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Summary De re modality concerns the modal properties that an object has in virtue of itself. This contrasts with de dicto modality, which concerns modal properties that are merely "said of" an object. More formally: De dicto: Necessarily, some x is such that it is F.  De re: Some x is such that it is necessarily F. The essence of an entity in contemporary metaphysics is generally regarded as being constituted by the entity's de re modal properties. For instance, if we consider it necessary for John to be human, then this is part of John's essence. Different varieties of essentialism can be distinguished by the kind of de re modal properties in question. If we debate whether it is necessary for John to have the very parents that he actually has, we are debating origins essentialism. It should also be noted that essences may be individual or general. John's essence is an individual essence, and it may be essential for John to belong to the (natural) kind human. But we can also ask what is essential for the kind, e.g. whether humans are essentially rational. In that case we are concerned with the general essence of humans. Essentialism about species is a good example of a debate concerning general essences. Essences are commonly considered to be synonymous with de re modal properties, following the work of Kripke and others. However, the more traditional view, following Aristotle, may in fact be that essence is ontologically prior to modality. Recently, such non-modal accounts of essence have been defended in the literature, with one suggestion being that essence should be explicated via real definition.
Key works The most influential modern contributions are no doubt Kripke 1980, and Putnam 1975 which reintroduced essentialism into metaphysics. Quine's classic critique (Quine 1953) of De Re Modality was largely undermined by the contributions of Kripke and Putnam, but Marcus 1967 and Hintikka 1970 should also be mentioned. Wiggins 1980, Plantinga 1978, and Salmon 2005 are also classics. One important application of essentialism is counterpart theory, e.g. Lewis 1968. The secondary literature on different aspects of the topic is enormous, but recent, often cited contributions include Bealer 1987, Shalkowski 1994, Ellis 2001, Della Rocca 2002, LaPorte 2003, Paul 2006, Mackie 2006, and Devitt 2008. Non-modal accounts of essence have been gaining popularity, especially due to the work of Kit Fine (e.g. Fine 1994). Other recent works in this tradition include Paul 2006Oderberg 2007, Lowe 2008, Tahko 2009, Correia 2012, Dumsday 2012, and Vaidya 2010.
Introductions Robertson & Atkins 2013, Cameron 2010, Roca-Royes 2011, Roca-Royes 2011.
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Subcategories:See also:History/traditions: Essentialism and De Re Modality
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Actualism and Possibilism
  1. Robert Merrihew Adams (1979). Theories of Actuality. In Michael J. Loux (ed.), The Possible and the Actual: Readings in the Metaphysics of Modality. Cornell University Press 190.
  2. Robert Merrihew Adams (1974). Theories of Actuality. Noûs 8 (3):211-231.
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  3. Jose Tomas Alvarado Marambio (2010). La función de los universales en metafísica modal. Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 29 (3):77-101.
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  4. David F. Austin (1981). Plantinga on Actualism and Essences. Philosophical Studies 39 (1):35 - 42.
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  5. Andrew Bacon (2013). Quantificational Logic and Empty Names. Philosophers' Imprint 13 (24).
    The result of combining classical quantificational logic with modal logic proves necessitism – the claim that necessarily everything is necessarily identical to something. This problem is reflected in the purely quantificational theory by theorems such as ∃x t=x; it is a theorem, for example, that something is identical to Timothy Williamson. The standard way to avoid these consequences is to weaken the theory of quantification to a certain kind of free logic. However, it has often been noted that in order (...)
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  6. Karen Bennett (2006). Proxy “Actualism”. Philosophical Studies 129 (2):263-294.
    Bernard Linsky and Edward Zalta have recently proposed a new form of actualism. I characterize the general form of their view and the motivations behind it. I argue that it is not quite new – it bears interesting similarities to Alvin Plantinga’s view – and that it definitely isn’t actualist.
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  7. Karen Bennett (2005). Two Axes of Actualism. Philosophical Review 114 (3):297-326.
    Actualists routinely characterize their view by means of the slogan, “Everything is actual.” They say that there aren’t any things that exist but do not actually exist—there aren’t any “mere possibilia.” If there are any things that deserve the label ‘possible world’, they are just actually existing entities of some kind—maximally consistent sets of sentences, or maximal uninstantiated properties, or maximal possible states of affairs, or something along those lines. Possibilists, in contrast, do think that there are mere possibilia, that (...)
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  8. Michael Bergmann (1999). (Serious) Actualism and (Serious) Presentism. Noûs 33 (1):118-132.
