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Summary According to modal primitivism, the nature of modality is sui generis and cannot be explained in non-modal terms. This thesis is compatible with many different approaches to modality, since it does not constrain the connections between modality and other topics.
Key works deRosset 2009 surveys non-reductive theories of modality, from a possible-worlds perspective. Forbes 1985 defends modalism, an influential form of primitivism which locates modality in primitive modal operators. Wang 2013 argues that combinatorialism is a version of primitivism.
Introductions deRosset 2009
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  1. Tom Baldwin (2002). The Inaugural Address: Kantian Modality. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 76:1 - 24.
    Kant's claim that modality is a 'category' provides an approach to modality to be contrasted with Lewis's reductive analysis. Lewis's position is unsatisfactory, since it depends on an inherently modal conception of a world. This suggests that modality is 'primitive'; and the Kantian position is a prima facie plausible position of this kind, which is filled out by considering the relationship between modality and inference. This provides a context for comparing the Kantian position with Wright's non-cognitivist 'conventionalism'. Wright's position is (...)
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  2. David A. Denby (2006). In Defence of Magical Ersatzism. In Philosophical Quarterly. 161-74.
    In this paper, I attack David Lewis’s objection to a generic theory of modality he calls “Magical Ersatzism”. His objection takes the form of a dilemma directed at its linchpin, a relation he calls “selection”. This, he argues, must be either an internal or an external relation, but is unintelligible either way. However, his argument against classifying selection as internal is really just a version of the general problem of how we manage to grasp predicates in cases of underdetermination. This (...)
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  3. Louis deRosset (2009). Possible Worlds II: Non-Reductive Theories of Possible Worlds. Philosophy Compass 4 (6):1009-1021.
    It is difficult to wander far in contemporary metaphysics without bumping into talk of possible worlds. And, reference to possible worlds is not confined to metaphysics. It can be found in contemporary epistemology and ethics, and has even made its way into linguistics and decision theory. What are those possible worlds, the entities to which theorists in these disciplines all appeal? Some have hoped that a theory of possible worlds can be used to reduce modality to non-modal terms. This paper (...)
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  4. Peter W. Hanks (2008). A Dilemma About Necessity. Erkenntnis 68 (1):129 - 148.
    The problem of the source of necessity is the problem of explaining what makes necessary truths necessarily true. Simon Blackburn has presented a dilemma intended to show that any reductive, realist account of the source of necessity is bound to fail. Although Blackburn's dilemma faces serious problems, reflection on the form of explanations of necessities reveals that a revised dilemma succeeds in defeating any reductive account of the source of necessity. The lesson is that necessity is metaphysically primitive and irreducible.
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  5. Catherine Legg (forthcoming). “Things Unreasonably Compulsory”: A Peircean Challenge to a Humean Theory of Perception, Particularly With Respect to Perceiving Necessary Truths. Cognitio.
    Much mainstream analytic epistemology is built around a sceptical treatment of modality which descends from Hume. The roots of this scepticism are argued to lie in Hume’s (nominalist) theory of perception, which is excavated, studied and compared with the very different (realist) theory of perception developed by Peirce. It is argued that Peirce’s theory not only enables a considerably more nuanced and effective epistemology, it also (unlike Hume’s theory) does justice to what happens when we appreciate a proof in mathematics.
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  6. Fraser MacBride (1999). Could Armstrong Have Been a Universal? Mind 108 (431):471-501.
    There cannot be a reductive theory of modality constructed from the concepts of sparse particular and sparse universal. These concepts are suffused with modal notions. I seek to establish this conclusion by tracing out the pattern of modal entanglements in which these concepts are involved. In order to appreciate the structure of these entanglements a distinction must be drawn between the lower-order necessary connections in which particulars and universals apparently figure, and higher-order necesary connections. The former type of connection (...)
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  7. Stephen K. McLeod (2001). Modality and Anti-Metaphysics. Ashgate.
    Modality and Anti-Metaphysics critically examines the most prominent approaches to modality among analytic philosophers in the twentieth century, including essentialism. Defending both the project of metaphysics and the essentialist position that metaphysical modality is conceptually and ontologically primitive, Stephen McLeod argues that the logical positivists did not succeed in banishing metaphysical modality from their own theoretical apparatus and he offers an original defence of metaphysics against their advocacy of its elimination. -/- Seeking to assuage the sceptical worries which underlie modal (...)
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  8. Joseph Melia (1992). Against Modalism. Philosophical Studies 68 (1):35 - 56.
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  9. Christopher Menzel (1993). Possibilism and Object Theory. Philosophical Studies 69 (2-3):195 - 208.
    A central stream running through the history of philosophy has been the attempt to gather a wide range of ostensibly disparate intuitive phenomena under a small, integrated set of concepts. Edward Zalta’s work is a sustained celebration of this tradition. This paper — part of a symposium on Zalta's work — is a friendly, but critical examination of Zalta's commitment to possibilism and the roles they play in his theory.
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  10. Jennifer Wang (2013). From Combinatorialism to Primitivism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 91 (3):535-554.
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