Counterpossibles (not only) for dispositionalists

Philosophical Studies 173 (10):2681-2700 (2016)
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Dispositionalists try to provide an account of modality—possibility, necessity, and the counterfactual conditional—in terms of dispositions. But there may be a tension between dispositionalist accounts of possibility on the one hand, and of counterfactuals on the other. Dispositionalists about possibility must hold that there are no impossible dispositions, i.e., dispositions with metaphysically impossible stimulus and/or manifestation conditions; dispositionalist accounts of counterfactuals, if they allow for non-vacuous counterpossibles, require that there are such impossible dispositions. I argue, first, that there are in fact no impossible dispositions; and second, that the dispositionalist can nevertheless acknowledge the non-vacuity of some counterpossibles. The strategy in the second part is one of ‘divide and conquer’ that is not confined to the dispositionalist: it consists in arguing that counterpossibles, when non-vacuous, are read epistemically and are therefore outside the purview of a dispositional account.

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Barbara Vetter
Freie Universität Berlin


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