Counterpossibles in Scientific Practice - Three Case Studies in support of Worldly Hyperintensionality

Dissertation, University of Turin (2021)
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Abstract

Hyperintensionality – the failure of substitutivity salva veritate of intensionally equivalent expressions – is one of the most debated topics in recent philosophy of language. Being a phenomenon that affects a wide variety of different sentential contexts, a question concerning its source arises: is hyperintensionality something that can originate from actual features of the world, or it is simply some kind of representational phenomenon, which entirely depends on our conceptual faculties and preferred semantics? After a brief general introduction to the topic from the semantic standpoint, in the present work I defend a view developed by Daniel Nolan, according to which hyperintensionality can be a worldly, non-representational phenomenon. I first reconstruct Nolan’s view and argument for worldly hyperintensionality, understood through the comparison with de re intensional modality. Then, I address the main criticism that has been raised against it, developing three objections. Evidence for worldly hyperintensionality is thereby presented, by focusing on a paradigmatic trigger: counterpossible conditionals. I provide two jointly sufficient criteria for a counterpossible to be a genuine instance of worldly hyperintensionality, then illustrate three case studies from scientific practices that all rely on counterpossible reasoning: reducibility in relative computability theory; scientific explanation of certain substances’ essential properties; and emergent molecular structure in chemistry. Each of them is evaluated by checking if it satisfies the criteria for worldly hyperintensionality, leading to the detection of patterns of counterpossible dependence occurring in at least some specific instances of the case studies discussed. Finally, I suggest a possible realist reading of such dependence relation, locating its relata in the world, independently from our representations.

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Giorgio Lenta
Università degli Studi di Genova

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