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  9. Michael Bergmann (1996). A New Argument From Actualism to Serious Actualism. Noûs 30 (3):356-359.
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  10. Andrea Borghini (2004). Un mondo di possibilità. Realismo modale senza mondi possibili. Rivista di Estetica 26 (2):87-100.
    While preparing my suitcase for Padua, I took care to put my favorite cds in a secured spot since they could have broken along the way. Which (non-mental) fact, if any, could possibly justify my action – i.e. what, if anything, makes it the case that my cds could have broken? The paper explores the nature of possibility. The three theories most widely endorsed thus far – fictionism, actualism, and modal realism – are introduced, with a particular attention to their (...)
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  11. Ross P. Cameron (2016). On Characterizing the Presentism/Eternalism and Actualism/Possibilism Debates. Analytic Philosophy 57 (2):110-140.
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  12. Troy Thomas Catterson (2003). Essentialism and Individuation in Modal Logic. Dissertation, Boston University
    This dissertation addresses the problem of trans-world identity in possible worlds semantics, and argues that essentialism does not provide a satisfactory solution to it. If one takes possible worlds semantics seriously as a viable elucidation of the logic of the metaphysical modalities, one must also take a realistic stance toward possible worlds. But then, contrary to Kripke, Plantinga, Van Inwagen, and others, there is a problem with trans-world identity; the real problem being, not the problem of identifying individuals across possible (...)
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  13. David Chua, Metaphysical Accounts of Modality: A Comparative Evaluation of Lewisian and Neo-Aristotelian Modal Metaphysics.
    In this essay I comparatively evaluate two realist metaphysical accounts of modality: David Lewis’ (1986) genuine modal realism (GMR), and neo-Aristotelian modal realism (AMR) as put forth by Alexander Pruss (2011). GMR offers a reductive analysis of modal claims of possibility and necessity in terms of claims quantifying over concrete worlds and counterparts, and is in this way committed the existence of a plurality of concrete worlds other than the actual world; AMR, on the other hand, offers an analysis of (...)
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  14. Gabriele Contessa (2010). Modal Truthmakers and Two Varieties of Actualism. Synthese 174 (3):341 - 353.
    In this paper, I distinguish between two varieties of actualism—hardcore actualism and softcore actualism—and I critically discuss Ross Cameron’s recent arguments for preferring a softcore actualist account of the truthmakers for modal truths over hardcore actualist ones. In the process, I offer some arguments for preferring the hardcore actualist account of modal truthmakers over the softcore actualist one.
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  15. Fabrice Correia (2007). Modality, Quantification, and Many Vlach-Operators. Journal of Philosophical Logic 36 (4):473-488.
    Consider two standard quantified modal languages A and P whose vocabularies comprise the identity predicate and the existence predicate, each endowed with a standard S5 Kripke semantics where the models have a distinguished actual world, which differ only in that the quantifiers of A are actualist while those of P are possibilist. Is it possible to enrich these languages in the same manner, in a non-trivial way, so that the two resulting languages are equally expressive-i.e., so that for each sentence (...)
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  16. Thomas M. Crisp, Matthew Davidson & David Vander Laan (eds.) (2006). Knowledge and Reality: Essays in Honor of Alvin Plantinga. Springer.
    This volume comprises essays presented to Alvin Plantinga on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
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  17. Matthew Davidson (ed.) (2003). Essays in the Metaphysics of Modality. Oxford University Press, USA.
    This volume contains some of the best work in metaphysics from the past 30 years, and will remain a source of critical contention and keen interest among ...
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  18. Louis deRosset (2014). Possible Worlds for Modal Primitivists. Journal of Philosophical Logic 43 (1):109-131.
    Among the most remarkable developments in metaphysics since the 1950’s is the explosion of philosophical interest in possible worlds. This paper proposes an explanation of what possible worlds are, and argues that this proposal, the interpreted models conception, should be attractive to anyone who thinks that modal facts are primitive, and so not to be explained in terms of some non-modal notion of “possible world.” I articulate three constraints on any acceptable primitivist explanation of the nature of possible worlds, and (...)
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  19. Harry Deutsch (1994). Logic for Contigent Beings. Journal of Philosophical Research 19:273-329.
