About this topic
Summary Modal epistemology is a wide area in which philosophers explore questions about the nature of possibility and necessity, the ultimate grounds or sources of necessity, the correct logic of necessity, and how best to explain our knowledge of necessity. 
Key works Key works in the metaphysics of modality that are important for modal epistemology include: Kripke 1980, in which Kripke argues for the existence of a posteriori necessities; Fine 1994, in which Fine argues that essences is the ground of modality; and Blackburn 1993, in which Blackburn argues that there can be no truth-conditional realist account of metaphysical modality. 
Introductions A key introduction is Vaidya 2007
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  1. J. Almog (2001). What Am I?: Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem. Oxford University Press.
    In his Meditations, Rene Descartes asks, "what am I?" His initial answer is "a man." But he soon discards it: "But what is a man? Shall I say 'a rational animal'? No: for then I should inquire what an animal is, what rationality is, and in this way one question would lead down the slope to harder ones." Instead of understanding what a man is, Descartes shifts to two new questions: "What is Mind?" and "What is Body?" These questions develop (...)
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  2. Matthew J. Barker (2010). From Cognition's Location to the Epistemology of its Nature. Cognitive Systems Research 11 (357):366.
    One of the liveliest debates about cognition concerns whether our cognition sometimes extends beyond our brains and bodies. One party says Yes, another No. This paper shows that debate between these parties has been epistemologically confused and requires reorienting. Both parties frequently appeal to empirical considerations and to extra-empirical theoretical virtues to support claims about where cognition is. These things should constrain their claims, but cannot do all the work hoped. This is because of the overlooked fact, uncovered in this (...)
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  3. Gregor Betz (2010). What’s the Worst Case? The Methodology of Possibilistic Prediction. Analyse & Kritik 32 (1):87-106.
    Frank Knight (1921) famously distinguished the epistemic modes of certainty, risk, and uncertainty in order to characterize situations where deterministic, probabilistic or possibilistic foreknowledge is available. Because our probabilistic knowledge is limited, i.e. because many systems, e.g. the global climate, cannot be described and predicted probabilistically in a reliable way, Knight's third category, possibilistic foreknowledge, is not simply swept by the probabilistic mode. This raises the question how to justify possibilistic predictionsincluding the identication of the worst case. The development of (...)
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  4. Stephen Biggs (2011). Abduction and Modality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83 (2):283-326.
    This paper introduces a modal epistemology that centers on inference to the best explanation (i.e. abduction). In introducing this abduction-centered modal epistemology, the paper has two main goals. First, it seeks to provide reasons for pursuing an abduction-centered modal epistemology by showing that this epistemology aids a popular stance on the mind-body problem and allows an appealing approach to modality. Second, the paper seeks to show that an abduction-centered modal epistemology can work by showing that abduction can establish claims about (...)
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  5. Stephen Biggs & Jessica M. Wilson (forthcoming). Carnap, the Necessary a Priori, and Metaphysical Anti-Realism. In Stephen Blatti & Sandra Lapointe (eds.), Ontology after Carnap.
    (August 2015 final pre-publication version!) In Meaning and Necessity (1947/1950), Carnap advances an intensional semantic framework on which modal claims are true in virtue of semantical rules alone, and so are a priori. In 'Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology' (1950), Carnap advances an epistemic-ontological framework on which metaphysical claims are either trivial or meaningless, since lacking any means of substantive confirmation. Carnap carried out these projects two decades before Kripke influentially argued, in Naming and Necessity (1972/1980), that some modal claims are (...)
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  6. Gunnar Björnsson (2004). A Naturalist's Approach to Modal Intuitions. In Erik Weber Tim De Mey (ed.), Modal Epistemology.
    Modal inquiry is plagued by methodological problems. The best-developed views on modal semantics and modal ontology take modalstatements to be true in virtue of relations between possible worlds. Unfortunately, such views turn modal epistemology into a mystery, and this paper is about ways to avoid that problem. It looks at different remedies suggested by Quine, Blackburn and Peacocke and finds them all wanting. But although Peacocke’s version of the popular conceptualist approach fails to give a normative account of correct modal (...)
