In defense of the possibilism–actualism distinction

Philosophical Studies 177 (7):1971-1997 (2020)
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Abstract

In Modal Logic as Metaphysics, Timothy Williamson claims that the possibilism-actualism (P-A) distinction is badly muddled. In its place, he introduces a necessitism-contingentism (N-C) distinction that he claims is free of the confusions that purportedly plague the P-A distinction. In this paper I argue first that the P-A distinction, properly understood, is historically well-grounded and entirely coherent. I then look at the two arguments Williamson levels at the P-A distinction and find them wanting and show, moreover, that, when the N-C distinction is broadened (as per Williamson himself) so as to enable necessitists to fend off contingentist objections, the P-A distinction can be faithfully reconstructed in terms of the N-C distinction. However, Williamson’s critique does point to a genuine shortcoming in the common formulation of the P-A distinction. I propose a new definition of the distinction in terms of essential properties that avoids this shortcoming.

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Christopher Menzel
Texas A&M University

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