    One of the logical problems with which Arthur Prior struggled is the problem of finding, in Prior’s own phrase, a “logic for contingent beings.” The difficulty is that from minimal modal principles and classical quantification theory, it appears to follow immediately that every possible object is a necessary existent. The historical development of quantified modal logic (QML) can be viewed as a series of attempts---due variously to Kripke, Prior, Montague, and the fee-logicians---to solve this problem. In this paper, I review (...)
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  20. Antony Eagle (2009). Causal Structuralism, Dispositional Actualism, and Counterfactual Conditionals. In Toby Handfield (ed.), Dispositions and Causes. Oxford University Press 65--99.
    Dispositional essentialists are typically committed to two claims: that properties are individuated by their causal role (‘causal structuralism’), and that natural necessity is to be explained by appeal to these causal roles (‘dispositional actualism’). I argue that these two claims cannot be simultaneously maintained; and that the correct response is to deny dispositional actualism. Causal structuralism remains an attractive position, but doesn’t in fact provide much support for dispositional essentialism.
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  21. David Efird & Tom Stoneham (2006). Combinatorialism and the Possibility of Nothing. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (2):269 – 280.
    We argue that Armstrong's Combinatorialism allows for the possibility of nothing by giving a Combinatorial account of the empty world and show that such an account is consistent with the ontological and conceptual aims of the theory. We then suggest that the Combinatorialist should allow for this possibility given some methodological considerations. Consequently, rather than being 'spoils for the victor', as Armstrong maintains, deciding whether there might have been nothing helps to determine which metaphysics of modality is to be preferred.
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  22. Kit Fine (2003). The Problem of Possibilia. In Michael J. Loux & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. Oxford University Press 161-179.
    Are there, in addition to the various actual objects that make up the world, various possible objects? Are there merely possible people, for example, or merely possible electrons, or even merely possible kinds? We certainly talk as if there were such things. Given a particular sperm and egg, I may wonder whether that particular child which would result from their union would have blue eyes. But if the sperm and egg are never in fact brought together, then there is no (...)
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  23. Kit Fine (1982). First-Order Modal Theories III — Facts. Synthese 53 (1):43-122.
  24. Kit Fine (1980). First-Order Modal Theories. II: Propositions. Studia Logica 39 (2-3):159-202.
    This paper is part of a general programme of developing and investigating particular first- order modal theories. In the paper, a modal theory of propositions is constructed under the assumption that there are genuinely singular propositions, ie. ones that contain individuals as constituents. Various results on decidability, axiomatizability and definability are established.
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  25. Akiko M. Frischhut & Alexander Skiles (2013). Time, Modality, and the Unbearable Lightness of Being. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 2 (1):264-273.
    We develop a theory about the metaphysics of time and modality that combines the conceptual resources devised in recent sympathetic work on ontological pluralism (the thesis that there are fundamentally distinct kinds of being) with the thought that what is past, future, and merely possible is less real than what is present and actual (albeit real enough to serve as truthmakers for statements about the past, future, and merely possible). However, we also show that despite being a coherent, distinctive, and (...)
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  26. Peter Fritz (2013). Modal Ontology and Generalized Quantifiers. Journal of Philosophical Logic 42 (4):643-678.
    Timothy Williamson has argued that in the debate on modal ontology, the familiar distinction between actualism and possibilism should be replaced by a distinction between positions he calls contingentism and necessitism. He has also argued in favor of necessitism, using results on quantified modal logic with plurally interpreted second-order quantifiers showing that necessitists can draw distinctions contingentists cannot draw. Some of these results are similar to well-known results on the relative expressivity of quantified modal logics with so-called inner and outer (...)
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  27. Pieranna Garavaso (1992). Actuality and Necessity. Journal of Critical Analysis 9 (2):35-40.
    In a recent contribution to the discussion of the necessary and the apriori, Philip Kitcher claims that "appropriate insertion of 'actual' and 'actually' can yield a necessary true sentence from anyl true sentence." The general thrust of Kitcher's discussion is the denial of the equivalence of necessity and apriority. I do not discuss any of the epistemological issues that are discussed by Kitcher. The focus of this paper is on the above quoted claim. What follows illustrate my reasons for doubting (...)
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  28. Dominic Gregory (2006). Functionalism About Possible Worlds. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (1):95 – 115.
    Various writers have proposed that the notion of a possible world is a functional concept, yet very little has been done to develop that proposal. This paper explores a particular functionalist account of possible worlds, according to which pluralities of possible worlds are the bases for structures which provide occupants for the roles which analyse our ordinary modal concepts. It argues that the resulting position meets some of the stringent constraints which philosophers have placed upon accounts of possible worlds, while (...)
