Counting Incompossibles

Mind 126 (504):1063–1108 (2017)
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We often speak as if there are merely possible people—for example, when we make such claims as that most possible people are never going to be born. Yet most metaphysicians deny that anything is both possibly a person and never born. Since our unreflective talk of merely possible people serves to draw non-trivial distinctions, these metaphysicians owe us some paraphrase by which we can draw those distinctions without committing ourselves to there being merely possible people. We show that such paraphrases are unavailable if we limit ourselves to the expressive resources of even highly infinitary first-order modal languages. We then argue that such paraphrases are available in higher-order modal languages only given certain strong assumptions concerning the metaphysics of properties. We then consider alternative paraphrase strategies, and argue that none of them are tenable. If talk of merely possible people cannot be paraphrased, then it must be taken at face value, in which case it is necessary what individuals there are. Therefore, if it is contingent what individuals there are, then the demands of paraphrase place tight constraints on the metaphysics of properties: either (i) it is necessary what properties there are, or (ii) necessarily equivalent properties are identical, and having properties does not entail even possibly being anything at all.
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