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Modal Realism

Edited by Dan Marshall (University of Hong Kong)
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Summary Modal realism is the view that there are many possible worlds and and that they are concrete entities of the same kind as the world we live in.
Key works The most prominent version of modal realism is that of Lewis 1986. Other important varieties of modal realism include those of Bricker 2008 and McDaniel 2004.
Introductions For a good introduction to modal realism, see Sider 2003 and chapter 5 of Melia 2003.
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  1. Joseph A. Baltimore (2011). Lewis' Modal Realism and Absence Causation. Metaphysica 12 (2):117-124.
    A major criticism of David Lewis’ counterfactual theory of causation is that it allows too many things to count as causes, especially since Lewis allows, in addition to events, absences to be causes as well. Peter Menzies has advanced this concern under the title “the problem of profligate causation.” In this paper, I argue that the problem of profligate causation provides resources for exposing a tension between Lewis’ acceptance of absence causation and his modal realism. The result is a different (...)
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  2. Karen Bennett (2005). Book Review. Possible Worlds. John Divers. [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (2):282-85.
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  3. Jiri Benovsky (2008). Two Concepts of Possible Worlds – or Only One? Theoria 74 (4):318-330.
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  4. Jiri Benovsky (2005). Branching Versus Divergent Possible Worlds. Kriterion 19:12-20.
    David Lewis' modal counterpart theory falls prey to the famous Saul Kripke's objection, and this is mostly due to his 'static' ontology (divergence) of possible worlds. This paper examines a genuinely realist but different, branching ontology of possible worlds and a new definition of the counterpart relation, which attempts to provide us with a better account of de re modality, and to meet satisfactorily Kripke's claim, while being also ontologically more 'parsimonious'.
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  5. Sandy Berkovski (2011). Lewis' Reduction of Modality. Acta Analytica 26 (2):95-114.
    I start by reconsidering two familiar arguments against modal realism. The argument from epistemology relates to the issue whether we can infer the existence of concrete objects by a priori means. The argument from pragmatics purports to refute the analogy between the indispensability of possible worlds and the indispensability of unobserved entities in physical science and of numbers in mathematics. Then I present two novel objections. One focusses on the obscurity of the notion of isolation required by modal realism. The (...)
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  6. Francesco Berto (2010). Impossible Worlds and Propositions: Against the Parity Thesis. Philosophical Quarterly 60 (240):471-486.
    Accounts of propositions as sets of possible worlds have been criticized for conflating distinct impossible propositions. In response to this problem, some have proposed to introduce impossible worlds to represent distinct impossibilities, endorsing the thesis that impossible worlds must be of the same kind; this has been called the parity thesis. I show that this thesis faces problems, and propose a hybrid account which rejects it: possible worlds are taken as concrete Lewisian worlds, and impossibilities are represented as set-theoretic constructions (...)
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  7. Andrea Borghini & Giorgio Lando (2011). Natural Properties, Supervenience, and Composition. Humana.Mente 19:79-104.
    The interpretation of Lewis?s doctrine of natural properties is difficult and controversial, especially when it comes to the bearers of natural properties. According to the prevailing reading ? the minimalist view ? perfectly natural properties pertain to the micro-physical realm and are instantiated by entities without proper parts or point-like. This paper argues that there are reasons internal to a broadly Lewisian kind of metaphysics to think that the minimalist view is fundamentally flawed and that a liberal view, according to (...)
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  8. Manuel Bremer (2003). Is There an Analytic Limit of Genuine Modal Realism? Mind 112 (445):79-82.
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  9. Phillip Bricker (2008). Concrete Possible Worlds. In Theodore Sider, John Hawthorne & Dean W. Zimmerman (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics. Blackwell Pub.. 111--134.
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  10. Phillip Bricker (2006). Absolute Actuality and the Plurality of Worlds. Philosophical Perspectives 20 (1):41–76.
    According to David Lewis, a realist about possible worlds must hold that actuality is relative: the worlds are ontologically all on a par; the actual and the merely possible differ, not absolutely, but in how they relate to us. Call this 'Lewisian realism'. The alternative, 'Leibnizian realism', holds that actuality is an absolute property that marks a distinction in ontological status. Lewis presents two arguments against Leibnizian realism. First, he argues that the Leibnizian realist cannot account for the contingency of (...)
