Modal Objectivity

Noûs 53:266-295 (2019)
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Abstract

It is widely agreed that the intelligibility of modal metaphysics has been vindicated. Quine's arguments to the contrary supposedly confused analyticity with metaphysical necessity, and rigid with non-rigid designators.2 But even if modal metaphysics is intelligible, it could be misconceived. It could be that metaphysical necessity is not absolute necessity – the strictest real notion of necessity – and that no proposition of traditional metaphysical interest is necessary in every real sense. If there were nothing otherwise “uniquely metaphysically significant” about metaphysical necessity, then paradigmatic metaphysical necessities would be necessary in one sense of “necessary”, not necessary in another, and that would be it. The question of whether they were necessary simpliciter would be like the question of whether the Parallel Postulate is true simpliciter – understood as a pure mathematical conjecture, rather than as a hypothesis about physical spacetime. In a sense, the latter question has no objective answer. In this article, I argue that paradigmatic questions of modal metaphysics are like the Parallel Postulate question. I then discuss the deflationary ramifications of this argument. I conclude with an alternative conception of the space of possibility. According to this conception, there is no objective boundary between possibility and impossibility. Along the way, I sketch an analogy between modal metaphysics and set theory.

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Justin Clarke-Doane
Columbia University

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