Does Success Entail Ability?

Noûs 56 (3):570-601 (2021)
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This paper is about the principle that success entails ability, which I call Success. I argue the status of Success is highly puzzling: when we focus on past instances of actually successful action, Success is very compelling; but it is in tension with the idea that true ability claims require an action be in the agent's control. I make the above tension precise by considering the logic of ability. I argue Success is appealing because it is classically equivalent to two genuinely valid inferences, which I call Past Success and Can't-Entails-Won't; but also that Success itself has counterexamples. I show how to invalidate Success while validating Past Success and Can't-Entails-Won't by connecting the meaning of ‘can’ to facts about what is settled or open. I define an operator W with features attributed to ‘will’ in the literature on future contingents. I then give a conditional analysis of ability ascriptions stated with W-conditionals, where "S can A" says, roughly, there’s some action available to S such that if S does it, then W(S A). I show this semantics invalidates Success while still explaining its appeal.

Author's Profile

David Boylan
Texas Tech University


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