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  11. Phillip Bricker (2006). David Lewis: On the Plurality of Worlds. In John Shand (ed.), Central Works of Philosophy, Vol. 5: The Twentieth Century: Quine and After. Acumen Publishing.
    David Lewis's book 'On the Plurality of Worlds' mounts an extended defense of the thesis of modal realism, that the world we inhabit the entire cosmos of which we are a part is but one of a vast plurality of worlds, or cosmoi, all causally and spatiotemporally isolated from one another. The purpose of this article is to provide an accessible summary of the main positions and arguments in Lewis's book.
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  12. Phillip Bricker (2001). Island Universes and the Analysis of Modality. In G. Preyer & F. Siebelt (eds.), Reality and Humean Supervenience: Essays on the Philosophy of David Lewis. Rowman and Littlefield.
    It follows from Humean principles of plenitude, I argue, that island universes are possible: physical reality might have 'absolutely isolated' parts. This makes trouble for Lewis's modal realism; but the realist has a way out. First, accept absolute actuality, which is defensible, I argue, on independent grounds. Second, revise the standard analysis of modality: modal operators are 'plural', not 'individual', quantifiers over possible worlds. This solves the problem of island universes and confers three additional benefits: an 'unqualified' principle of compossibility (...)
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  13. Phillip Bricker (1996). Isolation and Unification: The Realist Analysis of Possible Worlds. Philosophical Studies 84 (2-3):225 - 238.
    If realism about possible worlds is to succeed in eliminating primitive modality, it must provide an 'analysis' of possible world: nonmodal criteria for demarcating one world from another. This David Lewis has done. Lewis holds, roughly, that worlds are maximal unified regions of logical space. So far, so good. But what Lewis means by 'unification' is too narrow, I think, in two different ways. First, for Lewis, all worlds are (almost) 'globally' unified: at any world, (almost) every part is directly (...)
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  14. Phillip Bricker (1983). Worlds and Propositions: The Structure and Ontology of Logical Space. Dissertation, Princeton University
    In sections 1 through 5, I develop in detail what I call the standard theory of worlds and propositions, and I discuss a number of purported objections. The theory consists of five theses. The first two theses, presented in section 1, assert that the propositions form a Boolean algebra with respect to implication, and that the algebra is complete, respectively. In section 2, I introduce the notion of logical space: it is a field of sets that represents the propositional structure (...)
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  15. 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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  16. Ross Cameron, Critical Notice.
    In this book, Yagisawa defends a type of realism about merely possible worlds and individuals.1 The view defended is much closer to David Lewis’s genuine modal realism than it is to any kind of actualist or ersatzist modal realism, and I think the best way of understanding Yagisawa’s view will be to see where it differs from Lewis’s. To that end, let’s briefly remind ourselves of Lewis’s theory.
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  17. Ross P. Cameron (2012). Why Lewis's Analysis of Modality Succeeds in its Reductive Ambitions. Philosophers' Imprint 12 (8).
    Some argue that Lewisian realism fails as a reduction of modality because in order to meet some criterion of success the account needs to invoke primitive modality. I defend Lewisian realism against this charge; in the process, I hope to shed some light on the conditions of success for a reduction. In §1 I detail the resources the Lewisian modal realist needs. In §2 I argue against Lycan and Shalkowski’s charge that Lewis needs a modal notion of ‘world’ to ensure (...)
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  18. Ross P. Cameron (2010). The Grounds of Necessity. Philosophy Compass 5 (4):348-358.
    Some truths are necessary, others could have been false. Why? What is the source of the distinction between the necessary and the contingent? What's so special about the necessary truths that account for their necessity? In this article, we look at some of the most promising accounts of the grounds of necessity: David Lewis' reduction of necessity to truth at all possible worlds; Kit Fine's reduction of necessity to essence; and accounts of necessity that take the distinction between the necessary (...)
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  19. Charles S. Chihara (1998). The Worlds of Possibility: Modal Realism and the Semantics of Modal Logic. Oxford University Press.
    A powerful challenge to some highly influential theories, this book offers a thorough critical exposition of modal realism, the philosophical doctrine that many possible worlds exist of which our own universe is just one. Chihara challenges this claim and offers a new argument for modality without worlds.
