Counterpossibles and the nature of impossible worlds

SATS 17 (2):145-158 (2016)
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One well-known objection to the traditional Lewis-Stalnaker semantics of counterfactuals is that it delivers counterintuitive semantic verdicts for many counterpossibles (counterfactuals with necessarily false antecedents). To remedy this problem, several authors have proposed extending the set of possible worlds by impossible worlds at which necessary falsehoods may be true. Linguistic ersatz theorists often construe impossible worlds as maximal, inconsistent sets of sentences in some sufficiently expressive language. However, in a recent paper, Bjerring (2014) argues that the “extended” Lewis-Stalnaker semantics delivers the wrong truth-values for many counterpossibles if impossible worlds are required to be maximal. To make room for non-maximal or partial impossible worlds, Bjerring considers two alternative world-ontologies: either (i) we construe impossible worlds as arbitrary (maximal or partial) inconsistent sets of sentences, or (ii) we construe them as (maximal or partial) inconsistent sets of sentences that are closed and consistent with respect to some non-classical logic. Bjerring raises an objection against (i), and suggests that we opt for (ii). In this paper, I argue, first, that Bjerring’s objection against (i) conflates two different conceptions of what it means for a logic to be true at a world. Second, I argue that (ii) imposes too strong constraints on what counts as an impossible world. I conclude that linguistic ersatzists should construe impossible worlds as arbitrary (maximal or partial) inconsistent sets of sentences.
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Archival date: 2016-11-05
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