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  7. Otávio Bueno & Scott Shalkowski (2004). Modal Realism and Modal Epistemology: A Huge Gap. In Erik Weber Tim De Mey (ed.), Modal Epistemology. Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Belgie Vor Wetenschappen En Kunsten 93--106.
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  8. John P. Burgess (2010). Review of B. Hale and A. Hoffmann (Eds.), Modality: Metaphysics, Logic, and Epistemology. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (10).
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  9. Albert Casullo (2012). Analyticity, Apriority, Modality. In Manuel García-Carpintero & Max Kölbel (eds.), The Continuum Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Continuum International Pub. 228.
  10. Albert Casullo (2000). Modal Epistemology: Fortune or Virtue? Southern Journal of Philosophy 38 (S1):17--25.
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  11. Stéphane Chauvier (2008). Avant-propos. Les Etudes Philosophiques 1 (1):1-6.
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  12. Matthew Chrisman (2015). X—Knowing What One Ought to Do. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 115 (2pt2):167-186.
    This paper considers two competing pictures of knowledge of what one ought to do—one which assimilates this to other propositional knowledge conceived as partial ‘locational’ knowledge of where one is in a space of possibilities, the other which distinguishes this from other propositional knowledge by construing it as partial ‘directional’ knowledge of what to do in particular circumstances. I argue that the apparent tension can be lessened by better understanding the contextualized modal-cum-prescriptive nature of ‘ought’ and enriching our conception of (...)
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  13. Daniel Cohnitz (2012). The Logic(s) of Modal Knowledge. In Greg Restall & Gillian Russell (eds.), New Waves in Philosophical Logic. MacMillan
  14. David A. Denby (2008). Generating Possibilities. Philosophical Studies 141 (2):191 - 207.
    Our knowledge of the most basic alternative possibilities can be thought of as generated recursively from what we know about the actual world. But what are the generating principles? According to one view, they are recombinational: roughly, alternative possibilities are generated by “patching together” parts of distinct worlds or “blotting out” parts of worlds to yield new worlds. I argue that this view is inadequate. It is difficult to state in a way that is true and non-trivial, and anyway fails (...)
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  15. John Divers (1999). Kant's Criteria of the a Priori. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 80 (1):17–45.
  16. John Divers & José Edgar González‐Varela (2013). Belief in Absolute Necessity. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (2):358-391.
    We outline a theory of the cognitive role of belief in absolute necessity that is normative and intended to be metaphysically neutral. We take this theory to be unique in scope since it addresses simultaneously the questions of how such belief is (properly) acquired and of how it is (properly) manifest. The acquisition and manifestation conditions for belief in absolute necessity are given univocally, in terms of complex higher-order attitudes involving two distinct kinds of supposition (A-supposing and C-supposing). It is (...)
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  17. Simon Evnine (2008). Modal Epistemology: Our Knowledge of Necessity and Possibility. Philosophy Compass 3 (4):664-684.
    I survey a number of views about how we can obtain knowledge of modal propositions, propositions about necessity and possibility. One major approach is that whether a proposition or state of affairs is conceivable tells us something about whether it is possible. I examine two quite different positions that fall under this rubric, those of Yablo and Chalmers. One problem for this approach is the existence of necessary a posteriori truths and I deal with some of the ways in which (...)
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  18. Robert William Fischer (2015). Theory Selection in Modal Epistemology. American Philosophical Quarterly 52 (3):289-304.
    Accounts of modal knowledge are many and varied. How should we choose between them? I propose that we employ inference to the best explanation, and I suggest that there are three desiderata that we should use to rank hypotheses: conservatism, simplicity, and the ability to handle disagreement. After examining these desiderata, I contend that they can’t be used to justify belief in the modal epistemology that fares best, but that they can justify our accepting it in an epistemically significant sense. (...)
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  19. M. J. Garcia-Encinas (2012). On Categories and A Posteriori Necessity: A Phenomenological Echo. Metaphilosophy 43 (1-2):147-164.
    This article argues for two related theses. First, it defends a general thesis: any kind of necessity, including metaphysical necessity, can only be known a priori. Second, however, it also argues that the sort of a priori involved in modal metaphysical knowledge is not related to imagination or any sort of so-called epistemic possibility. Imagination is neither a proof of possibility nor a limit to necessity. Rather, modal metaphysical knowledge is built on intuition of philosophical categories and the structures they (...)