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  20. Nicola Ciprotti (2006). A Puzzle About Restricted Recombination in Modal Realism. In Paolo Valore (ed.), Topics on General and Formal Ontology. Polimetrica. 281.
    This paper addresses a specific issue inherent to David Lewis’s conception of possible worlds, namely whether or not they are liable to being limited in size. The paper purports to show that, if a certain argument against unlimited worlds’ size is valid, then the way of countering it by means of positing an upper limit to size (as Lewis himself and John Divers have suggested) leads to a troublesome distortion of some modal phenomena, such as de re ascriptions of properties. (...)
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  21. Michael J. Clark (2010). Inclusionism and the Problem of Unmarried Husbands. Erkenntnis 73 (1):123 - 131.
    I discuss a modification of Lewisian modal realism called 'inclusionism'. Inclusionism is the thesis that some worlds contain other worlds as proper parts. Inclusionism has some attractive consequences for theories of modality. Josh Parsons, however, has raised a problem for inclusionism: the problem of unmarried husbands. In this paper I reply to this problem. My strategy is twofold: first I claim, pace Parsons, that it is not clear why the inclusionist cannot avail herself of an obvious solution to the problem; (...)
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  22. E. Conee (2011). Modal Realism, Counterpart Theory, and the Possibility of Multiversal Rectitude. Analysis 71 (4):680-684.
    Jim Stone has argued that a multiversal version of Modal Realism together with Counterpart Theory cannot account for a certain intuitive possibility. Roughly, it is the possibility that all free moral choices of a certain sort are the right choices in all cases in the multiverse. The present work offers an explanation of how the metaphysics in question can account for the intuitive possibility in question.
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  23. Sam Cowling (2013). The Way of Actuality. Australasian Journal of Philosophy (2):1-17.
    In this paper, I defend an indexical analysis of the abstract-concrete distinction within the framework of modal realism. This analysis holds the abstract-concrete distinction to be conceptually inseparable from the distinction between the actual and the merely possible, which is assumed to be indexical in nature. The resulting view contributes to the case for modal realism by demonstrating how its distinctive resources provide a reductive analysis of the abstract-concrete distinction. This indexical analysis also provides a solution to a sceptical problem (...)
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  24. Sam Cowling (2012). Haecceitism for Modal Realists. Erkenntnis 77 (3):399-417.
    In this paper, I examine the putative incompatibility of three theses: (1) Haecceitism, according to which some maximal possibilities differ solely in terms of the non-qualitative or de re possibilities they include; (2) Modal correspondence, according to which each maximal possibility is identical with a unique possible world; (3) Counterpart theory, according to which de re modality is analyzed in terms of counterpart relations between individuals. After showing how the modal realism defended by David Lewis resolves this incompatibility by rejecting (...)
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  25. Chris John Daly (2008). The Methodology of Genuine Modal Realism. Synthese 162 (1):37 - 52.
    David Lewis’s genuine modal realism is a controversial thesis in modal metaphysics. Charles Chihara and Ross Cameron have each argued that Lewis’s defence of his thesis involves his committing serious methodological errors; in particular, that his replies to two well-known and important objections are question-begging. Scott Shalkowski has further argued that Lewis’s attempt to analyse modal talk in non-modal terms is viciously circular. This paper considers the methodology which Lewis uses to argue for his thesis, and the paper tries to (...)
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  26. George Darby & Duncan Watson (2010). Lewis's Principle of Recombination: Reply to Efird and Stoneham. Dialectica 64 (3):435-445.
    According to Lewis's modal realism, all ways the world could be are represented by possible worlds, and all possible worlds represent some way the world could be. That there are just the right possible worlds to represent all and only the ways the world could be is to be guaranteed by the principle of recombination. Lewis sketches the principle (put roughly: anything can co-exist with anything else), but does not spell out a precise version that generates just the right possibilities. (...)
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  27. Louis deRosset (2009). Possible Worlds I: Modal Realism. Philosophy Compass 4 (6):998-1008.
    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? This paper sets out and evaluates a leading contemporary theory of possible worlds, David Lewis's Modal Realism. I note two (...)
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  28. John Divers (2006). Possible-Worlds Semantics Without Possible Worlds: The Agnostic Approach. Mind 115 (458):187-226.
