I propose a semantics for a class of English predicates characteristically associated with possibility. The central idea is that such predicates are typically associated with an ordering source, and that differences among them are due to differences in their ordering sources. The ‘dispositional predicates’ that have been central to philosophical discussions are shown to be derivable as a special case from this more general class.
There is a familiar argument for the falsity of determinism, an argument that proceeds from the claim that agents are morally responsible. A number of authors have challenged the soundness of this argument. I pose a different challenge, one that grants its soundness. The challenge is that, given certain plausible assumptions, one cannot know the conclusion of this argument on the basis of knowing its premises. That is, one cannot know that determinism is false on the basis of this argument (...) even if agents are in fact morally responsible and moral responsibility is in fact incompatible with determinism. A slightly different version of the challenge tells also against the claim that one can be justified in believing that determinism is false on the basis of the argument, so that the challenge cannot be evaded by a retreat to an epistemic position weaker than knowledge. I compare my challenge to the challenge posed by the external world sceptic, and argue that there are asymmetries between these challenges that make it reasonable to accept the former and reject the latter. I close by considering the prospects for developing an epistemology of moral responsibility that is adequate to answer the challenge. (shrink)
A number of philosophical projects require a proper understanding of the modal aspects of agency, or of what I call ‘the agentive modalities.’ I propose a general account of the agentive modalities, one which takes as its primitive the decision-theoretic notion of an option. I relate this account to the standard semantics for ‘can’ and to the viability of some positions in the free will debates.
In the accounts we give of one another, claims about our abilities appear to be indispensable. Some abilities are so widespread that many who have them take them for granted, such as the ability to walk, or to write one's name, or to tell a hawk from a handsaw. Others are comparatively rare and notable, such as the ability to hit a Major League fastball, or to compose a symphony, or to tell an elm from a beech. In either case, (...) however, when we ascribe such abilities to one another we have the impression that we are making claims that, whether they are worth saying or not, are at least sometimes true. The impression of truth exerts a pressure towards giving a philosophical theory of ability. It is not an option, at least at the outset, to dismiss all our talk of ability as fiction or outright falsehood. A theory of ability can be reasonably expected to say what it is to have an ability in a way that vindicates the appearance of truth. Such a theory will deserve the name “philosophical” insofar as it gives an account, not of this or that range of abilities, but of abilities generally. (shrink)