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  20. Tamar Szabó Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.) (2002). Conceivability and Possibility. Oxford University Press.
    The capacity to represent things to ourselves as possible plays a crucial role both in everyday thinking and in philosophical reasoning; this volume offers much-needed philosophical illumination of conceivability, possibility, and the relations between them.
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  21. Tamar Szabó Gendler & Shen-yi Liao (2016). The Problem of Imaginative Resistance. In John Gibson & Noël Carroll (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature. Routledge 405-418.
    The problem of imaginative resistance holds interest for aestheticians, literary theorists, ethicists, philosophers of mind, and epistemologists. We present a somewhat opinionated overview of the philosophical discussion to date. We begin by introducing the phenomenon of imaginative resistance. We then review existing responses to the problem, giving special attention to recent research directions. Finally, we consider the philosophical significance that imaginative resistance has—or, at least, is alleged to have—for issues in moral psychology, theories of cognitive architecture, and modal epistemology.
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  22. Mikkel Gerken (2015). Philosophical Insights and Modal Cognition. In Eugen Fischer John Collins (ed.), Experimental Philosophy, Rationalism, and Naturalism. 110-131.
    Modal rationalists uphold a strong constitutive relationship between a priori cognition and modal cognition. Since both a priori cognition and modal cognition have been taken to be characteristic of philosophical insights, I will critically assess an ambitious modal rationalism and an associated ambitious methodological rationalism. I begin by examining Kripkean cases of the necessary a posteriori in order to characterize the ambitious modal rationalism that will be the focus of my criticism. I then argue that there is a principled association (...)
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  23. Dana Goswick (2012). Philosophical Methodology in Modal Epistemology. Essays in Philosophy 13 (1):11.
    This paper examines the legitimacy of two common methodologies within philosophy: thought experiments and conceptual analysis. In particular, I examine the uses to which these two methodologies have been put within modal epistemology. I argue that, although both methods can be used to reveal conditional essentialist claims , neither can be used to reveal the de re essentialists claims they’re often taken to reveal.
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  24. Dominic Gregory (2011). Iterated Modalities, Meaning and A Priori Knowledge. Philosophers' Imprint 11 (3).
    Recent work on the philosophy of modality has tended to pass over questions about iterated modalities in favour of constructing ambitious metaphysical theories of possibility and necessity, despite the central importance of iterated modalities to modal logic. Yet there are numerous unresolved but fundamental issues involving iterated modalities: Chandler and Salmon have provided forceful arguments against the widespread assumption that all necessary truths are necessarily necessary, for example. The current paper examines a range of ways in which one might seek (...)
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  25. Dominic Gregory (2010). Conceivability and Apparent Possibility. In Bob Hale & Aviv Hoffmann (eds.), Modality: Metaphysics, Logic, and Epistemology. Oxford University Press
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  26. Bob Hale (2002). Knowledge of Possibility and of Necessity. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 103 (1):1–20.
    I investigate two asymmetrical approaches to knowledge of absolute possibility and of necessity--one which treats knowledge of possibility as more fundamental, the other according epistemological priority to necessity. Two necessary conditions for the success of an asymmetrical approach are proposed. I argue that a possibility-based approach seems unable to meet my second condition, but that on certain assumptions--including, pivotally, the assumption that logical and conceptual necessities, while absolute, do not exhaust the class of absolute necessities--a necessity-based approach may be able (...)
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  27. Joel David Hamkins (2012). The Set-Theoretic Multiverse. Review of Symbolic Logic 5 (3):416-449.
    The multiverse view in set theory, introduced and argued for in this article, is the view that there are many distinct concepts of set, each instantiated in a corresponding set-theoretic universe. The universe view, in contrast, asserts that there is an absolute background set concept, with a corresponding absolute set-theoretic universe in which every set-theoretic question has a definite answer. The multiverse position, I argue, explains our experience with the enormous range of set-theoretic possibilities, a phenomenon that challenges (...)
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  28. Rebecca Hanrahan, Problems for a Modal Epistemology.
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  29. Nicolai Hartmann (2013). Possibility and Actuality. Walter de Gruyter.