    If a possible-worlds semantic theory for modal logics is pure, then the assertion of the theory, taken at face-value, can bring no commitment to the existence of a plurality of possible worlds (genuine or ersatz). But if we consider an applied theory (an application of the pure theory) in which the elements of the models are required to be possible worlds, then assertion of such a theory, taken at face-value, does appear to bring commitment to the existence of a plurality (...)
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  29. John Divers (1999). A Genuine Realist Theory of Advanced Modalizing. Mind 108 (430):217-239.
    The principle of modal ubiquity - that every truth is necessary or contingent - and the validity of possibility introduction, are principles that any modal theory suffers for failing to accommodate. Advanced modal claims are modal claims about entities other than spatiotemporally unified individuals (perhaps, then, spatiotemporally disunified individuals, sets, numbers, properties, propositions and events). I show that genuine modal realism, as it has thus far been explicitly developed, and in so far as it deals with advanced modal claims, cannot (...)
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  30. John Divers (1994). On the Prohibitive Cost of Indiscernible Concrete Possible Worlds. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (3):384 – 389.
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  31. John Divers (1992). Modal Supereminence and Modal Realism. Theoria 58 (2-3):99-115.
    Colin McGinn proposes that acceptance of the supervenience of the modal on the actual is the natural form of expression of a non-objectual realism about modality. Here, some of the difficulties that arise in applying theses of supervenience to the modal-actual case are discussed. It is then argued: 1)that the truth of many such theses is determined on uncontroversial modal logical and conceptual grounds, and 2) that this and other independent considerations render it highly implausible that the affirmation of modal-actual (...)
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  32. John Divers & Joseph Melia (2006). Genuine Modal Realism: Still Limited. Mind 115 (459):731-740.
    In this reply, we defend our argument for the incompleteness of Genuine Modal Realism against Paseau's criticisms. Paseau claims that isomorphic set of worlds represent the same possibilities, but not only is this implausible, it is inimical to the target of our paper: Lewis's theory of possible worlds. We argue that neither Paseau's model-theoretic results nor his comparison to arithmetic carry over to GMR. We end by distinguishing two notions of incompleteness and urge that, for all that Paseau has said, (...)
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  33. John Divers & Joseph Melia (2003). Genuine Modal Realism Limited. Mind 112 (445):83-86.
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  34. John Divers & Joseph Melia (2002). The Analytic Limit of Genuine Modal Realism. Mind 111 (441):15-36.
    According to the Genuine Modal Realist, there is a plurality of possible worlds, each world nothing more than a maximally inter-related spatiotemporal sum. One advantage claimed for this position is that it offers us the resources to analyse, in a noncircular manner, the modal operators. In this paper, we argue that the prospects for such an analysis are poor. For the analysis of necessity as truth in all worlds to succeed it is not enough that no modal concepts be used (...)
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  35. Cian Dorr, How to Be a Modal Realist.
    This paper investigates the form a modal realist analysis of possibility and necessity should take. It concludes that according to the best version of modal realism, the notion of a world plays no role in the analysis of modal claims. All contingent claims contain some de re element; the effect of modal operators on these elements is described by a counterpart theory which takes the same form whether the de re reference is to a world or to something else. This (...)
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  36. D. Efird & T. Stoneham (2005). Genuine Modal Realism and the Empty World. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 1 (1):21-37.
    We argue that genuine modal realism can be extended, rather than modified, so as to allow for the possibility of nothing concrete, a possibility we term ‘metaphysical nihilism’. The issue should be important to the genuine modal realist because, not only is metaphysical nihilism itself intuitively plausible, but also it is supported by an argument with pre-theoretically credible premises, namely, the subtraction argument. Given the soundness of the subtraction argument, we show that there are two ways that the genuine modal (...)
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  37. Peter Forrest (2001). Counting the Cost of Modal Realism. In Gerhard Preyer (ed.), Reality and Humean Supervenience: Essays on the Philosophy of David Lewis. Rowman and Littlefield. 93--103.
