Sellars on modality: possible worlds and rules of inference

British Journal for the History of Philosophy:1-26 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

This paper discusses the account of alethic modality as presented by Wilfrid Sellars in his earlier work from 1947 to 1958. Its aim is twofold. First, I discuss Sellars' analysis by exploring its historical relationship to Carnap's account of modality. I argue that Carnap's early syntactic treatment of modality profoundly influenced Sellars' own so-called ‘regulist' account of modality in terms of rules of inference. Furthermore, it is suggested that Sellars' lesser-known possible worlds analysis was influenced by Carnap's later semantic account of modality. The second aim of the paper is a critical one. I raise a number of objections to Sellars’ account of modality and argue that his account confronts some serious limitations. I also argue that Sellars does not provide a satisfying explanation of the relationship between his regulist account and his possible worlds analysis. I offer such an explanation by arguing that his regulist account should be understood as a pragmatic account of what is conveyed by the use of modal sentences, whereas his possible worlds analysis is a semantic account of the asserted content of modal statements. That is, the regulist account and the possible worlds analysis have different explanatory targets.

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