    From a different perspective, “essential actuality” is related to logical actuality. It means plain existence in the ideal sphere of being. One is familiar with this, for example, in “mathematical existence.” This does not merge with validity, but implies ...
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  30. Joachim Horvath (2014). Lowe on Modal Knowledge. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 3 (3):208-217.
    In recent work, E. J. Lowe presents an essence-based account of our knowledge of metaphysical modality that he claims to be superior to its main competitors. I argue that knowledge of essences alone, without knowledge of a suitable bridge principle, is insufficient for knowing that something is metaphysically necessary or metaphysically possible. Yet given Lowe's other theoretical commitments, he cannot account for our knowledge of the needed bridge principle, and so his essence-based modal epistemology remains incomplete. In addition to that, (...)
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  31. Joachim Horvath (2009). The Modal Argument for a Priori Justification. Ratio 22 (2):191-205.
    Kant famously argued that, from experience, we can only learn how something actually is, but not that it must be so. In this paper, I defend an improved version of Kant's argument for the existence of a priori knowledge, the Modal Argument , against recent objections by Casullo and Kitcher. For the sake of the argument, I concede Casullo's claim that we may know certain counterfactuals in an empirical way and thereby gain epistemic access to some nearby, nomologically possible worlds. (...)
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  32. Andrea Iacona (2012). TxW Epistemic Modality. Logic and Philosophy of Science 10:3-14.
    So far, T×W frames have been employed to provide a semantics for a language of tense logic that includes a modal operator that expresses historical necessity. The operator is defined in terms of quantification over possible courses of events that satisfy a certain constraint, namely, that of being alike up to a given point. However, a modal operator can as well be defined without placing that constraint. This paper outlines a T×W logic where an operator of the latter kind is (...)
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  33. William Michael Kallfelz, Modal Rationalism and Constructive Realism: Models and Their Modality.
    I present a case for a rapprochement between aspects of rationalism and scientific realism, by way of a general framework employing modal epistemology and elements of 2-dimensional semantics (2DS). My overall argument strategy is meta-inductive: The bulk of this paper establishes a “base case,” i.e., a concretely constructive example by which I demonstrate this linkage. The base case or constructive example acts as the exemplar for generating, in a constructively ‘bottom-up’ fashion, a more generally rigorous case for rationalism-realism qua modal (...)
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  34. Baptiste Le Bihan (2014). No-Futurism and Metaphysical Contingentism. Axiomathes 24 (4):483-497.
    According to no-futurism, past and present entities are real, but future ones are not. This view faces a skeptical challenge (Bourne 2002, 2006, Braddon-Mitchell, 2004): if no-futurism is true, how do you know you are present? I shall propose a new skeptical argument based on the physical possibility of Gödelian worlds (1949). This argument shows that a no-futurist has to endorse a metaphysical contingentist reading of no-futurism, the view that no-futurism is contingently true. But then, the no-futurist has to face (...)
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  35. David Lewis (2002). Tharp’s Third Theorem. Analysis 62 (274):95–97.
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  36. Peter Long (1961). Possibility and Actuality. Mind 70 (278):187-200.
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  37. E. J. Lowe (2012). What is the Source of Our Knowledge of Modal Truths? Mind 121 (484):919-950.
    There is currently intense interest in the question of the source of our presumed knowledge of truths concerning what is, or is not, metaphysically possible or necessary. Some philosophers locate this source in our capacities to conceive or imagine various actual or non-actual states of affairs, but this approach is open to certain familiar and seemingly powerful objections. A different and ostensibly more promising approach has been developed by Timothy Williamson, according to which our capacity for modal knowledge is just (...)
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  38. Stephen McLeod (2005). Modal Epistemology. Philosophical Books 46 (3):235-245.
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  39. Stephen K. McLeod (2009). Rationalism and Modal Knowledge. Critica 41 (122):29-42.
    The article argues against attempts to combine ontological realism about modality with the rejection of modal rationalism and it suggests that modal realism requires (at least a weak form of) modal rationalism. /// El artículo da argumentos en contra de que se intente combinar el realismo ontológico sobre la modalidad con el rechazo del racionalismo modal y sugiere que el realismo modal exige (por lo menos una forma débil de) racionalismo modal.