    Conceivability is, I say, prima facie evidence for possibility. Hence, we may count the cost of theories about possibility by listing the ways in which, according to the theory in question, something conceivable is said nonetheless to be impossible. More succinctly we may state a principle, Hume's razor to put alongside Ockham's. Hume's razor says that necessities are not to be multiplied more than necessary. In this paper I count the cost of David Lewis's modal realism, showing that many of (...)
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  38. Peter Forrest & D. M. Armstrong (1984). An Argument Against David Lewis' Theory of Possible Worlds. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (2):164 – 168.
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  39. Dominic Gregory (2001). The Worlds of Possibility: Modal Realism and the Semantics of Modal Logic. Charles S. Chihara. Mind 110 (439):736-740.
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  40. Ghislain Guigon (2014). Overall Similarity, Natural Properties, and Paraphrases. Philosophical Studies 167 (2):387-399.
    I call anti-resemblism the thesis that independently of any contextual specification there is no determinate fact of the matter about the comparative overall similarity of things. Anti-resemblism plays crucial roles in the philosophy of David Lewis. For instance, Lewis has argued that his counterpart theory is anti-essentialist on the grounds that counterpart relations are relations of comparative overall similarity and that anti-resemblism is true. After Lewis committed himself to a form of realism about natural properties he maintained that anti-resemblism is (...)
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  41. Susan HaIe (1991). Modal Realism Without Counterparts. Southwest Philosophy Review 7 (2):77-86.
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  42. Bob Hale & Aviv Hoffmann (eds.) (2010). Modality: Metaphysics, Logic, and Epistemology. Oxford University Press.
    The philosophy of modality investigates necessity and possibility, and related notions--are they objective features of mind-independent reality? If so, are they irreducible, or can modal facts be explained in other terms? This volume presents new work on modality by established leaders in the field and by up-and-coming philosophers. Between them, the papers address fundamental questions concerning realism and anti-realism about modality, the nature and basis of facts about what is possible and what is necessary, the nature of modal knowledge, modal (...)
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  43. Susan Hale (1991). Modal Realism Without Counterparts. Southwest Philosophy Review 7 (1):81-90.
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  44. Jonathan Harrison (1999). The Impossibility of ‘Possible’ Worlds. Philosophy 74 (1):5-28.
    The gist of these objections to the possible world account of necessity is that, for it to be true, ‘possible’ would have to be a name for an attribute. But to say that something is possible is not to describe it, but to say that there could be such a thing. And possibilities are not classes of entities. Possible worlds have been described as ways, but a way of getting to London from Cambridge is not an entity, and that there (...)
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  45. Allan Hazlett (2006). Possible Evils. Ratio 19 (2):191–198.
    I consider an objection to Lewisian modal realism: the view entails that there are a great many real evils that we ought to care about, but in fact we shouldn’t care about these evils. I reply on behalf of the modal realist – we should and do care about possible evils, and this is shown in our reactions to fictions about evils, which (plausibly, for the modal realist) are understood as making certain possible evils salient.
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  46. Mark Heller (2003). The Immorality of Modal Realism, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let the Children Drown. Philosophical Studies 114 (1-2):1 - 22.
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  47. Hud Hudson (1997). Brute Facts. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 75 (1):77 – 82.
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  48. Michael Hymers (1991). Something Less Than Paradise: The Magic of Modal Realism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (3):251 – 263.
    Against the forces of modal ersatzism Lewis launches a variety of attacks, some of which are clearly compelling, others of which are less so. I argue that pictorial ersatzism cannot clearly be distinguished from magical ersatzism, and--more interestingly--that 'genuine' modal realism is subject to precisely the criticisms so fatal for the magical ersatzers.
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  49. Brendan Balcerak Jackson (2012). Worlds and Individuals, Possible and Otherwise. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (1):205 - 206.
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 90, Issue 1, Page 205-206, March 2012.
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  50. Dale Jacquette (2006). Propositions, Sets, and Worlds. Studia Logica 82 (3):337 - 343.
    If we agree with Michael Jubien that propositions do not exist, while accepting the existence of abstract sets in a realist mathematical ontology, then the combined effect of these ontological commitments has surprising implications for the metaphysics of modal logic, the ontology of logically possible worlds, and the controversy over modal realism versus actualism. Logically possible worlds as maximally consistent proposition sets exist if sets generally exist, but are equivalently expressed as maximally consistent conjunctions of the same propositions in corresponding (...)
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