Temporal and Counterfactual Possibility

Sorites 20:37-42 (2008)
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Among philosophers working on modality, there is a common assumption that there is a strong connection between temporal possibility and counterfactual possibility. For example, Sydney Shoemaker 1998, 69 70) writes: It seems to me a general feature of our thought about possibility that how we think that something could have differed from how it in fact is [is] closely related to how we think that the way something is at one time could differ from the way that same thing is at a different time. In possible worlds jargon, the ways one and the same thing of a given sort can differ across worlds correspond to the ways one and the same thing of that sort can differ at different times in the same world. Could I have been a plumber or an accountant instead of a philosopher? The answer seems to be yes -- and this goes with the fact that we acknowledge the possibility of a scenario in which someone who was exactly as I was at some point in my life undergoes a series of changes resulting in his eventually being a plumber or an accountant. In a footnote, he acknowledges that this connection between counterfactual and temporal possibility needs to be qualified in response to an objection by Randy Clarke: «The property of being the child of someone who has visited Paris is not one that one can have and then lose; but it is one that one can have in the actual world and not have in some other possible world.» (1998, 75n.9) Therefore, he restricts the inference from temporal to counterfactual possibility and vice versa to «non historical properties.»

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Muhammad Ali Khalidi
CUNY Graduate Center


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