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  40. Stephen K. McLeod (2008). Knowledge of Necessity: Logical Positivism and Kripkean Essentialism. Philosophy 83 (324):179-191.
    By the lights of a central logical positivist thesis in modal epistemology, for every necessary truth that we know, we know it a priori and for every contingent truth that we know, we know it a posteriori. Kripke attacks on both flanks, arguing that we know necessary a posteriori truths and that we probably know contingent a priori truths. In a reflection of Kripke's confidence in his own arguments, the first of these Kripkean claims is far more widely accepted than (...)
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  41. Stephen K. McLeod (2005). Modal Epistemology. Philosophical Books 46 (3):235-245.
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  42. Alan Mcmichael (1986). The Epistemology of Essentialist Claims. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11 (1):33-52.
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  43. Andrew Melnyk (2004). Rea on Naturalism. Philo 7 (2):131-137.
    My goal in this paper is to provide critical discussion of Michael Rea’s case for three of the controversial theses defended in his World Without Design (Oxford University Press, 2002): (1) that naturalism must be viewed as what he calls a “research program”; (2) that naturalism “cannot be adopted on the basis of evidence,” as he puts it; and (3) that naturalists cannot be justified in accepting realism about material objects.
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  44. Andrew Melnyk (2004). Review of Michael Rea's, 'World Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism'. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (451):575-581.
    Substantial review of Michael Rea's, World without design: the ontological consequences of naturalism. It is an improved version of my paper, "Rea On Naturalism" in Philo, 2004, revised in light of Rea's comments on the earlier paper. The discussion focuses on Rea’s case for three of his theses: that naturalism must be viewed as a ‘research programme’; that naturalism ‘cannot be adopted on the basis of evidence’, as he puts it; and that naturalists cannot be justified in accepting realism about (...)
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  45. Nenad Miscevic, A Telescope for Modal Landscapes.
    How do we know what is metaphysically possible? Many philosophers agree that conceivability is our main, if not the only, guide to possibility. And attempts at conceiving various philosophically relevant scenarios lie at the heart of much of philosophical method. No wonder that the link between the epistemic and the modal has attracted a lot of attention. The present collection documents it on more than five hundred pages of densely argued text authored by some of the most creative philosophers in (...)
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  46. Moti Mizrahi & David R. Morrow (2015). Does Conceivability Entail Metaphysical Possibility? Ratio 28 (1):1-13.
    In this paper, we argue that ‘Weak Modal Rationalism’, which is the view that ideal primary positive conceivability entails primary metaphysical possibility, is self-defeating. To this end, we outline two reductio arguments against ‘Weak Modal Rationalism’. The first reductio shows that, from supposing that ‘Weak Modal Rationalism’ is true, it follows that conceivability both is and is not conclusive evidence for possibility. The second reductio shows that, from supposing that ‘Weak Modal Rationalism’ is true, it follows that it is possible (...)
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  47. Luca Moretti (2014). Global Scepticism, Underdetermination and Metaphysical Possibility. Erkenntnis 79 (2):381-403.
    I focus on a key argument for global external world scepticism resting on the underdetermination thesis: the argument according to which we cannot know any proposition about our physical environment because sense evidence for it equally justifies some sceptical alternative (e.g. the Cartesian demon conjecture). I contend that the underdetermination argument can go through only if the controversial thesis that conceivability is per se a source of evidence for metaphysical possibility is true. I also suggest a reason to doubt that (...)
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  48. W. E. Morris (1980). Actuality and Possibility. Philosophy 55 (211):57 - 72.
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  49. Daniel Nolan (2009). Modality. In John Shand (ed.), Central Issues of Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell 95--106.
  50. Alik Pelman (2007). Reference and Modality: A Theory of Intensions. Dissertation, University of London, UCL
    The study of reference often leads to addressing fundamental issues in semantics, metaphysics and epistemology; this suggests that reference is closely linked to the three realms. The overall purpose of this study is to elucidate the structure of some of these links, through a close examination of the “mechanism” of reference. As in many other enquiries, considering the possible (i.e., the modal,) in addition to the actual proves very helpful in clarifying and explicating insights. The reference of a term with (...)
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