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  29. Cf Gupta, The Problem of Possibilia.
    Are there, in addition to the various actual objects that make up the world, various possible objects? Are there merely possible people, for example, or merely possible electrons, or even merely possible kinds? We certainly talk as if there were such things. Given a particular sperm and egg, I may wonder whether that particular child which would result from their union would have blue eyes. But if the sperm and egg are never in fact brought together, then there is no (...)
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  30. Reina Hayaki (2003). Actualism and Higher-Order Worlds. Philosophical Studies 115 (2):149 - 178.
    It has been argued that actualism – the view that there are no non-actual objects – cannot deal adequately with statements involving iterated modality, because such claims require reference, either explicit or surreptitious, to non-actual objects. If so, actualists would have to reject the standard semantics for quantified modal logic (QML). In this paper I develop an account of modality which allows the actualist to make sense of iterated modal claims that are ostensibly about non-actual objects. Every occurrence of a (...)
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  31. Allen Hazen (1979). One of the Truths About Actuality. Analysis 39 (1):1 - 3.
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  32. Aviv Hoffmann (2002). Actualism, Singular Propositions, and Possible Worlds: Essays in the Metaphysics of Modality. Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    My dissertation consists of three essays in the Metaphysics of Modality: In "A Puzzle about Truth and Singular Propositions," I consider two theses that seem to be true and then an argument for the conclusion that they form an inconsistent pair. One thesis is that a proposition that is singular with respect to a given object implies that the object exists. This is so because the proposition predicates something of the object. The other thesis is that some propositions are true (...)
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  33. Hud Hudson (1997). On a New Argument From Actualism to Serious Actualism. Noûs 31 (4):520-524.
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  34. Mark Jago (2013). Impossible Worlds. Noûs 47 (3):713-728.
    Impossible worlds are representations of impossible things and impossible happenings. They earn their keep in a semantic or metaphysical theory if they do the right theoretical work for us. As it happens, a worlds-based account provides the best philosophical story about semantic content, knowledge and belief states, cognitive significance and cognitive information, and informative deductive reasoning. A worlds-based story may also provide the best semantics for counterfactuals. But to function well, all these accounts need use of impossible and as well (...)
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  35. Michael Jubien (1996). Actualism and Iterated Modalities. Philosophical Studies 84 (2-3):109 - 125.
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  36. Nils Kürbis (2015). Review of Bob Hale's Necessary Beings. [REVIEW] Disputatio (40).
    Review of Bob Hale's "Necessary Beings: An Essay on Ontology, Modality, and the Relations Between Them". Oxford: Oxford University Press 2013, ISBN 9780199669578.
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  37. Jonathan L. Kvanvig (1989). Adams on Actualism and Presentism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (2):289-298.
    According to the TDT, no singular propositions about an individual and no "thisnesses" of individuals exist prior to the existence of the indivi­dual in question, where a thisness "is the property of being x, or of being identical with x" and a "singular proposition about an individual x is a proposition that involves or refers to x directly, perhaps by having x or the thisness of x as a constituent, and not merely by way of x's qualitative properties or relations (...)
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  38. David Lewis (1992). Critical Notice. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (2):211 – 224.
  39. Øystein Linnebo (2007). Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers – Kit Fine. Philosophical Quarterly 57 (227):294–297.
  40. Bernard Linsky & Edward N. Zalta (1996). In Defense of the Contingently Nonconcrete. Philosophical Studies 84 (2-3):283-294.
    In "Actualism or Possibilism?" (Philosophical Studies, 84 (2-3), December 1996), James Tomberlin develops two challenges for actualism. The challenges are to account for the truth of certain sentences without appealing to merely possible objects. After canvassing the main actualist attempts to account for these phenomena, he then criticizes the new conception of actualism that we described in our paper "In Defense of the Simplest Quantified Modal Logic" (Philosophical Perspectives 8: Philosophy of Logic and Language, Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview, 1994). We respond (...)
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  41. William G. Lycan & Stewart Shapiro (1986). Actuality and Essence. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11 (1):343-377.
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  42. Duncan MacIntosh (1989). Modality, Mechanism and Translational Indeterminacy. Dialogue 28 (03):391-.
