capable of producing knowledge of all other objective modalities. This conclusion can be used to explain the roles of counterfactual reasoning and the imagination in the epistemology of objective modality. (shrink)
This paper examines "moderate modal skepticism", a form of skepticism about metaphysical modality defended by Peter van Inwagen in order to blunt the force of certain modal arguments in the philosophy of religion. Van Inwagen’s argument for moderate modal skepticism assumes Yablo's (1993) influential world-based epistemology of possibility. We raise two problems for this epistemology of possibility, which undermine van Inwagen's argument. We then consider how one might motivate moderate modal skepticism by relying on a different epistemology of possibility, which (...) does not face these problems: Williamson’s (2007: ch. 5) counterfactual-based epistemology. Two ways of motivating moderate modal skepticism within that framework are found unpromising. Nevertheless, we also find a way of vindicating an epistemological thesis that, while weaker than moderate modal skepticism, is strong enough to support the methodological moral van Inwagen wishes to draw. (shrink)
The idea that the epistemology of modality is in some sense a priori is a popular one, but it has turned out to be difficult to precisify in a way that does not expose it to decisive counterexamples. The most common precisifications follow Kripke’s suggestion that cases of necessary a posteriori truth that can be known a priori to be necessary if true ‘may give a clue to a general characterization of a posteriori knowledge of necessary truths’. The idea is (...) that whether it is contingent whether p can be known a priori for at least some broad range of sentences ‘p’. Recently, Al Casullo and Jens Kipper have discussed restrictions of such principles to atomic sentences. We show that decisive counterexamples even to such dramatically restricted Kripke-style principles can be constructed using minimal logical resources. We then consider further restrictions, and show that the counterexamples to the original principles can be turned into counterexamples to the further restricted principles. We conclude that, if there are any true restrictions of Kripke-style principles, then they are so weak as to be of little epistemological interest. (shrink)
Thought experiments provide a conspicuous case study for epistemologists of the imagination. Galileo’s famous thought experiment about falling stones is a central example in the debate about how thought experiments in science work. According to a standard interpretation, the thought experiment poses a challenge to an Aristotelian principle about falling bodies that conceives of bodies in an extremely liberal way. This chapter argues that this interpretation is implausible and then shows how the thought experiment might present a challenge to a (...) principle that conceives of bodies in a less permissive, more plausible way. The new interpretation of the thought experiment relies on a distinction between two ways of imagining Galileo’s experiment, one of which requires Aristotelians to temporarily ignore their belief in the principle under challenge. It is suggested that the distinction tracks an increasingly familiar distinction among dual-process theories in psychology: ‘intuitive’ and ‘reflective’ imagination. In order for Aristotelians to appreciate the thought experiment’s challenge to their theory, they are expected to use their intuitive imagination and not just their reflective imagination. (shrink)
Sider (2011, 2013) proposes a reductive analysis of metaphysical modality—‘(modal) Humeanism’—and goes on to argue that it has interesting epistemological and methodological implications. In particular, Humeanism is supposed to undermine a class of ‘arguments from possibility’, which includes Sider's (1993) own argument against mereological nihilism and Chalmers's (1996) argument against physicalism. I argue that Sider's arguments do not go through, and moreover that we should instead expect Humeanism to be compatible with the practice of arguing from possibility in philosophy.
Assertions about metaphysical modality play central roles in philosophical theorizing. For example, when philosophers propose hypothetical counterexamples, they often are making a claim to the effect that some state of affairs is possible. Getting the epistemology of modality right is thus important. Debates have been preoccupied with assessing whether imaginability—or conceivability, insofar as it’s different—is a guide to possibility, or whether it is rather intuitions of possibility—and modal intuitions more generally—that are evidence for possibility claims. The dissertation argues that the (...) imagination plays a subtler role than the first view recognizes, and a more central one than the second view does. In particular, it defends an epistemology of metaphysical modality on which someone can acquire modal knowledge in virtue of having performed certain complex imaginative exercises. (shrink)