    Ken Warmbrod thinks Quine agrees that translation is determinate if it is determinate what speakers would say in all possible circumstances; that what things would do in merely possible circumstances is determined by what their subvisible constituent mechanisms would dispose them to do on the evidence of what alike actual mechanisms make alike actual things do actually; and that what speakers say is determined by their neural mechanisms. Warmbrod infers that people's neural mechanisms make translation of what people say determinate. (...)
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  43. Ari Maunu (1999). Worldlessness, Determinism and Free Will. Dissertation, University of Turku (Finland)
    I have three main objectives in this essay. First, in chapter 2, I shall put forward and justify what I call worldlessness, by which I mean the following: All truths (as well as falsehoods) are wholly independent of any circumstances, not only time and place but also possible worlds. It follows from this view that whatever is actually true must be taken as true with respect to every possible world, which means that all truths are (in a sense) necessary. However, (...)
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  44. Andrew McCarthy & Ian Phillips (2006). No New Argument Against the Existence Requirement. Analysis 66 (289):39–44.
    Yagisawa (2005) considers two old arguments against the existence requirement. Both arguments are significantly less appealing than Yagisawa suggests. In particular, the second argument, first given by Kaplan (1989: 498), simply assumes that existence is contingent (§1). Yagisawa’s ‘new’ argument shares this weakness. It also faces a dilemma. Yagisawa must either treat ‘at @’ as a sentential operator occupying the same grammatical position as ‘∼’ or as supplying an extra argument place. In the former case, Yagisawa’s argument faces precisely the (...)
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  45. Alan McMichael (1983). A Problem for Actualism About Possible Worlds. Philosophical Review 92 (1):49-66.
    Actualists who believe in possible worlds typically regard them as "abstract" objects of some special sort. For example, Alvin Plantinga takes worlds to be maximal possible states-of-affairs, all of which "exist", as actualism requires, but only one of which "obtains". Views like Plantinga's run into difficulty in the interpretation of statements of "iterated" modality, statements about what is "possible" for individuals that "could" exist but that do not actually exist. These statements seem to require the existence of "singular" states-Of-affairs that (...)
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  46. Paul McNamara (1993). Does the Actual World Actually Exist? Philosophical Studies 69 (1):59 - 81.
    Assuming minimal fine-individuation--that there are some necessarily equivalent intensional objects (e.g. propositions) that are nonetheless distinct objects, on standard actualist frameworks, the answer to our title question is "No". First I specify a fully cognitively accessible, purely qualitative maximal consistent state of affairs (MCS). (That there is an MCS that is either fully graspable or purely qualitative is in itself quite contrary to conventional dogma.) Then I identify another MCS, one necessarily equivalent to the first. It follows that there could (...)
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  47. Paul McNamara (1990). Leibniz on Creation, Contingency and Pe-Se Modality. Studia Leibnitiana 22 (1):29-47.
    Leibniz' first problem with contingency stems from his doctrine of divine creation (not his later doctrine of truth) and is solved via his concepts of necessity per se, etc. (not via his later concept of infinite analysis). I scrutinize some of the earliest texts in which the first problem and its solution occur. I compare his "per se modal concepts" with his concept of analysis and with the traditional concept of metaphysical necessity. I then identify and remove the main obstacle (...)
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  48. Christopher Menzel (2015). Logic, Essence, and Modality — Review of Bob Hale's Necessary Beings. [REVIEW] Philosophia Mathematica 23 (3):407-428.
    Bob Hale’s distinguished record of research places him among the most important and influential contemporary analytic metaphysicians. In his deep, wide ranging, yet highly readable book Necessary Beings, Hale draws upon, but substantially integrates and extends, a good deal his past research to produce a sustained and richly textured essay on — as promised in the subtitle — ontology, modality, and the relations between them. I’ve set myself two tasks in this review: first, to provide a reasonably thorough (if not (...)
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  49. Christopher Menzel (2013). Possible Worlds. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    This article includes a basic overview of possible world semantics and a relatively comprehensive overview of three central philosophical conceptions of possible worlds: Concretism (represented chiefly by Lewis), Abstractionism (represented chiefly by Plantinga), and Combinatorialism (represented chiefly by Armstrong).
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  50. Christopher Menzel (2008). Actualism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    To understand the thesis of actualism, consider the following example. Imagine a race of beings — call them ‘Aliens’ — that is very different from any life-form that exists anywhere in the universe; different enough, in fact, that no actually existing thing could have been an Alien, any more than a given gorilla could have been a fruitfly. Now, even though there are no Aliens, it seems intuitively the case that there could have been such things. After all, life might (...)
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